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US House passes bill that amends law to allow India to buy Russian arms

The $716 billion bill, National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 — US military’s budget—passed the House in a 359-54 vote, and now heads for the Senate, which votes on it early next week.

world Updated: Jul 27, 2018 01:04 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US-Russia,India-Russia,Russian weapons
India plans to buy Russian S-400 air defence systems. (AFP file photo)

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a defence spending bill that also seeks to amend a law that threatened sanctions against countries making significant arms purchases from Russia, such as India, which plans to buy Russian S-400 air defence systems, and exempt them from secondary sanctions.

The $716 billion bill, National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 — US military’s budget—passed the House in a 359-54 vote, and now heads for the Senate, which votes on it early next week and dispatches it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

In a clear sign that Trump will sign it when it gets to his desk, the White House welcomed its passage by the House.

“By supporting key components of the Administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, both of which focus on a return to principled realism in an era of great power competition, the FY 2019 NDAA enhances the President’s ability to defend the Nation,” the press secretary said in a statement.

“It also supports key components of the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, South Asia Strategy, vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and ongoing operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

Both chambers of the US Congress were expected to pass the bill, as the final version unveiled on Monday and currently before the lawmakers was prepared through a legislative process called “conference” by a joint committee of the two chambers, which had in essence written it together.

The bill amends an existing law — Combating America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) — that seeks to punish Russia for the 2016 election meddling, but which also threatened sanctions against third countries that made “significant transactions” with designated Russian entities in the sectors of military and intelligence.

That would have left India open to secondary (unintended) sanctions under this law for its plans to purchase five S-400 air defence systems at an estimated cost of $4.5 billion from Russia.

The US Congress was persuaded to amend the law to exempt countries like India and Vietnam after a spirited push from defense secretary James Mattis, backed by secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who argued that by punishing these countries under CAATSA would actually push them back into the arms of Russia, which would not be in US interest.

“There are nations in the world which are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems like this. We only need to look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognise that, eventually, we’re going to paralyse ourselves,” Mattis had said during a hearing.

US lawmakers agreed. And a summary of the conference report took the same line announcing the changes in CAATSA: it “provides flexibility for strategic partners and allies to move away from the use of Russian military equipment to American equipment, while ensuring that US defence and security interests remain protected”.

The new exemptions are based on conditions most of which are met by India, officials and experts have said.

First Published: Jul 27, 2018 01:03 IST