New Delhi: India has been asked by Iran to resume oil purchases from the country, “ignoring unilateral” sanctions imposed by the US, similar to what New Delhi has done with Russian oil by skirting western sanctions in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, ThePrint has learnt.
The matter is expected to be raised by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during an in-person meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of the Heads of State meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, officials involved in the matter told ThePrint.
The SCO Summit is scheduled to take place from 15-16 September, which will also be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, apart from Modi, Raisi and all Central Asian leaders.
India has stopped buying oil from Iran since May 2019 after the former Donald Trump administration put stringent sanctions on that country. This was an unprecedented move. Before the sanctions were imposed, India was the second-largest buyer of Iranian oil after China.
According to officials, India had to take this step at the time owing to pressure from the US as Washington had put a series of tough sanctions on Iran even as the Trump administration walked out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
However, India has continued to buy oil from Russia despite similar and, in some cases, even more enhanced sanctions by the US and Europe on Moscow due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
In fact, India’s purchase of oil from Russia has grown by 50 times since April 2022, thereby becoming one India’s top 10 oil suppliers.
According to Iranian officials, the sanctions imposed by the US are “unilateral” and are not UN-led, even then India stopped buying oil from that country.
But now that India has worked out a mechanism on skirting the sanctions imposed on Russia, New Delhi should follow the same policy for Tehran too, the officials said.
The matter was purportedly discussed when Iran’s outgoing Ambassador to India, Ali Chegeni, met External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar last week.
Issues concerning resumption of oil from Iran was also discussed in detail when Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian came on a visit to India in June 2022 and called on PM Modi along with meeting Jaishankar.
In June, during one of his addresses to a European think tank, Jaishankar questioned the US for not lifting sanctions on Iranian oil.
Jaishankar was one of the first foreign dignitaries to meet Iran’s hard-liner President Raisi after he was elected as the President in June 2021 succeeding former President Hassan Rouhani.
Railroad in Chabahar Port
Apart from oil, Raisi is also expected to raise the issue concerning India’s “slow progress” in the Chabahar Port project, particularly on constructing the last leg of the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway Project, which is about 200 km.
The railroad, once complete, is expected to provide faster connectivity from the Chabahar Port in Iran to Afghanistan and further to Central Asia. It is expected to also bolster the existing connectivity by road from the Chabahar port to Afghanistan.
During the meeting between Raisi and Modi, both sides are expected to finalise a pact on the long-term operations of Shahid Beheshti Terminal at the port.
The signing of the contract has been under discussion for several years now. It has been stuck over the issue of arbitration in the event there is a dispute between both the parties.
The Iranian Constitution mandates dispute resolution cannot be taken to any international court and has to be taken up in Iranian courts only, the officials said. Hence, both sides are now discussing ways to resolve this since amending the Constitution is next to impossible under Iranian laws.
In August, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal visited Iran to review the progress of the Shahid Behesti Terminal where this issue was discussed with Ali Akbar Safaee, Deputy Minister and Managing Director of Ports and Maritime Organisation.
During his visit last month, Sonowal also handed over six mobile harbour cranes to Indian Ports Global Chabahar Free Trade Zone (IPGCFTZ) at the port. Both sides also decided to form a joint technical committee for smooth functioning of the port.
In February this year, V.Muraleedharan, Minister of State for External Affairs told Parliament that India continues to be keen on the railway project as per the MoU signed between India and Iran in 2016.