Lift ban on Iran oil sales to India, urges Emmanuel Macron

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BIARRITZ (FRANCE): French President Emmanuel Macron has urged US counterpart Donald Trump to lift the embargo on Iranian oil sales to India a step that could boost Delhi’s energy supplies if Washington adheres to the request.

This comes amid efforts by France to emerge as a mediator between Washington and Tehran to defuse one of the worst global crises in recent times.

Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif held a three- and a half-hour dialogue with his French counterpart here on Sunday, ET has learnt, signaling Tehran’s possible re-entry into the mainstream.

Zarif also met Macron before flying out, ET has further learnt. The Iranian foreign Minister had met Macron in Paris on Friday as well, in the backdrop of regular contacts between his President and the French leader.

The Iran crisis figured during the Macron-Trump lunch meeting on Saturday and the French President urged the US leader to end its embargo on sale of Iranian oil to India and China, two of the biggest buyers of Tehran’s energy resources, ET has learnt.

This will be music to India’s ears, as it had stopped purchasing Iranian oil from May after Washington refused to extend a six-month waiver and threatened secondary sanctions. Last November, the US had granted a waiver to India, China, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea to continue importing oil from Iran until the first week of May.

Iran supplied 10% of India’s oil needs and the country has a number of Iran crude-specific refineries.

Re-imposition of US sanctions has also slowed India’s other projects in Iran, including the Chabahar Port, which is the gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eurasia.

In July, Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan, told Parliament that India’s bilateral ties with Iran stand on its own and are not influenced by relations with any third country, to scoff at suggestions that Delhi was acting under American pressure on scaling down ties with Tehran. The Iran crisis figured prominently when US Secretary of State visited Delhi in June.

Ending the crisis also figured at the G-7 meet here on Sunday, even as Trump and the remaining six states had contradictory approaches on engaging with Iran. While Trump refused to engage with the Persian Gulf nation as a G-7 block, he was not opposed to others doing so.

Interestingly, Trump did not offer any comment on Zarif’s visit to Biarritz. Zarif, who is also under US sanctions, did not meet Trump, who was there for the G-7 Summit. Macron has also urged the US to offer a new credit line to Iran to enable exports.

Macron decided to invite the Iranian foreign minister to Biarritz after hosting a dinner of G7 leaders on Saturday night, ET has learnt. The invite was made “in agreement with the United States”, a source said, contradicting a claim by the White House that Trump had not been informed of Zarif’s arrival.

“Iran’s active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues,” Zarif said in a post on social media. “Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying.”

While the nuclear deal’s remaining signatories – France, Germany, UK, China and Russia – oppose the US move, they have struggled to protect Iran from US sanctions.

France is of the view that a “pause” in Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Tehran was necessary to get Iran back to the negotiating table. Trump wants to compel Iran into new talks that would include its ballistic missile programme and support for regional armed groups. Iran has rejected that, saying Washington could not be trusted. A year after the US exit, Tehran began scaling back some of its commitments under the nuclear accord.

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