SOURCE: The Statesman
In a major foreign policy reversal, President Donald Trump has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran that was signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The immediate impact of such a decision was that Iran lost out in terms of foreign investment as investors, particularly the Europeans, are loath to take the risks.
Further, the Trump administration issued a diktat that all oil imports from Iran, including that by India, must be stopped from November 4 and countries failing to meet this deadline shall face the prospect of US sanctions. India is unwilling to accept such a diktat. Iran, a regional power, is not only the major supplier of oil to this country but also India’s gateway to Eurasia and Afghanistan.
India and the US were scheduled to have the 2+2 dialogue on July 6, but the US suddenly postponed it to a later date. Policy circles in Delhi interpreted the US decision as an indication of a “slide” in Indo-US relations. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was scheduled to travel to discharge a key assignment, and this reason was cited for the postponement of the talks.
Trump’s unconventional and unorthodox decisions on many crucial global issues have also had an impact on Indo-US relations. As with China, the administration’s trade protectionism has forced India to take retaliatory measures. Indeed, Indo-US ties have been under stress for a variety of reasons. As a damage-control initiative, a State Department spokesperson has clarified that there is no linkage of the postponement of the talks with sanctions on Iran and trade.
The date, he said, shall be rescheduled as soon as possible at a mutually convenient time and location. In the meantime, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley visited India where she underlined the “shared values as the largest and oldest democracies committed to a rule-based international order”.
At another level, the Trump administration is not quite happy with India’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia. It has warned of sanctions if India goes ahead. On India’s side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi informal summit that India will uphold its commitment to buy weapons, including S-400, from Russia. This too seems to have irked the US.
Even as Mr Trump is trying to reach out to Russia with a summit with Putin scheduled for July 16, it is difficult for India to comply with the US request to maintain a certain distance from Russia as the latter has been this country’s friend for years. Undeterred, India swiftly moved towards acquiring five advanced S-400 Triumf air missile defence system from Russia despite the looming threat of US sanctions. The acquisition council of the defence ministry chaired by minister Nirmala Sitharaman has already cleared the decks for the proposed Rs 39,000-crore deal.
The procurement issue will now be forwarded to the finance ministry for clearance and the PM-led Cabinet Committee on Security for the final nod. Now is the time to wait for the signing of the actual contract. The significance of the DAC meeting taking place just a day after the US cancelled (later clarified as postponed) the inaugural 2+2 dialogue to take this important decision cannot be overlooked.
It bears recall that it was in October 2015 that India had announced plans to acquire the S-400 missile systems, which can detect, track and destroy hostile strategic bombers, Stealth fighters, spy planes, missiles and drones at a range of up to 400 km and an altitude of 30 km. The decision was trumpeted as a game-changing acquisition in military circles.
India has a long history of having close military relations with Russia and the changing strategic equations engineered by Trump’s disruptive foreign policy that is trying to alter it, seems to lack merit. It would be foolhardy for Mr Trump to expect that India would disrespect friendship with a country that is time-tested in economic and strategic terms.
The inter-government agreement for the five S-400 systems was concluded during the Modi-Putin summit in Goa in October 2016. It is strange that just before Modi and Putin were scheduled to give the finishing touches to the deal during their forthcoming summit in October, Trump’s warning to India to cancel the deal surprised security analysts.
It would be inadvisable for the US President to expect that India would toe the line… blindly sacrificing its own history and strategic interests and in effect comply with US law. Specifically, that law is intended to counter America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that seek to deter countries from buying Russian weapons.
In fact, both Russia and India have new military projects worth nearly $12 billion, besides finalising the issue of maintaining the huge inventory of Russian-origin weapons in the Indian armed forces.
As per the S-400 deal, the Indian Air Force expects to receive the first S-400 squadron, with its battle management system of command posts and launchers, acquisition and engagement radars, and all-terrain transport erector-launcher vehicles, 24 months after the final contract is concluded.
All the five squadrons, with two firing units each, will come in a span of 60 months. After induction into the Air Force, India will be able to use these weapon systems to protect cities during war or vital installations such as nuclear power plants. This information is revealed in a report by Rajat Pandit in the Times of India.
Trump is reportedly working through diplomatic channels to hold a summit with President Putin. Mr Pompeo is doing the spadework for this risky foreign policy venture. The US Secretary of State travelled to North Korea and then to Russia to fix the summit meeting between the two Presidents. It will be held in Helsinki on July 16.
This diplomatic build-up and the fact that President Trump is travelling to Belgium and the UK were the reasons offered for the postponement of the 2+2 dialogue with India. National Security Advisor John Bolton, is also in Russia to finalise the summit date with Putin. It remains to be seen if the Trump-Putin summit will go the same way as the Trump-Kim summit of June 12.