Randall G. Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs

‘No guarantee of waiver for India from Russia sanctions’

The first 2+2 dialogue between the U.S. and India next week in New Delhi will discuss regional and strategic issues of Asia and “will also have some real outcomes,” said a senior official of the Donald Trump administration. “China and how to respond to it will be front and centre” of the dialogue, said Randall G. Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

Mr. Schriver was talking at an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the forthcoming meeting. U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis will be travelling to India for the dialogue, which was postponed twice earlier.

The Trump administration was mindful of India’s legacy ties with Russia, but did not appreciate its continuing defence cooperation with it, the official said, adding that he was not sure of granting a waiver to India from sanctions if it went ahead with the planned purchase of S-400 missile defence system from the Kremlin.

“We understand the historical nature of Russian relationships and the legacy involved here. We want to have a conversation with the Indians not on the past, but on the future on this. Looking at Russia’s future, that is not a country that you might want to have a relationship in the long run. We will have significant concerns if India pursued purchase of new platforms and new cooperation with Russia. I cannot specifically say what will happen if India continued with new purchases,” Mr. Schriver said.

Asked whether America would offer an alternative missile defence platform to India, the official said: “We are willing to talk to India about meeting its defence requirements and alternatives. I can say we are willing to enter into that conversation with India.”

Mr. Schriver said the U.S administration expected some concrete outcomes such as concluding an enabling agreement on communication and expanding the scope of military exercises between the countries. The official said India and the U.S. have complete agreement on the vision of Asia Pacific though there is a requirement to work on the strategy to operationalise it.

“Our visions are completely in convergence, and on strategy, we are building on,” he said, adding that operationalising India-U.S. partnership in Asia would be part of the 2+2 agenda. “To operationalise the strategy, we need to figure out what the division of labour will be,” he said.

Asked by moderator Ashley Tellis how China fits in the India-U.S. ties, Mr. Schriver said the U.S. does “not want to exclude the possibility that this (America’s Asia Pacific policy) is an inclusive strategy,” but China was “demonstrating that they have different aspirations” for the Asia-Pacific. “In the world that we live in, countries are encouraged by China’s behaviour to coalesce with us,” he said, citing the Belt and Road Initiative and militarisation of the South China Sea. “We also need to have an alternative (to BRI), and we are talking to India on this. The same goes for military strategy. This is the conversation that will have in Delhi,” he said.

Mr. Schriver said the U.S. continued to seek Pakistan’s support for a political settlement in Afghanistan. “We want the new Prime Minister of Pakistan to explore ways to improve ties with India. There is no question that we need Pakistan’s help to persuading, pressuring Taliban toward a political process. We want Pakistan to use is influence over the Taliban,” he said. Asked what the U.S. expected from India on Afghanistan, the official said, it could help with its “experience of managing a multicultural, multi-ethnic country”. “India could also help with some logistic support in security and development also.”

The official said keeping contentious economic issues separate from strategic issues will be a challenge in bilateral ties in the days ahead. “These economic and trade issues are long-standing irritants. The Trump administration may be using different tools to deal with these irritants, but they are not new. But the reality of the security situation will be compelling and persuasive for both of us to stay the course on security cooperation.”