2+2 a milestone, India not a target of sanctions, says US official

India’s planned purchase of the S-400 air defence systems has put it in the path of sanctions aimed against Russia, while its large imports of Iranian crude and operational control of part of Chabahar has left it open to sanctions against Iran.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2018 23:23 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
2+2 talks,India,US
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and US secretary of defense James Mattis at a joint press conference after the India-US 2 + 2 Dialogue, in New Delhi, on September 6, 2018. (PTI)

A senior state department official on Monday called the inaugural 2+2 dialogue a “strategic milestone” and reiterated that though the US has made no decision on the S-400 deal and Iranian oil imports, India is not the intended target of Russia and Iran-related sanctions.

An “informational conversation” was held during the dialogue in New Delhi last week about India’s concerns on the sanctions impacting the development of Iran’s Chabahar port, and the US has taken it under “advisement”, Alice Wells, who heads the South and Central Asia bureau at the state department, said on a conference call with reporters.

Iran is set to hand over a part of Chabahar port, which serves as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, to India in a few weeks.

Wells was part of the US team led by secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis for talks with their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman at the 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi on September 6, and discussions and conversations have continued since then.

India’s planned purchase of the S-400 air defence systems has put it in the path of sanctions aimed against Russia, while its large imports of Iranian crude and operational control of part of Chabahar has left it open to sanctions against Iran. Discussions between the two countries continue on both these issues, also at the 2+2.

India hopes to get US waivers on both counts, and “given the present trajectory” of ties, it doesn’t expect to be hit with sanctions — “the two things don’t tie up”, as an official said on background. India is also taking comfort from the US insistence that India is not the intended target of these sanctions.

But it is waiting for clarity and resolution of the issues.

Wells cited Pompeo’s remarks to reporters after the meeting in New Delhi to reiterate that “these (Russia-related) sanctions are not intended to hurt countries like India…and similarly those for Iran”.

But the Trump administration does wish to punish Russia and Iran through the sanctions, she added.

Wells described the 2+2 dialogue as “more than a meeting” and said the US views it as a “strategic milestone, a long time in the making, between two global powers”.

She proceeded to race through major agreements signed and arrived at during the meeting, such as COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) that will enhance defence intelligence-sharing and inter-operability by the militaries of India and the US, increase collaboration between the defence industries of the two sides, facilitate a move toward sharing of geospatial information, tri-services exercises and exchange of naval officers.

Wells also said the discussions on trade were “frank and open”, a phrase used by officials for differences. Trade is one of the most persistent irritants in the relationship, exacerbated and escalated by President Donald Trump’s insistence on reciprocal trade. This is an area in which much work needs to be done and both sides acknowledged “fair and reciprocal trade” is in their interest, she said.

China came up, as it does in the context of the Indo-Pacific region, said Wells. The conversation was on “how we can bilaterally, trilaterally with Japan, and quadrilaterally with Australia, with ASEAN at the center of our efforts…work to promote economic security, good governance and security of the seas and the skies”.

A date is being discussed for the next meeting of the Quad, Wells said. This will be the third since the resurrection of the grouping in November 2017.

Responding to a question about Pakistan, Wells said the US has not seen the kind of “decisive and sustained” steps it wants Islamabad to take on counter-terrorism. The US is encouraged by the exchange of messages between new Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi but as always, it will “defer” to the two countries on how they want to take things forward.

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 23:22 IST