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India could evade US curbs on S-400 deal, signals Biden aide

WASHINGTON: More signs that the Biden administration will waive sanctions against India for buying Russian S-400 air defense system emerged on Wednesday with a key official saying Washington will have to weigh geo-strategic considerations involving China against a domestic law that calls for punitive action.
“The administration has made clear that it is discouraging India from proceeding with the acquisitions of Russian equipment, and there are important geostrategic considerations, particularly with (unintelligible) relationship to China. So, I think we have to look at what the balance is,” James O’Brien, President Biden’s nominee for the US State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy said at his confirmation hearing, hewing to the broad sentiment in the administration and in Congress to give New Delhi a pass.
Indications that India could get past sanctions for the systems which Moscow has already begun supplying came also from remarks from lawmakers even as they noted that New Delhi is in process of acquiring new frigate ships from Russia.
“India is a vital ally in our competition against China, and thus, I believe we should resist taking any actions that might drive them away from us and the Quad. I am therefore strongly supportive of waiving CAATSA sanctions against India, given our shared foreign policy interests,” Indiana senator Todd Young said. Despite the growing sentiment against Russia on account of its alleged interference in US elections and its aggressive posture in its sphere of influence, the Biden administration and lawmakers appear intent on giving New Delhi enough wiggle room for now in return for an assurance that India will wean itself off Russian military supplies.
“As most here know, the Indians have a lot of legacy systems from previous decades, and they are interoperable with the Russians’ systems. And the Indians seek to defend their land border from Chinese incursions and defend the Indian Ocean from an increasingly adventurous and lawless blue ocean navy in the People’s Liberation Army,” Young noted in his support for a waiver under US domestic law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
India 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. Delivery of the systems began late last year.
The US administration has also struggled with giving India a pass while CAATSA is being invoked against Turkey, a NATO ally whose ties with Washington has gone south lately. Asked about this by Young, O’Brien said it is difficult to compare the two situations, describing India as “a partner of growing importance.”
“India’s got some decisions in front of it, so it would be premature to say more. But this is something I look forward to working with you and other interested members,” he added.

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