The United States is rallying India to tackle pressing security issues, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo soon to embark on his first trip to New Delhi as the top U.S. diplomat.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will hold high-level talks with India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, and defense minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, September 6, also known as the U.S.-India 2+2 dialogue.
“The 2+2 is a major opportunity to enhance our engagement with India on critical diplomatic and security priorities,” said a senior State Department official, adding the dialogue is “a strong indication of the deepening strategic partnership” between the world’s largest democracies.
Curbing oil imports from Iran
Halting Indian oil imports from Iran and reducing the South Asian country’s reliance on Russian arms are said to be high on the agenda.
The U.S. is pushing all countries to end Iranian oil purchases as Washington seeks to thwart Teheran’s financial revenue. India is a major buyer of Iran’s crude oil.
“Our goal remains to get to zero oil imports from Iran as quickly as possible, ideally by November 4th,” a senior State Department official told VOA during a briefing Thursday.
He added Washington is prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports regarding a sanctions waiver “on a case-by-case basis.”
U.S. officials said India shares the U.S. concerns about the urgency to address “Iranian malign behavior.”
President Donald Trump announced earlier in August that Washington would resume sanctions against Iran’s energy-related transactions, as well as business conducted by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran, on November 5.
Boosting US-India defense ties
During the September talks, Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis are expected to focus on strengthening defense ties with India.
The U.S. declared India a major defense partner in 2016. And Washington recently granted New Delhi the so-called “Strategy Trade Authority Tier 1” designation, which enables American companies to export dual-use military items under a more streamlined license process. Such license exceptions also allow India to receive more U.S. high technology and military equipment.
Defense-related trade between the two countries is estimated to reach $18 billion by 2019 from essentially zero in 2008, according to U.S officials, who also note that Washington is in regular discussions with New Delhi to “avoid engaging in potential sanctionable activities” with Russia, including the purchase of military equipment.
The U.S. is imposing wide-ranging sanctions on Russia, under which any country engaged with its defense and intelligence sectors could face secondary U.S. sanctions. And India’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems has raised concerns among U.S. officials.
Ahead of the high-level 2+2 dialogue, a top Pentagon official said the U.S. cannot guarantee a waiver from sanctions would be provided if India purchases major defense systems from Russia.
“We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems [from Russia],” said Randy Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, during a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace forum on Wednesday.
Schriver said media reports from India suggesting the South Asian country would get a waiver are “a bit misleading.”