India will once again press its case for a waiver of United States’ sanctions on the $5.4 billion Russian S-400 Triumf anti-missile deal, but will discuss Washington’s concerns over the issue during talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.
On a visit to Delhi to prepare for the Trump-Modi meeting this weekend, Mr. Pompeo landed on Tuesday evening ahead of a full day of meetings with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Wednesday, where he will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr. Pompeo will start his day with full-delegation meetings with Mr. Jaishankar followed by a press briefing. No MoUs or agreements are expected to be announced, although negotiations on two important agreements, the Industrial Security Annexe and the Geo-spatial cooperation agreement BECA have made considerable progress. Mr. Pompeo will hold a closed-door interaction with Indian and American businesses to speak about the impasse over a trade deal and the U.S. withdrawal of India’s GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) status.
In the evening, he will meet Mr. Modi before the latter leaves for Osaka, and also give a public address aimed at India’s youth. Mr. Pompeo will leave for Osaka early Thursday morning.
While strategic relations and people-to-people ties are on the agenda during the main talks, trade issues between the two countries are expected to take centre stage, diplomatic sources said. In addition, the U.S.’s objections to the purchase of the S-400, its sanctions on Indian imports of oil from Iran and Venezuela as well as its new demand that India must not allow Chinese telecom major Huawei to participate in 5G network trials are likely to come up for discussion.
The sources acknowledged that the U.S. had made known its concerns over the S-400 deal and other issues quite openly, and India fears becoming “collateral damage” of the U.S.’ relationships with other countries. In the past few weeks, a number of senior U.S. diplomats and officials have suggested that if India goes through with buying the S-400, the U.S. will not offer India certain hi-technology platforms or may hold back on F-21/F-35 sales, as it had done with Turkey which has also bought the S-400.
“[The U.S.] must realise that we have a long-standing defence relationship with Russia which we cannot wish away,” a government official said on Tuesday, adding that the S-400 deal had been discussed with the Putin government for a long time before it was signed in October last. “If you look at it purely from a legal point of view, India fulfils the requirements for a CAATSA waiver,” the official said, referring to the U.S. law that bans military purchases from Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The sources indicated that the decision on whether to accept the U.S. diktat on import of oil from Iran has yet to be announced officially, but Indian oil companies have already taken a decision not to import more oil from Iran after the U.S. waivers ran out on May 2.
On the Huawei issue, Mr. Jaishankar will tell Mr. Pompeo that the government will balance the national security implications of the Chinese company with the demands of the local telecommunications market before deciding on 5G trials. Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry weighed in on the debate, calling for India to take an “unbiased and non-discriminatory” decision.
The slew of U.S. demands from India had even prompted the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel to write to Mr. Pompeo on the eve of his visit to Delhi, warning of a growing view that the U.S. is “attempting to coerce India” into compliance with its demands. When asked, the sources said they didn’t see any coercion in the U.S.’ demands, rather that India saw them as “requests from friends”.