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Iran oil imports, Russian defence purchases to figure in Indo-US dialogue next week

External Affairs Minister and Defence Minister will jointly host US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis at the 6 September dialogue.

Ashok Tuteja | New Delhi |

India is expected to seek a waiver from American sanctions on oil imports from Iran and defence purchases from Russia, particularly the S-400 Triumph air defence missile system, at the inaugural Indo-US 2+2 ministerial-level dialogue to be held in New Delhi next week.

Operationalising India’s status as Washington’s ‘Major Defence Partner’, which will fast track cooperation and sharing of high-end American defence technology, will form an important part of the discussions between the two sides. This unique status, which the US only confers on its closest allies and partners, was granted to India in December 2016.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will jointly host US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis at the 6 September dialogue, which was agreed upon between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump during their meeting in Washington in June last year. The dialogue was earlier scheduled to be held in April and then in July but had to be postponed on both occasions at Washington’s request.

Official sources said the dialogue would cover a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of shared interest with a view to strengthening strategic and security ties as the two nations have committed themselves to jointly address challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The rise of China and its increasing assertiveness on global issues would be high on the agenda.

Sources said the dialogue was aimed at enhancing strategic coordination between the two countries and maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. It would put strategic, defence and security relationship between the two countries at the centre-stage.

The dialogue, sources added, insulted the Indo-US relationship from feuds over trade issues and deep divide on economic policies as trade and commercial issues that collide with strategic relationship were discussed separately at the strategic and commercial dialogue.

On the eve of the dialogue, India has indicated that it was not in agreement with the US move to impose sanctions on oil imports from Iran and the punitive actions proposed by it against Russia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

India is heavily dependent on Iran for its oil imports and if it was not granted waiver from US sanctions against the Islamic nation, it could have a bearing on the country’s economy. The first set of Iran specific sanctions came into force in early August and the second will take effect in early November.

The American side, meanwhile, has said that it would like India and its other partners to avoid engaging in activities which could attract sanctions. It is also quite clear that Washington is trying to wean India away from Russian defence systems by offering its own technology.

‘’We have made progress with India as a major defence partner to create conditions where we can offer mush more advanced technology,’’ a senior US administration official said on condition of anonymity earlier this week while referring to the progress made by the two countries on the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).

Ties between India and Pakistan, situation in Afghanistan and Syria, India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and other issues important to both nations will also form part of the discussions.