India on diplomatic tightrope as traders head to Iran

NEW DELHI, Mar 09, 2012 (AFP) - A 70-member Indian trade delegation headed to Iran on Friday to explore "huge" commercial opportunities created by US-led sanctions against the Islamic republic over its disputed nuclear plans.
The visit comes despite criticism from pro-Israel groups in the United States and other critics who have accused India of undermining international efforts to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
"They have left and will be there tonight (Friday) and will stay until March 14," Anand Seth, a spokesman for the Indian government-backed Federation of Indian Export Organisations, which is leading the delegation.
"There are about 70 in the team, representing different sectors," added Seth.
Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar said this month Iran holds "huge opportunities" for India's exports of textiles, tea, rice, wheat and other foods, as well as pharmaceuticals, engineering and infrastructure projects.
The delegation expects to "get a lot of business" from the trip, Seth said.

The visit sees India walking a diplomatic tightrope as it seeks closer ties with Iran while deepening its relations with the United States and Israel, a key arms supplier and trading partner.
An attack on a Israeli diplomat in New Delhi last month -- blamed by Israel on Iran -- has further complicated the task with local reports suggesting police had identified the main suspect as Iranian.
A veteran Indian freelance journalist who police say works part-time for Iranian news agency IRNA was arrested this week in connection with the attack, which left the diplomat in intensive care in hospital.
Iran is India's second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, providing around 12 percent of the fast-growing country's crude needs and India has stated that it is not able to cut back on its purchases of Iranian oil.

Energy-hungry India is aiming to pay for almost half of its purchases of Iranian crude in rupees using banks outside the reach of Western sanctions that are drying up financial routes.
Indian has said it will abide only by UN sanctions and will not implement others imposed unilaterally by the United States and European Union.