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Top Pentagon official cautions India over buying Russian arms

Pentagon official

Washington: Ahead of a high-level dialogue between Washington and New Delhi, a top Pentagon official has cautioned India that there are no guarantees for a special waiver from US sanctions if it buys new weapons platforms from Russia, including its S-400 long-range, surface-to-air missile system.

The United States has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, under which any country engaged with its defence and intelligence sectors could face secondary US sanctions. However, a new defence bill gives the president the authority to grant waivers in case of national security interests.

Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, said there was an “impression that we are going to completely protect the India relationship, insulate India from any fallout from this legislation no matter what they do.” Media reports from the region have suggested that India would get a waiver.

“I would say that is a bit misleading. We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems (from Russia),” Schriver said at a think tank event.

“I can’t sit here and tell you that they would be exempt, that we would use that waiver, that will be the decision of the president if he is faced with a major new platform and capability that India has acquired from Russia,” he added.

The Indian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is travelling to New Delhi with US Defense Secretary Mattis for the inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue on September 6. Mattis has publicly been a strong proponent of granting India waivers.

The format of the 2+2 dialogue was agreed upon between the two sides during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington in June 2017.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman were to travel to Washington to take part in the meeting with their US counterparts in July. But the US had postponed the dialogue citing “unavoidable reasons”.

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