A former US official says India’s decision to continue importing Iranian crude despite the recent Western sanctions on the Islamic Republic is “a slap” in the face for the United States.

“The Indian government’s ill-advised statement last week that it will continue to purchase oil from Iran is a major setback for the US attempt to isolate the Iranian government over the nuclear issue,” Nicholas Burns, former US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, wrote in an op-ed in current-affairs magazine The Diplomat today.

"India's decision to walk out of step with the international community on Iran isn't just a slap in the face for the US - it raises questions about its ability to lead," Burns added.

The Economic Times reported last week that during his latest visit to the US, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai reiterated New Delhi’s decision to go on with Iran oil imports while also stressing cordial relations between the two countries.

The report added that India's determination to continue buying Iranian oil, despite Western oil and financial sanctions has greatly concerned officials in Washington at a time when the forward momentum in the US-India relationship has already slowed.

"This is bitterly disappointing news for those of us who have championed a close relationship with India. And, it represents a real setback in the attempt by the last three American Presidents to establish a close and strategic partnership with successive Indian governments," Burns said.

India purchases around USD 12 billion worth of Iranian crude every year, about 12 percent of its consumption. In January, Iranian crude exports to India rose to 550,000 barrels a day, up 37.5 percent from December 2011.

On New Year’s Eve, the United States imposed new sanctions against Iran aimed at preventing other countries from importing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with its central bank.

European Union foreign ministers also approved sanctions against Iran’s oil and financial sectors on January 23, including a ban on Iranian oil imports, a freeze on the assets of the country’s central bank within EU states, and a ban on selling grains, diamonds, gold, and other precious metals to Tehran.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to push for four rounds of UN sanctions and a series of unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Iran has refuted the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful use.

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News ID 181513