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US Senators urge Biden to waive CAATSA curbs on India over S-400 missile purchase

“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system."

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Washington: US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner (Democrat) and John Cornyn (Republican) wrote to President Joe Biden on Tuesday urging him not to impose the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against India for buying the S-400 Triumf missiles from Russia.

In the letter, they said: “While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defense systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behavior.”

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“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system.”

“In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions.”

“We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment.”

Referring to the steps taken by the Biden administration to deepen India-US ties, including the support provided during the second wave of Covid, they said “Your revitalization of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, of which India is a core member, has served as an additional mechanism for closer cooperation between our two countries.”

“In the midst of this strengthening bilateral relationship, we are concerned that possible upcoming sanctions against India could reverse or slow this progress.”

“CAATSA’s provisions, including sanctions targeting Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, serve as an important tool for the U.S. government to discourage Russian arms purchases around the world.”

“However, in the case of this current S-400 transaction involving India, we believe that the application of CAATSA sanctions could have a deleterious effect on a strategic partnership with India, while at the same time, not achieve the intended purpose of deterring Russian arms sales,” they said.

India has taken significant steps to reduce its imports of Russian military hardware in recent years. From 2016 to 2020, there was a 53 percent drop in Russian arms exports to India compared to the preceding five-year period. Meanwhile, India has shown its intent to purchase equipment from the United States, with sales reaching $3.4 billion in FY20. “These are positive trends that show India’s effort to reduce reliance on Russian equipment, and a desire to take advantage of its new status as a Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) partner.”

They said “Imposing sanctions at this time could derail deepening cooperation with India across all aspects of our bilateral relationship – from vaccines to defense cooperation, from energy strategy to technology sharing. Furthermore, sanctions have the potential to embolden critics within India who warn that the United States will not be a consistent and reliable partner for cooperation, and to thwart the Indian government’s efforts and long-term strategy to reduce Russian purchases and reliance on Russian defense hardware.”

“We also propose that your administration establish a bilateral working group to identify ways to promote the security of U.S. technology, and to chart a path forward to develop strategies to enhance U.S.-India military interoperability. We believe these actions reinforce India’s status as a Major Defense Partner and will provide another avenue to counter PRC influence in the Indo-Pacific.”

The S-400 missile issue had been raised by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman during her India visit earlier this month.

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