New Delhi: India has made clear to the United States that it will go ahead with the purchase of S-400 air defence system from Russia, a long-standing issue between the two countries.
The assertion came during US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to India during which he held meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in New Delhi on Wednesday before heading to Japan to join US President Donald Trump for the G20 Summit.
The meetings in New Delhi were not just to do the groundwork for the crucial Modi-Trump meeting in Osaka on June 28 but also iron out some divergences on trade, purchase of defence equipment and energy security in the context of Iran.
Responding to a specific question from News18 on how the US explains the dichotomy in recognising India as a strategic partner and yet issuing warning on the S-400 deal with Russia and on issues regarding trade, Pompeo said, “They are issues right now. We will find a way to work through them.”
However, Jaishankar added, “On the CAATSA issue, again, Secretary Pompeo knows and I have explained to him in some detail, we have many relationships with many countries, many of them are of some standing, they have a history. I think, we will do what is in our national interest, energy security is part of it but there are other concerns as well.” This was the first clear on record indication that India will go ahead with the purchase of S-400 air defence system from Russia.
Trade certainly featured during the discussions. Despite obvious friction, both India and US said they will continue to work towards finding common ground. Jaishankar said issues were bound to arise between trade partners from time to time but “the sign of a mature relationship is your ability to negotiate through that”. However, he did admit that “that’s not been as effective as it could and should have been in the recent past, but I think both of us are leaving this meeting convinced that we both need to tell our governments that they need to try harder and make sure this happens”.
Pompeo outlined America’s expectation from India of “greater market access and removal of trade barriers”. While he said that there is no discussion on reversing the decision on withdrawing the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) status to Indian exporters, he added that the two sides agreed to work through the problem set of “tariffs and counter-tariffs”.
As for energy security and Iran, while India pointed out that there was common ground on energy — that global energy supplies should remain predictable and affordable — Pompeo said: “Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and we know the Indian people, how they have suffered from terror around the world. So I think there is a shared understanding of threat and a common purpose to ensure that we can keep energy at the right prices and deter this threat — not only the threat in the narrow confines of the Middle East, but the threat that this terror regime poses to the entire world.”