Washington, DC – The United States confirmed – in an email exchange with IAT on Friday – an “event” for which there was no public transcript nor any identified official, while commenting on India’s decision to buy the long-range S–400 missile defense system from Russia.
Earlier, an Indian media report originating from here cited a Senior State Department Official as commenting to a “select group of journalists” – who are also not identified in the report – that India’s decision to purchase S–400 missile defense system from Russia is a major issue.
Brushing aside the notion that it’s not a big deal, the official cautioned that the purchase could trigger US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) instituted by the US Congress on arms purchases from Russia.
“I disagree. The S–400 is significant because of CAATSA sanctions. It’s also significant because of what it precludes, in terms of future high-tech cooperation,” the official was quoted in the Indian media report.
It may be noted that the newly sworn-in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was re-elected with a thumping majority in the general elections, is expected to take certain tough decisions for his country as he had negotiated and sealed a $5 billion S–400 air defense system deal in October last after wide-ranging talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The report cited the senior official from the US State Department as reiterating earlier conveyed concerns of Washington to Delhi that if India went ahead with its decision to buy the S–400 missile defense system from Russia, it will have serious implications on the US-India defense ties. “Those concerns we hold high,” the official was quoted as telling the group of unidentified journalists here.
Without mincing words and citing the example of ongoing tensions with NATO ally Turkey over the same subject, the official was quoted as cautioning: “You can look at the very serious conversation that’s taking place with our NATO partner Turkey and the same concerns will apply should India proceed with an S–400 purchase,” adding, ”We don’t commingle highest technology systems. There are threats posed by the purchase of an S–400. So that conversation you’re seeing played out in Turkey right now.”
Speaking about the waivers under CAATSA legislation, the official was quoted as saying, “Every case would have to be looked at individually. But I think the broader issue is where are India’s military relations headed? With whom is it going to share the highest technology and that operating environment? Because certain choices preclude other choices.”
“As we have discussions about a combat aircraft sales and other advanced systems, the decisions that India makes with regard to S–400 will have an impact on those conversations,” the senior State Department official added.
Admitting that from zero value purchase a few years ago to $18 billion today, the official also told journalists: “We do more military exercises with India than with any other country in the world. Through these exercises, through the enhanced cooperation we have, whether it’s in the disaster assistance and humanitarian relief area or whether it’s on this joint sailing that we did in the South China Sea, there’s natural interest and also increasing the interoperability of our military equipment. So we, we certainly look forward to ongoing discussions about a variety of ones.”
The official in his talk also offered other options for India saying, “There’s another message from the United States and let’s talk. We have systems that are effective. There are other platforms that are very effective”.
“But I think there’s also a very positive message. We are now able to cooperate in ways that we could not before. We are now reaching agreements that we did not have before that allow us to consider sales that were incomprehensible only five years ago,” the official said.
“So, we look forward to continuing the conversation because this really is a conversation. Choices that are made now will establish the framework for the future and we certainly have the ambitions for the broadest possible, deepest possible military relationship with India,” the official said.
Although, the Indian media report sounded a warning signal to Delhi from Washington through a confirmed State Department Senior Official, we confirmed from another reliable source that Washington is looking forward to cementing a relationship with Delhi on various fronts including defense and gives high priority to two of the strongest democracies of the world to have a bonding across the political, social, defense and financial spectrum.
Tejinder Singh was the Founder and Editor of India America Today, and is the inspiration for Global Strat View.