Washington must address Indian concerns over the effects of its new sanctions on Iran and Russia
The twin US pressures on the energy and defence fronts have made India acutely aware of the risks of aligning itself closer with Washington. After ensnaring India in its Iran and Russia sanctions, Washington has sought to save the promising Indo-US strategic partnership by throwing in concessions. In reality, the concessions are intended as tools of leverage. The US has emerged as India’s most important partner. The inaugural India-US two-plus-two ministerial dialogue will help highlight the growing convergence of their interests in the Indo-Pacific region. However, in India’s neighbourhood, Washington and New Delhi are still not on the same page. For example, after gratuitously assassinating the third consecutive chief of the Pakistani Taliban this summer to please Pakistan’s military generals, the US held face-to-face talks with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban in Qatar. While the Pakistani Taliban is the Pakistan military’s nemesis, the Afghan Taliban is America’s main battlefield foe in Afghanistan, yet the group is still missing from the US list of foreign terrorist organisations. More broadly, the US and India have become key partners in seeking to create a free, open and democracy-led Indo-Pacific. The critical missing link in this strategy, however, is the South China Sea, which connects the Indian and Pacific oceans. US reluctance to impose tangible costs on China’s continued expansionism in the South China Sea has emboldened Chinese inroads in the Indian Ocean. One issue likely to figure prominently in the two-plus-two meeting is how India has emerged as a prime victim of two new sets of US economic sanctions — on Iran and on Russia. The new sanctions directly impinge on India, a longstanding significant buyer of Russian weapons and the second-largest importer of Iranian oil after China. The twin US pressures on the energy and defence fronts have made India acutely aware of the risks of aligning itself closer with Washington. After ensnaring India in its Iran and Russia sanctions, Washington has sought to save the promising Indo-US strategic partnership by throwing in concessions. In reality, the concessions are intended as tools of leverage. For example, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, characterising Indian media reports as “misleading”, has made it clear that India can expect no waiver from Russia-related sanctions if it signs major new defence deals with Moscow. The congressional waiver crimps India’s leeway with its stringent conditions, including a six-monthly presidential certification specifying the other side’s active steps to cut its inventory of Russian military hardware. On the Iran-related sanctions, no waiver for India is still in sight. With global shipping operators already pulling back from business with Iran and oil prices rising, India’s energy-import bill is increasing. US sanctions threaten to affect even India’s Pakistan-bypassing transportation corridor to Afghanistan via Iran, including the Chabahar port project.
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