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International relations

India and Turkey signal uncertainty over Iran oil ban

Importers question whether to follow US sanctions as waivers run out

Fuel pumps at a gas station in Mumbai. More than 10% of India's crude oil imports come from Iran.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- India hinted Thursday that it has not committed to complying with the U.S. ban on crude oil purchases from Iran after a six-month waiver expired this week, while Turkey suggested it may be unable to do so.

Asked Thursday about India's response to the U.S. sanctions, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs, replied that "frankly, for me to give a direct answer to the question would be difficult."

The decision will involve "a combination of different factors," including energy security and commercial considerations, Kumar told reporters. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said last year that India follows only United Nations sanctions, not unilateral ones.

India, which imports more than 10% of its oil from Iran, had been preparing to boost purchases from elsewhere in anticipation of a tightened U.S. ban. But New Delhi is also mindful of its deepening economic relationship with Tehran. The two countries have worked together to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar, where India took over operations in January.

Turkey, meanwhile, has also expressed reservations.

"It does not seem possible for us to diversify the sources of the oil we import in a short time," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Thursday, according to Reuters. The country relied on Iran for nearly half its oil supply until May 2018, when Washington announced it would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions.

In order to import more oil from other countries, "we have to renew the technology of our refineries," Cavusoglu said. Many of Turkey's refineries are believed to be designed for crude oil with a relatively high sulfur content, like Iran's.

China, the top buyer of Iranian oil, indicated last month that it could defy the sanctions. "China firmly opposes the unilateral sanctions and so-called long-arm jurisdictions imposed by the U.S.," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters on April 23.

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