The US has voiced concern that India is considering buying the advanced Russian S-400 air defence system, as Washington looks to deepen its own links with the country.
“We have serious concerns about a possible S-400 purchase,” Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary for south and central Asian affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.
Wells said that India purchasing the Russian system would limit “interoperability” with the US military equipment in the future.
She noted that countries have to make a “strategic choice” when deciding which nations’ technologies to obtain.
Wells said that some 65% of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin. During the Cold War, India had close ties to the Soviet Union.
“We are ready to help meet India’s defence needs,” Wells said, noting that Washington is now willing to sell India equipment that previous administrations had refused to offer.
Indian media has reported the US may offer New Delhi the chance to buy F-35s if it gives up the S-400.
Earlier Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is open to dialogue with India after taking away its preferential trading status, as he prepares to travel to New Delhi.
“I’m sure we’ll broach some tough topics,” Pompeo said in a speech on US policy toward India.
“We’ll probably discuss the recent decision on the GSP programme,” he added, referring to the Generalised System of Preferences.
India has been the single biggest beneficiary of that decades-old US programme, which allowed it to export $5.7bn worth of goods, duty-free, to the US in 2017, according to figures from the US Congress.
President Donald Trump removed New Delhi from the system in early June, even as Washington tries to boost ties with India as a counterweight to China and despite Trump’s stated good relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In removing India from the GSP, Trump complained that it does not provide US goods with equitable and reasonable access to its market.
“We remain open to dialogue, and hope that our Indian friends will drop their trade barriers and trust in the competitiveness of their own companies,” Pompeo said.
He said that countries that have offered the US fair and reciprocal trade since Trump came to power in January 2017 have “seen America open up to them and they’ve seen real opportunity.”
Pompeo will visit India as part of a tour of Asia from June 24-30 with the aim of underlining the importance of US ties with India after Modi’s re-election this month.
On Wednesday, Pompeo called for a strengthening of co-operation with India in defence, energy and space, and defended the US vision of an Indo-Pacific region that is “free and open” — an idea designed to push back against the expansionist aspirations that Washington sees in China.
“We realise it’s different to deal with the likes of China or Pakistan from across an ocean than it is when they are on your borders,” Pompeo said.
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