NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India could yet be exempted from tighter U.S. sanctions on buyers of Iranian crude, and New Delhi would like to be judged on the size of term deals with Tehran which begin in April, the International Energy Agency's executive director told Reuters.
In a first public indication India is discussing a waiver to the sanctions, which it has rebuffed, Maria van der Hoeven said the country's annual contracts were an unknown still to be considered.
Reuters calculates India is likely to cut imports from Iran by more than 20 percent in the new deals -- in line with a benchmark 15-22 percent set for Japan to secure its waiver.
"At the moment, India is not one of those with an exemption. The answer of India was that they have their contracts running from April to March," van der Hoeven said in an interview on the sidelines of the Asia Gas Partnership conference in New Delhi on Friday.
"So that, for instance, is one of the ... things that has to be decided in the context of what is going to happen after April 1. It is one of the uncertainties that are there."
The U.S. has exempted Japan and 10 EU nations from financial sanctions because they have slashed purchases of Iranian oil, but Iran's top customers -- China and India -- remain at risk of such steps.
The 11 countries have a six-month reprieve from the threat of being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
India relies on Iran, its second-biggest supplier, for about 12 percent of its oil needs.
New Delhi publicly maintains it will not seek a waiver to the U.S. measures, and that it sees no need to reduce oil imports from Iran because that is not required under United Nations sanctions, although it acknowledges the need to diversify supplies.
Privately it has asked refiners to cut by at least 15 percent.
Payments to Tehran, and insurance for shipments of its oil, are becoming ever more difficult because of sanctions and have prompted India to resort to using the rupee -- which is not freely traded on global markets -- for some Iranian crude.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma and Jo Winterbottom; Editing by Aradhana Aravindan and David Hulmes)
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