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Some countries buying Russian gear deserve sanctions waivers: US defence secretary

James Mattis did not mention India, but he has previously spoken about keeping the country off the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2018 11:17 IST
Lalit K Jha, PTI, Washington
James Mattis,Russia,US sanctions
US Defense Secretary James Mattis delivers the keynote address during the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and exposition at the Washington Convention Center October 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.(AFP)

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has sought sanction waivers for countries planning to reduce their military dependence on Russia, saying it will strengthen US allies in key regions.

Mattis’ statement did not mention India, but he has previously spoken about keeping the country off the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that puts sanctions on countries purchasing significant military equipment from Russia.

CAATSA affects India, as it plans to buy five S-400 Triumf air defence systems for around $4.5 billion from Russia--a deal US officials say could be considered as a significant military purchase.

Mattis recently wrote a letter to Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be empowered to waive off CAATSA sanctions on certain countries.

“Russia should suffer consequences for its aggressive, destabilising behaviour and its illegal occupation of Ukraine. However, as we impose necessary and well-deserved costs for their malign behaviour, providing the Secretary of State with a CAATSA waiver authority is imperative,” said Mattis in a statement on Friday.

“Doing so allows nations to build a closer security relationship with the US as they continue to transition from reliance on Russian military equipment,” he said.

“The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is do we wish to strengthen our partners in key regions or leave them with no other option than to turn to Russia, thereby undermining an once in a generation opportunity to more closely align nations with the US vision for global security and stability.”

Last week, US lawmakers had said that they were working to get CAATSA waivers for India.

“One of the biggest proponents of the importance of this relationship is Secretary Mattis... This (waiver) is important for our country. This is important for India. This is important for the strategic relationships,” Senator Dan Sullivan said during the annual leadership conference of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum.

“I’m hopeful that we’re gonna get there on something that will advance our country’s interests and advance India’s interest and build that trust,” Sullivan said as he called for concrete actions in Indo-US defence relationship.

Responding to a similar question at a separate panel, Senator Mark Warner, who is a strong proponent of the CAATSA, said the lawmakers were looking into it and did not want India to suffer its unintended consequences.

“There are some with the view that the bill does allow flexibility. House version gives a little more on the waiver side. We are trying to investigate on the Senate side, how we can allow this military partnership to grow but not undermine the principles around CAATSA,” Warner said.

“It would be easier, I say to my Indian colleagues and friends, if this was simply parts of old aircraft that had been purchased 20 years before rather than a USD 4 billion plus air defence system. I do understand as well this was negotiated long before,” he said, adding that this long relationship cannot be broken overnight.

Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Singh Sarna said India was not the target of the federal law and should not become collateral damage of it. The Donald Trump administration has to find a way in which they can find a waiver for the partner on this particular thorny issue, he said.

“We are hopeful that given the broad understanding on this issue on the Hill as well as the administrations enthusiasm behind it,” he added.

Mukesh Aghi, the president of the US-India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), said there was a very positive momentum.

“The momentum that I am seeing is positive. The attitude and intentions (of the Trump Administration) are positive. So hopefully, we will have a positive solution (on the CAATSA and Iranian oil sanctions before the next 2+2 India-US Dialogue),” he told PTI last week.

First Published: Jul 22, 2018 11:17 IST