US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was urged by a senior senator to convey Washington’s opposition to India’s proposed purchase of Russian air defense systems as he headed to New Delhi on Friday for talks aimed at deepening security ties. He has arrived today in Delhi. Mr Austin is making the first visit by a top member of the Biden administration to Delhi, as part of efforts to forge an alliance of countries seeking to push back against China’s assertiveness in the region. The US Defense Secretary will likely meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar today, sources close to the development informed news agency PTI.

The India- Japan- USA and Australia Quadrilateral initiative on Friday, during its maiden summit decided to built a joint vaccine supply chain to address the current and future pandemic situations in the Indo- Pacific region. Vaccines will thereafter be developed in the US, manufactured in India, financed by Japan and US and supported by Australia through logistics for the Indo-Pacific through states which could contest China’s influence in the region.

It was on Thursday that the the deeply strained relations between the United States and China were on rare public display when their top diplomats levelled sharp rebukes of each others’ policies in the first high-level, in-person talks of the Biden administration in Alaska. India and China had developed tensions which led the former to draw closer to the USA. Washington has helped New Delhi, leasing surveillance drones and supplying cold-weather gear for Indian troops.

During Mr Austin’s visit, the two sides will be discussing India’s plan to purchase armed drones from the United States as well as a large order for over 150 combat jets for the air force and the navy to help narrow the gap with China, people with knowledge of the matter said. One thorny issue expected to come up is India’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems which under US law can attract sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying that equipment. The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, has urged Mr Austin to make clear to India officials the Biden administration’s opposition to deal.

However, India had in October 2018 signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to purchase five units of the S-400 air defense missile systems, despite then US President Donald Trump’s warning that going ahead with the deal may draw US sanctions. The US had recently imposed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for purchasing the S-400 missiles from Russia.

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“If India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA,” Mr Menendez said in a letter to Mr Austin, referring to the law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”.

The consequences for India buying Russian Air Defense Systems will be far- reaching. “It will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in conversations with your Indian counterparts,”, commented Mr. Menendez.

US firms Boeing and Lockheed are front runners for the multi-billion dollar combat jet deals. An Indian government official said no deals were likely to be announced during the visit and that the talks would cover regional and international security issues. “The US and India are close security partners, we expect to have wide ranging discussion with the U.S. side on how to further defense cooperation,” the official said.

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