The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said the government was in touch with both the United States and Iran ahead of the sanctions against Tehran’s oil sector coming into force from November 4.

The US expects all countries, including India, to reduce their Iranian oil imports to zero. However, the sanctions are not authorised by the United Nations and India traditionally only enforces sanctions endorsed by the world body. Last week, Tehran said India will continue to buy oil from Iran despite the US’ warnings.

“India will do everything possible to safeguard its energy needs,” ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters at a press conference. “India is touch with both the US and Iran on the issue.”

Kumar said the government has made its expectations known to the US. “United States Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo has said that the sanctions on Iran are not to hurt India,” Kumar added.

Earlier this month, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said that Indian companies will continue to import crude oil from Iran next month despite the sanctions. Sanctions against Iran will block payment routes for India through the US dollar. “We will be guided by our national interest,” Pradhan had said.

The MEA spokesperson added that despite the controversy surrounding the Rafale jet deal, India and France share a strong relationship. “This has not impacted the bilateral relations between India and France,” he added.

On US’s concerns about the missile system deal between India and Russia, Kumar said New Delhi has communicated its stance to Washington. “S-400 air defence system is dictated by our national interest...The idea is to remain engaged with the US as far as this issue is concerned,” he said.

The deal was signed despite a warning by the US that it would impose sanctions on India if the agreement went through. Under new US laws, countries that sign deals with Russian defence or intelligence sectors can face secondary sanctions. India has reportedly requested for a waiver from US sanctions under Washington’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The law, introduced in August 2017, aims to penalise Russia for annexing Crimea and its alleged interference in the 2016 US elections.

Ministry refuses to comment on MJ Akbar

The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday refused to make a statement on former Minister of State MJ Akbar’s resignation. “The minister has resigned and made a statement, I have nothing else to add,” the ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters at a press conference. “He was a part of an official meeting after he arrived in India, I am not aware of any meeting between him and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.”

Akbar resigned on Wednesday following multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Akbar was travelling in Nigeria when the allegations first began to come out. On his return, he called the claims false, but did not resign. He has filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, whose allegation of harassment against Akbar was the first.

Several Bharatiya Janata Party members have refused to comment on the allegations against Akbar, including Sushma Swaraj, and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Onus of bilateral talks with Pakistan lies with Islamabad, says India

The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said it was up to Pakistan to create a conducive environment for bilateral dialogue. “The onus is on Pakistan to take credible steps, to create conducive conditions, for such talks which of course means taking action against terrorists, taking action against terrorist infrastructure which operates from its soil,” the ministry’s spokesperson said.

On October 14, Pakistan’s military warned India of “10 surgical strikes” in response to even one such attack.

‘MEA is coordinating with US on H-1B matter’

The External Affairs ministry spokesperson said India was coordinating with the Trump administration on Washington’s H-1B visa policy. The H-1B visa allows US companies to employ skilled workers from abroad. More than three lakh Indian engineers are believed to be on this work permit in the US.

“It is a very important topic for us and that is the reason why time and again, at different levels, we have taken up the matter with the US side,” Kumar said. “Most recently, it was discussed and mentioned during the two-plus-two talks. It is indeed correct that the administration has taken measures to prevent abuse of this programme and there are certain bills which have been introduced.”