Can’t guarantee US waivers for buying Russian arms, Pentagon official cautions India
Days ahead of the 2+2 summit, Pentagon official Randall Schriver said US’ “strong preference” is for India to seek “alternatives” to its defence needs.
There are no guarantees for a special waiver from US sanctions if India buys new weapons platforms from Russia, a top Pentagon official has said against the backdrop of efforts by New Delhi and Washington to narrow their differences on the issue.
Under current US rules, third countries can face sanctions for deals with the Russian defence or intelligence sectors. President Donald Trump recently signed a defence spending bill that amended the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to grant waivers against certain conditions that India fulfils easily.
Reacting to the remarks by Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Indian officials said New Delhi had made it clear to Washington that US sanctions will not be allowed to derail India-Russia military ties.
Addressing an audience at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace in Washington on Wednesday, Schriver said the waiver authority had created the impression that the US would insulate India “from any fallout from this legislation no matter what they do”.
He added, “I would say that’s a bit misleading.
“We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems (from Russia). I can’t sit here and tell you that they would be exempt, that we would use that waiver,” he said, days ahead of the first 2+2 dialogue between India and the US that will see defence secretary, Jim Mattis, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, meeting their Indian counterparts.
Two Indian officials said CAATSA and its impact on India’s military readiness is “a matter of continuing discussions between India and the US”. Aspects related to the US sanctions will be discussed at the 2+2 talks, said one of the officials.
“India has conveyed to the US that the sanctions legislation cannot be allowed to derail India-Russia military ties. And they are sensitive to our concerns, given the widespread use of Russian weapons in our military,” the official added.
Russia continues to account for more than 60% of the hardware and equipment used by India’s armed forces despite moves by New Delhi to source military gear from other sources such as the US and Israel.
India, the world’s top defence importer, plans to buy five S-400 missile defence systems from Russia for around $4.5 billion. Defence secretary Mattis has been a strong proponent of granting India waivers from sanctions.
Schriver also said the US understands the historic India-Russia relationship and it wants to “have a conversation with India not on legacy, but on the future”. He added, “Russia is not a country you want to have a strategic partnership (with).”
Pompeo and Mattis will travel to New Delhi for the inaugural 2+2 dialogue on September 6. The format of the dialogue was agreed on during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June 2017.
(With inputs from Rahul Singh in New Delhi)