US ready to help India’s defence but buying S-400 from Russia would limit cooperation: Trump admin

Just a few weeks ago, India, the United States, the Philippines and Japan did a sail by in the South China Sea, she said.
US ready to help India’s defence but buying S-400 from Russia would limit cooperation: Trump admin

The US is ready to help India's defence needs with thelatest technologies and equipment, but New Delhi purchasing long-range S-400missile defence system from Russia would limit cooperation, the Trumpadministration has cautioned.

The statement came weeks after an identical warning from asenior State Department official who had said that New Delhi's deal to procurethe lethal missile system from Moscow will have "seriousimplications" on India-US defence ties.

The S-400 is known as Russia's most advanced long-rangesurface-to-air missile defence system. China was the first foreign buyer toseal a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014 for the system.

India and Russia signed a USD 5 billion S-400 air defencesystem deal in October last year after wide-ranging talks between PrimeMinister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senior State Department official (South and Central AsianAffairs) Alice G Wells told House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, thePacific and Nonproliferation on Thursday that the US now does more militaryexercises with India than any other country.

"Under the Trump administration, we've been very clearthat we're ready to help meet India's defence needs and we are seeking a verydifferent kind of defence partnership building on the 'Major Defence Partner'designation that India has received from Congress," Wells said.

She was replying to the Congressional sub-committee on Indiabuying S-400 from Russia and how to make India-US ties as robust and asmeaningful as possible.

Just a few weeks ago, India, the United States, thePhilippines and Japan did a sail by in the South China Sea, she said.

"In both our bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateralformats, we're working together in ways that we didn't even conceive of 10years ago. And so we'd like all aspects of our military relationship to catchup to this new partnership," Wells said.

Noting that India has a historical dependence on Russianarms, she said what causes concern with the S-400 is that it effectively couldlimit India's ability "to increase our own interoperability".

At a certain point, she argued, a strategic choice has to bemade by India about partnerships and a strategic choice about what weaponsystems and platforms it is going to adopt.

"It is the case that 10 years ago we did not offer therange of military equipment to India that we're prepared to offer today. We'revery much engaged in a conversation with India over how we can broaden ourdefence relationship," Wells said in response to a question.

Signing of COMCASA agreement between the two countries, shesaid, was a key step forward which allows for the classified sharing ofinformation, which is one of the basic foundational agreements that fostermilitary interoperability.

"So we're making significant strides forward in ourmilitary relationship," she said.

"There is no a blanket waiver or country waiver when itcomes to an S-400. We have serious concern about a possible S-400 purchase (byIndia) and we're continuing our conversations on what the United States orother defence providers could assist India," Wells said.

Over the last 10 years, she said India-US defence trade hasincreased from zero to USD 18 billion, as New Delhi has started to diversifyits weapons sources.

"We expect continued progress and expanding thatdefence relationship. But it's still the case that about 65 or 70 per cent ofIndia's military hardware is Russian origin," she said.

And when Russian President Putin visited India last October,there were additional announcements of big ticket military items that werepotentially under consideration, she said.

Responding to another question, Wells alleged that India hasthe highest tariff barriers of a G-20 country.

"Historically it has been a protected market. So, ourfailure to negotiate an agreement over the course of the last year and a halfled to the decision to suspend the GSP benefits," she said.

However, GSP or asking India to stop purchasing oil fromIran is unlikely to push India into the China camp, she said when asked aboutit from a lawmaker.

"I don't think so. We are India's largest and bestmarket. Twenty per cent of India's goods come here. There is Indian ForeignDirect Investment in the US. There's a huge interest by US firms in India. AsPrime Minister Modi begins his second term. He's preoccupied with job creationand attracting Foreign Direct Investment is going to be a key part of thatstrategy.

"Properly conducted trade can be a huge strength to therelationship and that's certainly our focus as we begin our engagement withPrime Minister Modi in his second term as how do we fix this part of therelationship," Wells added.

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