India believes it meets the criteria for a waiver from US sanctions on the $5.2-billion deal with Russia for the S-400 missile defense system and New Delhi cannot “wish away” its long-standing defense relations with Moscow, according to people familiar with the developments.
The S-400 deal, threatened with sanctions by the US, is expected to figure in talks on Wednesday between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who arrived in New Delhi late on Tuesday night.
Terrorism, trade-related differences and US-Iran tensions, too, are expected to be on the agenda for Pompeo’s meetings with his Indian interlocutors. Though there is no structured agenda for the talks between Pompeo and Jaishankar and the entire spectrum of India-US ties will be on the table, the people cited above said the Indo-Pacific is also expected to come up, with the Indian side expected to push for an inclusive policy that averts confrontations in the region.
The US has already acted against Turkey and China for acquiring the S-400 system and sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) are expected to kick in once India makes the first payment to Russia.
However, the people said there have been private and public discussions with the US regarding the circumstances that compelled India to acquire the S-400 system and the American side is well aware of India’s requirements.
“CAATSA is very clear as to the circumstances under which a waiver can be given by the US administration… If you look at it from the legal point of view, it is our assessment that India fulfills those requirements and the US administration has enough flexibility to give us the waiver,” one of the people cited above said on Tuesday.
India’s belief that it is entitled to a waiver is derived from a “combination of legal provisions in the US law and the political-strategic assessment by the US government keeping in mind the importance of the strategic partnership between India and the US”, the person said.
“We have to realize that we have a long-standing defense relationship with Russia which we cannot wish away,” the person added.
An official, who declined to be named, said India had been buying Russian weapons even before CAATSA was enacted and there were indications from the Pentagon and the US state department that a waiver would be given by the US. India, the official said, is taking adequate steps to address US concerns that the S-400 system could gather the electronic signatures of American military hardware used by India.
“Also, there is the fear that Russia could start selling weapons to Pakistan if India stops buying them. Let’s not forget that during the aerial engagement with Pakistan on February 27, it was an American missile that was fired at Indian jets,” the official said.
As India diversifies its defense procurements, it will remain committed to acquiring state-of-the-art US weapons systems, the people said.