Possibility Of U.S. Sanctions On India Remains On The Table: Top Diplomat
The possibility of U.S. sanctions on India for buying multi-billion-dollar S-400 missile systems from Russia remains on the table, a top U.S. diplomat has said, asserting that New Delhi will have to make a strategic commitment to technologies and platforms.
In October 2018, India signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, notwithstanding warning from the U.S. that going ahead with the contract may invite sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.
Last year, India made the first tranche of payment of around $800 million to Russia for the missile systems. The S-400 is known as Russia's most advanced long-range, surface-to-air missile defence system.
"CAATSA very much remains a policy priority, certainly for Congress, where you've seen the very strong demand for implementation and concern over the ability of Russia to gain monies from these military sales that will be used to further undermine the sovereignty of neighbouring countries," Alice Wells, the outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, told a Washington D.C.-based think tank on Wednesday.
She will retire on May 22 after a 31-year-long career.
The U.S. had imposed sanctions on Russia under the stringent CAATSA. The law also provides for punitive action against countries purchasing defence hardware from Russia.
"CAATSA has not moved off the table. Instead of approaching it from a Russian prism though, I think the more important conversation to have is at this level of sophistication, and as India is moving to adopt the highest level of technological systems, it really becomes a question of which system do they want to operate within," Wells said in response to a question by former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma.
"How do they want their systems to communicate with one another? It's not a mix-and-match arrangement. At certain point, India will have to make sort of a strategic commitment to technologies and platforms... We think we have the best technologies and platforms," Wells said.
At the same time, Wells referred to the growing defense relationship between India and U.S. "We have also made strides in our defense trade, with the bilateral tally now crossing the $20 billion mark after the president's visit (to India), she said.
“I think this administration deserves to take credit for making a concerted policy change to offer India our most advanced defense technologies such as armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
"It's quite remarkable to think that the same missile defense system protecting Washington DC will soon be protecting new Delhi," Wells said.
Wells also said U.S. sees India as a global power and understands the country's global interests which it seeks to protect diplomatically, politically, economically and militarily.
The U.S. and India share a vision for an Indo-Pacific order that respects sovereignty and rule of law. "India seeks to become, you know, in the words of (External Affairs) Minister Jaishankar a leading power, but one that plays by the rules. We in turn recognise that India is successful, (its) rise contributes to an environment in Asia that serves U.S. interests," she said.