Washington: The Trump administration does not want to make a decision that degrades the defence capabilities of India which is its ‘Major Defence Partner’, a senior US official has said, referring to the potential sanctions under CAATSA which prohibit countries from purchasing significant military equipment from Russia.
The US has said in the past it was working with countries, including India, to help them identify and avoid engaging in potentially sanctionable activities under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
India and Russia signed the USD 5 billion S-400 air defence system deal in October 2018, after wide-ranging talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Responding to a question on implications of India going ahead with its decision to purchase S-400 missile defence system from Russia, the official said: “I know India has expressed valid concerns… they don’t want to have a sustainment line completely shut down… That’s the last thing we want to do with a significant partner. We don’t want to degrade their defence capabilities”.
The US has said that such a major purchase would come under the purview of the punitive CAATSA sanctions. It has already taken such an action against Turkey.
Many in India believe a Congressional waiver would bail it through. However, the US official insisted that there is no country-specific or blanket waiver for such a major defence purchase.
“What we don’t want India to do is to introduce something that as we continue to go forward in this partnership makes it challenging or exposes risk to our technology on future acquisitions,” said the official requesting anonymity.
“It has been reported in different places, mostly outside of the US, that there was an understanding that there’s a blanket waiver. There is not. I would start with that there is not a blanket waiver. Congress certainly never designed that or anticipated that, nor did the (Trump) administration,” said the official.
While there is not a blanket waiver, there is also not a blanket application, he said.
“There is a case-by-case analysis of where CAATSA sanctions could be applied. CAATSA sanctions also can range in depth as to how deep-cutting and to who, the entities and the people. And those options are always there,” the official said.
Officials from India and the United States which have seen galloping of their bilateral defence trade in the last 15 years are having intense conversations on this issue. Any sanctions on India would have the potential to undo the improvement in the defence and strategic relationship, he said.
“Indian officials know that there is a risk of application of sanctions. Indian officials also know that we want to work with them to find a path forward where they have historic sustainment lines that certainly don’t put them at CAATSA risk,” he added.
“The challenge we have with any state like India is new acquisitions on significant systems that would either put at risk our platforms or expose our technologies to an adversary. And so we said this very simple Turkey was a perfect example. The S-400 put at risk the F-35. The S-400 also could put at risk other platforms, and so we’ve had these conversations very candidly with all partners,” said the senior State Department official.
The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system. China was the first foreign buyer to seal a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014 for the system.
The US recognised India as a “Major Defence Partner” in 2016, a designation that allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.