Discussions on plan to purchase long-range air-defence systems and oil imports likely to be awkward
New Delhi hopes the U.S. will consider the importance of its relationship with India carefully, while considering any moves to sanction defence purchases from Russia under the new CAATSA, or Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, official sources said on Tuesday ahead of the inaugural Indo-U.S. 2+2 dialogue.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis will land here on Wednesday and meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday, which officials said would be the “highest-level” dialogue between the two countries this year.
“Our hope is that the U.S. will keep in mind the strategic relationships it enjoys with each country in handling this matter,” an official said, indicating that India would adopt a tough posture during the talks when the CAATSA issue comes up. There have been conflicting statements from Washington on whether U.S. President Donald Trump would give India a waiver from the sanctions mandated by U.S. law. India is finalising a plan to purchase the S-400 long-range air-defence systems from Russia, over which there have been specific objections from several U.S. officials.
However, officials stressed there was no discussion scheduled specifically on the S-400. “It is not normal practice for India to discuss relations with third countries in our bilateral dialogue,” the official said.
Oil from Iran
Another sticky issue remains the U.S. demand that India “zero out” its oil imports from Iran by November, and whether the U.S. will give a waiver to India’s development of the Chabahar port, when a separate set of sanctions kick in.
Conceding that both actions are a major issue in the bilateral discussions, the official said that India hoped to hear from the U.S. on what options it had on procuring oil. “We are heavily energy import reliant … We would like to understand the alternative sources of crude and also the price,” the official said, indicating that India could consider the U.S. demands if other sources of crude compatible with Indian refineries were made available at a comparable price.
“[The decision] will not be made by any compulsion that U.S. places or Iran places. Whether we continue to import Iranian crude or not is our decision to make,” the source added.
Engagement with Pak.
Mr. Pompeo will fly in from Islamabad on Wednesday, and officials said they would await with “interest” the outcome of the U.S. government’s first major engagement with the newly elected government in Pakistan.
Talks on Thursday in Delhi would begin with separate meetings for the Defence and External Affairs Ministry officials with seven-member delegations on both sides. All the delegations will then meet for 2+2 talks followed by a working lunch, after which they will jointly call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The major announcement from the 2+2 talks could be progress on talks to conclude the foundational Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
Sources said “enabling instruments are under discussion” for defence collaboration but declined to comment whether it would be signed.
“COMCASA is one of those issues under discussion. Obviously, I can’t prejudge the outcome of the 2+2. Obviously, we will do a stock-taking and assessment. But we have to wait for the outcome of the ministerial-level meeting,” the official said.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, is part of the U.S. delegation and the two sides are expected to announce a new tri-service amphibious Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise, while a special hotline between the Defence Ministers is also likely to be discussed for approval.
Officials pointed out that India had “independent relations” with all the major powers and sought to dispel any apprehensions that the dialogue would have a negative impact on relations with other countries.
“We expect the ministerial level 2+2 with the U.S. will not have any significant impact on our relations with China and Russia. I think those stand independently,” the official stated, dismissing comments by a senior U.S. official who said that “China will be front and centre” of the 2+2 dialogue. The Indo-Pacific policies of both countries, who are engaged in a “Quad” or quadrilateral arrangement with Australia and Japan, will be on the agenda, the sources said.