India said Tuesday it would cut purchases of Iranian oil by 11 percent following pressure from the United States to join a drive to isolate the Islamic republic over its disputed nuclear program.
Indian refiners expect to import 15.5 million metric tons of crude from Iran in the fiscal year that began April 1, the country's junior oil minister told parliament in a written reply, down from 17.44 million tons last ear.
The move comes after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week urged India to reduce its imports of Iranian oil as Washington readies a law to go into effect next month to slap sanctions on nations that buy oil from Tehran.
"To reduce its dependence on any particular region of the world, India has been consciously trying to diversify its sources of crude oil imports to strengthen the country's energy security," junior oil minister R.P.N. Singh said.
The size of imports from various sources depends on technical, commercial and other considerations, Singh added.
The US embassy in New Delhi said it could not immediately comment on whether the reduction in Iranian imports would be enough avert U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions, from which the European Union and Japan have already been exempted, will affect banks from countries that keep buying Iranian oil.
But during her visit to India, Clinton praised New Delhi for its efforts towards cutting imports, while India's foreign minister S.M. Krishna said "this issue is not a source of discord between our two countries."
Energy-scarce India, which imports four-fifths of its crude, says it shares the US goal of preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
But New Delhi also says the Islamic republic remains an "important source of oil" and it it cannot take any drastic action to slash imports as Iran is key in meeting India's growing energy needs.
India and Iran have a long shared history and culture and New Delhi sees the Islamic Republic as a vital counterweight to rival Pakistan in the troubled geographic region.
As part of its drive to reduce its reliance on Iranian oil, India, which depended on Iran for 12 percent of its imports last year, has already asked its top state-run importers to reduce shipments from Tehran.
India's announcement comes as US Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Carlos Pascual is in India for three days of follow-up oil talks in the wake of Clinton's visit.
Indian officials had initially said India might reduce Iranian oil imports by 15 to 20 percent.