Why are Russian arms and Iranian oil important for India? India is aware that the US is unlikely to support importing Iranian oil or approve its defence relationship with Russia. The Indian government is hopeful that Washington takes a lenient view of the situation and understands India’s traditional and economic ties with Russia and Iran.
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Ahead of the two-plus-two plus dialogue between India and the US to be held on September 6, New Delhi is hoping Washington understands its sensitivities and requirements and takes a lenient view on its oil imports from Iran and purchase of S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia.
The focus of the meeting itself will be on the two countries working together in the Indo-Pacific region, the finalisation of a foundational defence pact, the designation of terrorists, and visa issues. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will discuss these with US Secretary of State Mike R Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis at the inaugural edition of the dialogue, which will also be the highest-level political engagement between India and the US this year, said the sources.
India, which is aware the US is unlikely to give it a blanket waiver for arms deals with Russia, is hoping that Washington will give one for the purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, thereby giving it protection from a 2017 US law that requires the US president to punish countries that have “significant transaction” with Russia’s defence sector.
“We hope that they understand that India has a strategic partnership with other countries too,” said one of the people mentioned in the first instance. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in July that India and Russia are close to concluding the S-400 deal and that India would go forward with the deal, adding that the new US law isn’t obligatory on India.
Indian officials have subsequently told their US counterparts that they have been expanding the country’s defence purchases. The government recently signed a $2-billion government-to-government deal for the purchase of 24 naval helicopters from US firm, Lockheed Martin.
India is also in talks with the US on the import of Iran crude, which falls afoul of the sanctions imposed by America on the West Asian nation. Approximately 83% of India’s total oil requirement is met by import, and 24% of it comes from Iran.
In May, the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions that had been suspended in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme. The people mentioned in the first instance said the Indian position is consistent; that it is against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons but have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.