On the other sticking point of Iran, Wells said there was “ongoing” conversation with India on Tehran’s “malign behaviour in the region”

by Neena Gopal

BANGALORE: In the first signal that Washington has not yet taken a call on imposing sanctions on Delhi over its planned acquisition of the S-400 Russian missile defence system, a senior U.S diplomat said that while there were “no blanket waivers or even a country specific waiver on the Russian S-400,” India’s ‘legacy issues with Russia’ were a factor that had come up during the recently concluded 2+2 meet between Indian ministers Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman and the US Secretaries Michael Pompeo and James Mattis in Delhi last week.

Speaking from Washington Alice Wells (in pic), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and a former Ambassador, who has led on-off peace talks with the Taliban over rising concerns in the Trump administration on Pakistan’s continued policy of offering support and safe haven to terror groups, underscored the importance of the relationship with Delhi, saying the “2+2 was not a meeting for this week, or next week or next month but a generational partnership.” 

“There’s a great understanding of the legacy of India’s military, defence cooperation relationship with Russia,” Ms Wells said, in the first briefing post the 2+2 dialogue. The US would therefore continue to have “a conversation” with India on the five S-400 Triumf missile air defence systems that India intends to buy from Russia for $4.5 billion, she said. India has made clear that it expects a presidential waiver to avoid sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) passed by the US Congress on countries that make arms purchases from Russia.

“The sanctions are designed to impact Russia,” Ms Wells did say, stressing India’s status as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific, the new coinage that seeks to position India as a counterweight to China. On the other sticking point of Iran, Wells said there was “ongoing” conversation with India on Tehran’s “malign behaviour in the region.” “We are looking to countries to bring the crude oil imports down to zero as quickly as possible. We are working very hard with our partners to ensure that there’s no disruption to the market, that there is adequate supplies available to substitute for Iranian oil exports,” Wells added. 

On Chabahar port, she said that India laid out the rationale behind its investment in developing the Persian Gulf port as it not only facilitates north-south trade to Central Asia but also into land-locked Afghanistan. On Pakistan, Ms Wells said that while the Pompeo visit was intended to break the ice with the incoming civilian administration, the U.S Secretary of State had delivered an unambiguous message, that was consistent with Washington’s concerns over stability in Afghanistan and the South Asian region.