Nicholas Burns is very upset that India makes securing Indian interests a priority:

The Indian government’s defense is that it relies on Iran for 12 percent of its oil imports and can’t afford to break those trade ties. But India has had years to adjust and make alternative arrangements. Ironically, the United States has had considerable success on the sanctions front in recent months. The EU has decided to implement an oil embargo on Iran, the U.S. is introducing Central Bank sanctions and even the East Asian countries, such as China, have imported less Iranian oil in recent months. That makes India’s recent pronouncements seem extremely out of step and out of touch with the new global determination to isolate and pressure Iran to negotiate in order to avoid a catastrophic war.

It’s possible that India could have done what Japan and South Korea have done over the last ten years, but Burns makes no attempt to explain why the Indian government would have wanted to do that. Burns is exaggerating the degree of international support for sanctioning Iran. The claim about China is extremely misleading, since China and Iran just reached an agreement on oil last week:

National Iranian Oil Co. has reached an agreement in principle with China International United Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Unipec, for a long-term supply contract to supply crude oil in 2012, a person familiar with Iran’s oil sales said Thursday.

The deal paves the way for the resumption of imports by China’s largest buyer of Iranian crude, which had already skipped orders in January and February due to deadlock over a new contract.

Unipec’s latest agreement with NIOC indicates that a decline in Iranian crude exports to China earlier this year was due to a commercial dispute rather than political reasons. The deal is another sign that China has no immediate plans to obey U.S. sanctions [bold mine-DL], which were tightened late last year to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear activities.

India isn’t “extremely out of step” with the “new global determination to isolate and pressure Iran” because this so-called global determination is almost entirely American and European. Turkey isn’t on board with the oil embargo, either, and if it were Turkey would be forced to scrap a large part of its growing trade with Iran. The EU may have been pulled into acting against its economic self-interest, but that doesn’t mean the other oil-importing states are going to follow suit.

Burns sees India’s refusal to sacrifice its economic relationship with Iran as part of a larger pattern:

There’s a larger point here about India’s role in the world. For all the talk about India rising to become a global power, its government doesn’t always act like one. It is all too often focused on its own region but not much beyond it. And, it very seldom provides the kind of concrete leadership on tough issues that is necessary for the smooth functioning of the international system.

Put another way, India mainly pays attention to its own interests, it doesn’t agree with the U.S. and Europe on a number of issues, and refuses to make pleasing the U.S. and Europe on those issues a higher priority than its interests. In fact, India has been far more supportive of international sanctions on Iran than anyone had reason to expect given the ties between the two countries. There is something rather absurd about a nuclear-armed India supporting sanctions on Iran for its inadequate compliance with a non-proliferation treaty to which India doesn’t belong, but it is even more absurd for Americans to be chastising India because it does not share an obsessive fixation on Iran’s nuclear program.

India and the U.S. have much to gain from a constructive bilateral relationship. It is extremely short-sighted on our part to undermine that relationship by making demands on India regarding Iran that we ought to know in advance their government cannot or will not meet. Maybe if the U.S. could give India some incentive for cooperation, it might be a different story, but as usual the U.S. expects other governments to make significant concessions to advance a U.S.-led policy while offering them nothing in return. In short, the U.S. should expect to be “let down” by other rising powers when our government makes unreasonable demands of them.