U.S. playing a ‘long game’ in relationship with India: Jake Sullivan

Washington not forcing New Delhi’s hand on Russian sanctions, says National Security Adviser

June 16, 2022 10:00 pm | Updated October 11, 2022 03:49 pm IST - Washington DC:

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. File

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

Washington DC:

The U.S. is playing a “long game” in the context of its relationship with India and not trying to coerce India into joining its sanctions against Moscow, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

Mr. Sullivan’s remarks were made on Thursday at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington DC-based think tank. He was responding to a question on whether India’s abstentions during the United Nations votes that were critical of Russia and New Delhi’s non-participation in the U.S. sanctions on Russian energy were hindering the bilateral relationship or were simply a difference of opinion that could be easily managed.

The U.S., as per Mr Sullivan, was being “direct” with India about its perspective on the Russia situation and how it “would encourage” India, in time, to change its own perspective, adding that it was up to India to make its own decisions.

‘Deep, respectful, and strategic dialogue’

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian entities following the county’s invasion of Ukraine in February. India has not signed up to these sanctions nor voted along with the vast majority of countries at the UN, in votes that censured Russia.

“But they’re a sovereign, democratic nation, they will make their own decisions and we’re not here to lecture them or to insist on a certain outcome or else,” Mr. Sullivan said about India.

“We’re having, I would say, a deep, respectful, and strategic dialogue with India, starting with the President and the Prime Minister, who have spoken frequently by phone and just met a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo, and we’re playing the long game here,” he added.

Earlier stance

Mr. Sullivan’s remarks appeared at odds with earlier reactions from the Biden administration to news of India buying discounted oil from Moscow.

Countries “should” abide by the U.S. sanctions on Russia, former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said in early April. This was days after Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh said in New Delhi that there would be “consequences” for countries “that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill the sanctions”.

The U.S. sanctions have a carve-out for energy payments. This week, the U.S. treasury extended the carve-out past its initial expiry date of June 24, to December 5, when the European Union’s ban on Russian oil imports kicks in.

On Thursday, Mr Sullivan delivered a different public message on the U.S. approach, one that contrasted with the messaging in March and April. The U.S was “investing” in the relationship with India, he said, and not going to judge it by one issue, even if that issue was “consequential”.

“Rather that we’re going to judge over the fullness of time, as we try to work to convergence on the major strategic questions facing our two countries.”

‘Better outcomes’

Mr. Sullivan said that on one of the strategic questions, China, the U.S. and India had much more convergence but on the question of Russia, “obviously” the two countries had different historical perspectives and “different muscle memories”.

“But we feel confident that the dialogue we have going with India right now will bear fruit over time, in a way that is not about forcing them to change or demanding things of them, but rather is the kind of iterative approach in a strategic relationship that, tended well, will lead to better outcomes.”

Speaking later at the same conference, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief advisor on the Indo Pacific, Kurt Campbell, said that the U.S. and its partners like the U.K, France, and Israel need to provide India with alternatives on the “security side”, i.e., military equipment, as an alternative to weapons from Moscow.

“We are working with other countries to support India so it has a broader set of choices when it comes to security and defence,” Mr Campbell said, adding that the U.S. needed to make it clear that it was going to step up its partnership with India across the government, intelligence communities, and politically (at the leader level but also via processes such as the ‘2+2” finance and defence ministry dialogue). 

Mr Campbell acknowledged that there are and will be challenges in the relationship (such as trade and the economic relationship) but the “longer term trajectory” will bring the two countries closer.

“The key is to remain purposeful, to understand that the most important relationship, in my view, for the United States in the 21st century, is likely to be with India and it’s critical that we take the necessary steps to signal... to signal how important India is to the United States,” he said.


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