Ambassador Rao raises visa concerns, debunks negativity about Iranian oil imports

India Ambassador Nirupama Rao

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Washington DC – With the high level India-US Strategic Dialogue just days away, India on Wednesday raised concerns over a visa clampdown on its business community, while alleging vested interests are painting a negative image of the country for importing oil from Iran.

Replying to a question after addressing a public discussion on “India-US Strategic Dialogue: Expanding Horizons of Bilateral Partnership,” at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC based think-tank, Nirupama Rao, ambassador of India to the United States minced no words in lambasting the negative portrayal of India, saying, “Somehow there has been, sorry to say this, some attempt, I don’t know for whatever reasons, to paint India in very negative colors.”

With the insatiable energy needs of 1.2 billion people, Ambassador Rao said, “There are energy security needs for India, but we understand there are certain constraints about importing oil from Iran. We are certainly cognizant of those realities. Obviously the amount of oil we import from Iran has come down.”

Noting that India is a “net oil importing country,” with about 75 percent of its oil being imported, Rao said, “Iran has been one of our traditional suppliers and many of our refineries are catered to process Iranian crude.”

Global pressure led by the US to boycott Iranian oil is having an effect, said Rao. “The circumstances today have become more and more difficult for any country to import crude from Iran.”

However, the Indian ambassador denied that there had been an attempt by India to “camouflage payment” of its oil imports.

Ambassador Rao reiterated that New Delhi has been transparent on this issue with international partners arguing, “India has been extremely upfront and has been able to engage in a very frank dialogue with all our partners on this issue.”

Earlier in her address, Rao said, “India has scrupulously adhered to the multilateral sanctions against Iran as mandated by the United Nations. We are also cognizant of US concerns, and have remained closely engaged on the Iranian issue.”

“Crude imports from Iran have a steadily declining share in India’s total oil imports – dropping from a level of over 16 percent in 2008-09 to almost 10 percent in 2011-12, and these are expected to decline further in 2012-13,” said the Indian Ambassador.

The Indian ambassador highlighted recent concerns expressed by the Indian business community about the curtailing of US visas saying, “The Indian IT industry contributed $15 billion in taxes in the US over the last five years. Ironically, the same industry is subject to new restrictions imposed on H1-B and L1 visas.”

Expressing hope that, “this is not a trend that will be sustained,” Rao said, “The logic and rationale of our partnership merits otherwise.”

Debunking speculation that the Indo-US bilateral relationship is “oversold,” Ambassador Rao said, “This is neither subscribed to by the two governments nor is it supported at all by facts on the ground or the reality.”

“The myth subsists in its own echo chamber focusing on one or two aspects and seemingly overlooking the whole picture of the relation,” added Rao.

Quoting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ambassador Rao said the India-US relationship was, “founded on many pillars, it is based on pragmatism and principle; and strengthened by shared values and common interests.”

The next round of the India-US Strategic Dialogue is scheduled for June 13 in Washington, DC, with the participation of Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.313

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