Do­val talks fu­ture di­rec­tion with US af­ter 2+2 suc­cess

NSA meets coun­ter­part along with Pom­peo, Mat­tis as both sides seek to build on strate­gic gains from ‘his­toric’ 2+2

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - News - Shishir Gupta and Yash­want Raj let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■

Na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor (NSA) Ajit Do­val held talks about the fu­ture of bi­lat­eral ties with the US in a string of meet­ings with top Amer­i­can of­fi­cials on Fri­day, in­clud­ing with his coun­ter­part John Bolton, as In­dia pressed its case for the pur­chase of Rus­sian-made S-400 mis­sile sys­tems.

In­dia con­veyed to the US that the in­tegrity of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary plat­forms in service with the In­dian Air Force (IAF) and fu­ture ac­qui­si­tions will not be com­pro­mised if New Delhi goes ahead with the pur­chase, back­ing its case with tech­ni­cal ar­gu­ments.

The NSA trav­elled to Wash­ing­ton to con­vey Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s vi­sion of the fu­ture di­rec­tion of Indo-US ties. On the eve of the 2+2 dia­logue, Modi shared his vi­sion with ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj, de­fence min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man and NSA Do­val.

Sithara­man is ex­pected to travel to Wash­ing­ton, af­ter Pres­i­dent Putin’s Oc­to­ber visit to In­dia, for a bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment with sec­re­tary Mat­tis. The dates of Sithara­man’s visit are be­ing worked out and she is ex­pected to travel to Wash­ing­ton not be­fore Novem­ber.

At Do­val’s meet­ings with the three US prin­ci­pals, the two coun­tries “re­viewed” the progress in ties and also looked at “re­gional and global de­vel­op­ments” in North Korea, China, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, West Asia and the Indo-Pa­cific. In­dia and US are seek­ing con­ver­sion on their views on sta­bil­ity of Kabul regime with Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani ar­riv­ing in Delhi on Septem­ber 19.

It has been de­cided that the prin­ci­pals from In­dia and the US will bi­lat­er­ally en­gage with their coun­ter­parts apart from the 2+2 dia­logue. Prior to NSA Do­val’s visit, a high-level In­dian Air Force tech­ni­cal team led by an air mar­shal was in the Pen­tagon last month to con­vince US of­fi­cials of mea­sures In­dia will take to en­sure that elec­tronic sig­na­tures of US ae­rial plat­forms are not shared even if it ac­quires the S-400 sys­tem from Rus­sia.

The meet­ing with Bolton was Do­val’s first en­gage­ment and was de­scribed as a “good first meet­ing” by an of­fi­cial who didn’t want to be named. Bolton took of­fice in April, and the two of­fi­cials hadn’t had a chance to meet be­fore their talks on Fri­day. Do­val also met sec­re­tary of state Michael Pom­peo and sec­re­tary of de­fense James Mat­tis, for the sec­ond time in as many weeks. He had meet them in Delhi af­ter their 2+2 min­is­te­rial with their In­dian coun­ter­parts Swaraj and Sithara­man on Septem­ber 6.

“The dis­cus­sions were gen­eral and broad-based,” said the of­fi­cial cited above, “fol­low­ing up on the 2+2 and look­ing at the fu­ture di­rec­tion of the strate­gic re­la­tion­ship.”

Do­val’s key task is to con­vince the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that the pro­posed S-400 deal does merit a US pres­i­den­tial waiver from the pro­vi­sions of Coun­ter­ing Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through the Sanc­tions Act (CAATSA) and that In­dia will re­duce its crude oil purchases from Iran be­fore the Novem­ber 4 sanc­tions kick in.

THE TWO SIDES ALSO LOOKED AT RE­GIONAL & GLOBAL DE­VEL­OP­MENTS IN NORTH KOREA, CHINA, AFGHANISTAN, PAK­ISTAN, WEST ASIA AND THE INDO­PA­CIFIC

In­dia’s has cited its 70-year his­tory of mil­i­tary hard­ware ac­qui­si­tions from Rus­sia. More than 64% of In­dian mil­i­tary in­ven­tory is from Rus­sia.

The NSA trav­elled to the US ahead of a visit next month to In­dia by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and a pos­si­ble deal on S-400 mis­sile sys­tem on Oc­to­ber 5.

A waiver of CAATSA by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is es­sen­tial be­cause, in its ab­sence, US de­fence con­trac­tors such as Lock­heed Martin, Boe­ing, Raytheon and Sirko­rsky, which are sup­ply­ing crit­i­cal equip­ment to In­dia like the C-17, C-130 J trans­port air­craft, Apache and Chi­nook he­li­copters, will come un­der sanc­tions.

Both sides have de­scribed the 2+2 in glow­ing terms as “his­toric” and not sim­ply be­cause it was the first meet­ing of the four prin­ci­pals in this for­mat, which the United States has with only its clos­est al­lies.

“Last week, I did go to In­dia for what could only be con­sid­ered highly suc­cess­ful con­sul­ta­tions be­tween the world’s two largest democ­ra­cies,” Mat­tis said to re­porters on his re­turn. “There (were) no dif­fi­cul­ties that we un­cov­ered there in mov­ing for­ward on a num­ber of prag­matic steps to draw our­selves closer to­gether in terms of se­cu­rity.”

And, he added: “It was a -- it was a very heart­en­ing trip, his­toric I’d even say” and “a defin­ing mo­ment for the re­la­tion­ship”.

The sec­re­tary of de­fense spe­cially men­tioned the sign­ing for COMCASA — Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­pat­i­bil­ity and Se­cu­rity Agree­ment — that al­lows In­dia ac­cess to all de­fense-re­lated US com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems, enhancing de­fense trade and in­ter­op­er­abil­ity be­tween the two mil­i­taries.

In­dian am­bas­sador to the United States Navtej Sarna ac­com­pa­nied the NSA to th­ese meet­ings..

Bolton is Do­val’s third US coun­ter­part, fol­low­ing Michael Flynn and HR McMaster. The In­dian NSA had had meet­ings with both Flynn and McMaster within days of their ap­point­ment re­spec­tively. Flynn didn’t last long enough in the job, but his suc­ces­sor, McMaster be­came the first se­nior-level Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial to visit In­dia, in April, 2017, just days af­ter his meet­ing with Do­val in Wash­ing­ton DC.

NSA Do­val’s vis­its to the US are gen­er­ally low-pro­file and nei­ther side has had much to say about them and, spe­cially, the specifics. There were no read­outs from In­dia or the United States about his three meet­ings on Fri­day, ex­cept a men­tion in the state de­part­ment’s pub­lic sched­ule of events and en­gage­ments — about his meet­ing with sec­re­tary Pom­peo.

While In­dia is all for en­gag­ing Rus­sia and China for bet­ter re­la­tions, it is clear in its mind that this will not be at the cost of In­dia-US deep ties or vice versa. Per­haps the S-400 will turn out to be a clas­sic ex­am­ple how close al­lies could han­dle tricky is­sues.

■ Ajit Do­val

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