When India and U.S. hold their first 2+2 Dialogue involving the External Affairs and Defence Ministers and their counterparts, one of the key issues would be questions regarding the recent Russia-related sanctions that have now come up as a key impediment for India’s defence modernisation.
“It is already the elephant in the room. At the dialogue it can be expected to take up a good amount of time,” a senior military source said.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will visit the U.S. for the first meeting of the 2+2 Dialogue on July 6 with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James N. Mattis. The new dialogue format was agreed upon by the two sides during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington D.C. in June 2017.
A MEA statement last week said the two sides will “share perspectives on strengthening their strategic and security ties and exchange views on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest.”
The impact of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) is still being assessed in the military circles even as policy moves from the U.S. have not been reassuring, say officials.
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for 2019 without any waiver provisions under CAATSA for countries having significant defence relations with Russia.
The House version which was passed earlier had allowed limited waiver, which did not find place in the Senate version.
The House version allows for waivers for 180 days, provided the administration certifies that the country in question is scaling back its ties with Russia. Even this would be tough for India, as it would be extremely difficult to scale down its relations with Russia, sources point out.
According to indications, the Indian side will firmly place its objections to CAATSA during the 2+2 Dialogue as practically all major defence deals in the pipeline between India and the U.S. would be held up due to this.
Earlier this month, Ms. Sitharaman had said, “We have clearly explained how India and Russia’s defence cooperation has been going on for a long time and that it is a time-tested relationship. We have mentioned that CAATSA cannot impact the India-Russia defence cooperation.”
Congressman Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the U.S. House Armed Forces Committee, last month said in New Delhi that there was an understanding in the U.S. Administration and the Congress on the need for “some additional flexibility” in the law and hoped that it would be granted in the Act to benefit friends and partners like India and others who have significant relations with Russia.