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US, India in “very detailed” talks about halting Iran oil imports

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The United States and India are engaged in “very detailed conversations” over Washington’s request to completely stop India’s oil imports from Iran, a senior US State Department official said on Thursday.

US President Donald Trump this year ordered the re-imposition of economic curbs on Iran after withdrawing his country from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers. The United States has since been trying to persuade countries to economically isolate Iran.

“We’re asking all of our partners, not just India, to reduce to zero oil imports from Iran and so I’m confident that will be part of our conversation with India,” the official told reporters, as the foreign and defense heads of the two countries met in the Indian capital.

“There are very detailed conversations taking place between the US and India on just the technical issues related to going to zero and those conversations will continue.”

Despite Trump’s efforts, government officials in India, the world’s third biggest oil importer and Iran’s top oil client after China, have been talking about wanting to continue trade ties, especially for oil, with Iran.

"My visit is a firm indicator of what we see as India's place among our most strategic, and I would even call them 'consequential' emerging partners," Mattis told reporters traveling with him to New Delhi.

To lure Indian buyers, Iran has been offering extended credit terms and almost free shipping.

India would not stop Iranian imports but would finalize its strategy on crude buys after this week’s high-level meeting of US state and defense secretaries, Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis, and India’s foreign and defense ministers, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, an Indian official told Reuters last month.

In another sign of New Delhi’s desire to keep buying Iranian oil, Reuters reported this week that India had allowed its state refiners to use Tehran’s tanker and insurance cover after western and Indian shippers started winding down their Iran operations ahead of a Nov. 4 deadline.

Nevertheless, India’s August oil imports from Iran plunged by a third as the state refiners waited for government permission to buy oil using Iranian tankers and cover.