Austin on a mission to deepen relations between India and the US, asked to increase the agreement with Russia

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Japan

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was urged by a senior U.S. Senator to voice Washington’s opposition to India’s proposed purchase of Russian air defense systems when he traveled to New Delhi on Friday to hold talks to deepen security ties.

Austin makes the first visit by a top member of the Biden government to Delhi to forge an alliance of countries trying to reduce China’s assertiveness in the region.

The leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan – countries collectively known as the Quad – held a first summit last week at which they pledged to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific and in the face of security in the Maritime transport and collaborate challenges from China.

On Thursday, the severely strained relations between the United States and China were seldom seen in public when their top diplomats voiced sharp rebukes of each other’s policies in the first high-level face-to-face meetings of the Alaskan Biden administration.

India moved closer to the United States following its own tensions with China on the controversial Himalayan border, where deadly clashes broke out last year. Washington has helped New Delhi, leased surveillance drones and supplied cold weather equipment to Indian troops.

During the Austin visit, both sides will discuss India’s plan to purchase armed drones from the United States, as well as a major order for 150 fighter jets for the Air Force and Navy to help narrow the gap with China, people with knowledge of the matter said.

A sensitive issue that is likely to surface is India’s proposed purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, which could result in sanctions under US law. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkey for purchasing this equipment.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez urged Austin to convey to Indian officials the Biden administration’s opposition to the trade.

“If India goes ahead with the purchase of the S-400, this bill will clearly constitute a significant and therefore sanctionable transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA,” Menendez said in a letter to Austin under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act “.

“It will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on the development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in discussions with your Indian counterparts,” he said.

The US companies Boeing (NYSE 🙂 and Lockheed are front runners in the multi-billion dollar fighter jet deals. An Indian government official said no deals were likely to be announced during the visit and that talks would cover regional and international security issues.

“The US and India are close security partners. We expect a full discussion with the US side on how to advance defense cooperation,” said the official.

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