The United States cannot guarantee India a waiver from sanctions if it purchases the S-400 air defence system from Russia, a top Pentagon official has said.
"I would say that is a bit misleading," Randall Schriver, the Pentagon's top Asia official told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington yesterday. "We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems [from Russia].
Schriver’s comments came after the US Congress passed legislation this month allowing the Pentagon to waive penalties against countries that purchase arms from Russian defense companies that were placed under U.S. sanctions this year, if those countries are developing a defense relationship with Washington and are transitioning away from relying on Russian arms.
India was frequently cited as an example of a country that would benefit from the legislation, and media reports in India and the broader South Asia region have suggested that India would get a waiver.
Schriver said there was an "impression that we are going to completely protect the India relationship, insulate India from any fallout from the [sanctions] no matter what they do."
"I can't sit here and tell you that they would be exempt, that we would use that waiver. That will be the decision of the president if he is faced with a major new platform and capability that India has acquired from Russia," he said.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been a strong proponent of granting India waivers. But Schriver said the Pentagon is concerned about India's planned purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
Schriver said such a transaction would be particularly "troubling" for a lot of reasons. "Our strong preference...is [for India] to seek alternatives and see if we could be a partner to India in addressing those defense needs," he said.
Senior US officials are expected to go to India next week for high-level talks, agreed upon by US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year.
India has scoffed at the sanctions threat asserting that it only recognizes sanctions imposed under the aegis of the United Nations.
India has recently approved the purchase of anti-submarine helicopters from the US and is considering the purchase a US-made missile defence system in addition to the Russian S-400 deal.