Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar defends plans to buy Russian missile system

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar defends plans to buy Russian missile system

India’s top diplomat on Monday defended his government’s decision to purchase S-400 missile systems from Russia, saying that despite U.S. concerns that New Delhi should be allowed to buy what it wants from whomever it wants to meet its defense needs.

“The sourcing of military equipment is very much a sovereign right and we would not like any state to tell us what to buy or not buy from Russia — no more than we’d like another state to tell us to buy or not buy from America,” Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told reporters ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“We buy American, we buy Russian, we buy French, we buy Israeli,” Mr. Jaishankar said. “That freedom of choice is ours and we think it’s in everybody’s interest to recognize that.”

The comments, at a time when the Trump administration has threatened sanctions against NATO ally Turkey for acquiring the Russian-made missile system, were notably more firm than past Indian comments on the S-400 deal.

During a visit that Mr. Pompeo made to New Delhi in June, Mr. Jaishankar brushed over the issue, asserting only that the U.S.-India “strategic partnership” should be able to withstand Indian acquisition of the system. Mr. Pompeo also expressed a hope the two sides would “find a way to work through” it.

But other U.S. officials expressed unease. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June that Washington had “serious concerns” over New Delhi’s S-400 pursuit, saying it could “limit” expanding U.S.-India defense ties.

“At a certain point, a strategic choice has to be made about partnerships and a strategic choice about what weapons systems and platforms a country is going to adopt,” Ms. Wells said, according to The Diplomat.

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will proceed.

The 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) calls for sanctions on nations making significant weapons buys from the Russians. New Delhi inked a $5 billion contract for several S-400 systems last year, with the first system coming online in 2020.

But CAATSA allows a president to waive the sanctions for U.S. allies, as long as he can prove they have an expanding military relationship and are decreasing their overall weapons imports from Russia.

Administration officials have recently suggested they won’t be pursing the waiver in the case of Turkey, which has defied repeated calls by the administration not to purchase the S-400 system.

Mr. Jaishankar on Monday downplayed the notion that CAATSA could be used against New Delhi.

India has a history of purchasing weapons from Russia dating back to the Cold War. While U.S.-India relations have expanded dramatically since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, New Delhi has continued to buy such high-end Russian gear as the MiG-29 fighter jet.

Mr. Jaishankar suggested it would unfair to pressure New Delhi now not to proceed with the S-400. He also went to significant lengths Monday to emphasize India’s growing military ties with the U.S.

“We had until 15 years ago, virtually no defense relationship,” he said. “From 1965 to 2005, 40 years, we bought nothing from the U.S.”

But since then India has bought an expanding range of U.S.-made systems, including C-17 and C-130 aircraft, Chinook and Apache helicopters, and American artillery and Navy ships. “More than that,” Mr. Jaishankar said, “some of the most serious military exercises in the world are [now] done between us.”

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