New Delhi, Sep 8: Having wrapped up quite a successful round of inaugural and high pitched '2 Plus 2 Dialogue' with the United States, the foreign policy engine room for the Modi government has now turned attention towards crucial engagements with Russia and ASEAN region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Singapore in November to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. In 2017-18, Mr Modi had hyped his engagements with ASEAN leaders when during the Manila Summit in Philippines in November 2017, he invited all 10 ASEAN nation and government heads to visit India as special guests for the Republic Day celebrations.
ASEAN and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) actually fit in Modi government's Act East policy guidelines too. Strategically more important, the focus has now automatically moved towards Russia as all eyes will be on the Modi-Vladimir Putin Summit expected to be held in October in Delhi. Both the leaders held crucial informal Summit at Sochi in Russia in May this year.
India is likely to go ahead with its commercial negotiations and would probably purchase S-400 surface to air missile systems from Russia - something the Indian government sees as 'essential facet' to plug some of the gaps in its defence preparedness. However, this transaction could fetch in strictures from the US administration under the provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA.
At the September 6 Indo-US '2 Plus 2 Dialogue' in Delhi, the CAATSA did not figure. However, the Secretary of State Michael Pompeo later did not miss to tell the journalists accompanying him that the Trump administration will not be keen to "penalise great strategic partners like India".
"There’s been no decision made," he said but hastened to add rather waxing eloquently -"I will share that we do understand the history, right, of India’s relationship with Russia and legacy systems".
But he also made it clear, the US sanctions would be definitely targeted against Moscow.
"They are intended to have an impact on the sanctioned country, which is Russia. And so we will work our way through the waiver decision as the days and weeks proceed, and we’ll do that alongside our partner, India, as well".
The substantial remarks from the US top gun bordering around rhetoric though gives the impression that it would ultimately appreciate New Delhi's deal with Russia and may somehow 'dilute' its stance.
However, officials on both sides insist there was 'no guarantee' India would get a waiver if it bought
the Russian system. The US side, however, is understood to have hinted that it was open to speaking with India about providing alternative systems.
In effect, the US is keen to push its products to India. As in Iranian oil import issue too, Pompeo maintains that Americans would be keen to see that the "American products" are able to deliver and satisfy the other countries.
"I think that would be a great outcome. But our mission set is to make sure that Iran does not engage in malign behavior with wealth that comes from countries around the world, thus the purpose of the sanctions," the US Secretary of State said.
At the 2 Plus 2 meet, thus, the Indian delegation comprising among others External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tried to 'sensitise' Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis how important Russia was for India’s defence needs in view of the history of India-Russia military cooperation and also the China angle.
Of course, now the chances are the two sides might initiate a separate dialogue solely on sanctions waiver vis-a-vis CAATSA section 231. Experts on both sides - especially in the US believe Indian role is vital in the 'balance of power' game in the Indo-Pacific as China is soon assuming the mantle of 'most powerful nation' in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Henceforth, India's strategic plans would try to cover a diversification agenda through purchase of US weapons, something that will be enabled by just signed Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
At the same time, New Delhi will go ahead with finalising a USD 6 billion contract for the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system too and it will also work with other arms suppliers including France and Israel.
Among other international engagements, Prime Minister Modi is also expected to visit Japan for the annual India-Japan Summit at the end of October. Last year, he hosted Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe for a crucial Summit meet in Gandhinagar.UNI