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‘India should get sanctions waiver’

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Mattis seeks changes in anti-Russia law

The Secretary of State should be allowed to grant waiver to countries such as India that will otherwise come under American sanctions under a new American law that intends to target Russia, Secretary of Defence James Mattis told lawmakers on Thursday. 

Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA mandates the U.S President to impose sanctions on entities that have transactions with Russian defence and intelligence sectors. India being a close defence partner of Russia is a potential target of such sanctions, along with some other key American allies such as Vietnam and Turkey. The law allows the President to issue waivers under national security considerations. Typically, American punitive laws comes with waiver authority vested in the Secretary of State. 

Testifying before a senate panel, Mr. Mattis asked lawmakers to change CAATSA and empower the Secretary of State. “There are nations in the world which are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems like this. We only need to look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognise that, eventually, we're going to paralyse ourselves," Mr. Mattis said about the law. 

“So what we ask for is that the Senate and the House pass a national security waiver in the hand of the Secretary of State – I'm not asking for myself. Foreign policy is driven from Foggy Bottom (where is the U.S State Department is located). So, if he has the waiver authority and I can go to him and show it's in our best interest, then we get an internal management of this process, but it keeps us from being boxed in by the Russians,” Mr. Mattis said. 

Pressing Mr. Mattis to elaborate further, Senator Tom Cotton asked: “You mentioned two specific countries, India and Vietnam, that have legacy Russian systems. They might face real challenges going cold turkey, so to speak, under CAATSA…So, you're suggesting the national security waiver as a way that this Congress can empower Secretary Pompeo to address the concerns that you have with those two countries, is that right?.”

“That's correct. And there's other countries. Indonesia, for example is in the same situation, trying to shift to more of our airplanes, our systems. But they've got to do something to keep their legacy military going,” Mr. Mattis replied.

“I think that his point regarding the waiver was that a Presidential waiver is inherently a political instrument and that typically the Secretary of State is granted waiver authority to make a judgement on national security grounds, but not in the case of CAATSA….More broadly, the Sec of Defence is correctly highlighting the importance of Congress taking action to ensure CAATSA doesn’t undermine defense relations with a number of important foreign partners of the United States, including India,” said Benjamin Schwartz, who leads U.S.-India Business Council's Defense and Aerospace programme.

“The CAATSA legislation as written – without additional clarification or amendment defining “significant transaction” – has been interpreted by some as mandating the U.S. cease its defense trade relationship with India, but this would be patently self-defeating to the point of absurdity- legislation targeting Russia would end up rewarding Russia. Sec of Defence’s request for a Secretary of State waiver is clearly aimed at helping allay these concerns by creating a flexible bureaucratic mechanism to maintain confidence in the burgeoning U.S-India defense relationship,” he said. 

Senator Jack Reed questioned Mr. Mattis on the lack of flexibility of in Russia sanctions in general also. "In the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the activity in Ukraine, Congress, in the 2015 National Defence Authorisation Act prohibited bilateral military-military cooperation with Russia, which, at the time, seemed to make perfectly good sense," he said. ”At this moment, when we're in a very challenging situation in many areas of the world, would it make sense to review those provisions and give you more flexibility in ways in which you could conduct military-to-military dialogue with Russia in certain situations?" Mr. Reed asked. 

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 4:33:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/imposing-curbs-on-india-over-defence-deal-with-russia-will-hit-us-mattis/article23693493.ece

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