US has not made determination yet on potential CAATSA waiver to India on S400 purchase from Russia: Official

The US has not made a determination yet on any potential CAATSA waiver to India for its purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, the Biden administration has said, pointing out that the law does not have a country-specific waiver provision attached to it and bilateral conversations regarding the subject will continue.

The State Department’s comments come a week after India started receiving the supplies of the Triumf S-400 missile defence system from Russia and amidst calls from top Republican and Democratic lawmakers not to impose Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions on India.

The CAATSA, enacted by the US Congress in 2017, provides for punitive actions against any country engaged in transactions with Russian defence and intelligence sectors.

Asserting that the US values its “strategic partnership” with India, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price maintained the Biden Administration’s suspense over the issue by telling reporters that the CAATSA does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision attached to it.

“We would need to refer you to the Indian government for any comments on potential deliveries of the S-400 system. But we have been clear when it comes to the system, not only in the Indian context but more broadly as well, that we’ve urged all of our allies, all of our partners to forego transactions with Russia that may risk triggering sanctions under so-called CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. We have not made a determination on a potential waiver with respect to Indian arms transactions with Russia,” Price said on Tuesday.

“CAATSA, however, does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision attached to it. We also know that our defence relationship with India has expanded and deepened significantly in recent years. It’s deep and commensurate with the broad and deep relationship that we have with India and its status as a major defence partner,” he said.

“We expect this strong momentum in our defence relationship to continue. We certainly value our strategic partnership with India. As you know, we had an opportunity to travel to India not all that long ago. In August, I believe it was, we’ve met with Foreign Minister Jaishankar many times. We have discussed this concern directly, including with the highest levels in the Indian government,” Price said in response to a question.

CAATSA is a tough US law which authorises the administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.

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The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey under the CAATSA for the purchase of a batch of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia.

Following the US sanctions on Turkey over the procurement of S-400 missile systems, there were apprehensions that Washington may impose similar punitive measures on India.

Russia has been one of India’s key major suppliers of arms and ammunition.

Several members of the US Congress, Price said, have shown deep interest in the issue.

“It not for us to speak to any systems that the Indian government may or may not have received. It is for us to speak to the laws that are on the books and the requirements under those laws. Obviously, members of Congress are deeply interested in this as well. So, it’s a conversation that has been ongoing with our Indian partners,” Price said.

“It’s a conversation that takes place in the context of a defence relationship that is meaningful to us, that is important both for the United States and India, including in the context of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And so, I suspect those conversations will continue,” he said.

Price said that the 2+2 talks would be held soon in Washington DC.

“We’ve committed to the 2+2, again, because we have a significant relationship with India, including its status as a major defence partner. But I can assure you that there will be an opportunity for a 2+2 before long,” he said.

Last month, US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn sent a letter to President Joe Biden encouraging him to waive CAATSA sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia.

“While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defence systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior,” they said.

“We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behaviour,” they wrote.

“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions,” the two Senators wrote.

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