US Senator John Cornyn, co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, Congressman Brad Sherman of California and Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida, a powerful Republican leader, called for the United States to waive possible sanctions on India for buying the S-400 defence missile system from Moscow and urged for deepening cooperation between the two countries.
At a virtual forum organised by US India Business Council and US-India Friendship Council, advocacy groups, the lawmakers expressed concern that India could be sanctioned under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which the Congress has passed in 2017 to punish Russia for meddling in the US elections.
The US lawmakers strongly pitched for the Biden administration to hold back on penalising India.
From 2016 to 2020, India cut arms imports from Russia by 53 per cent compared to the preceding five-year period, they said. It also agreed in 2020 to purchase USD 3.4 billion worth of US military equipment.
Cornyn, a Republican Senator in his remarks said that India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment and cited that growing strategic ties between India and US is important.
"What gives me confidence is that India has taken significant steps to reduce its reliance on Russian military equipment and has shown an interest in purchasing equipment from the United States," he said.
In the year 2018, India signed a USD 5.4 billion deal with Russia to buy the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. India made a down payment and plans to complete the purchase by 2025. The systems are expected to be delivered later this year.
"I think, not waiving these sanctions would achieve nothing, and perhaps derail the hard-earned progress that we've made to strengthen our military cooperation," the Senator from Texas added.
The US imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying the same equipment last year.Waltz, a powerful Republican lawmaker said, "I want to avoid a situation where we are with Turkey right now and that they've continued to forge ahead with those procurements to the point that we had to pull back some of our most advanced systems, namely, the Joint Strike Fighter and it really has become a hindrance to our interoperability," Congressman Waltz added.
"I think it's just important, whether it's at the two-plus-two (dialogue) or at the congressional level ....that we keep the dialogue open to understanding each other's perspective," Waltz further added. "We need to find some off ramps and find some ways to move in a more positive direction."
Besides the S-400 concerns, lawmakers underscored that the US needs to strengthen its relationship with India to keep China and the Taliban under check. The legislators called for an alliance between India and the US that would allow both countries to maintain and expand their global strength amidst China's aggressive postures in the region.
The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry. As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the Gogra area in August and in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in February.
Congressman Brad Sherman said he was deeply concerned by the aggression of China towards "our ally" India, referring to the deadly clash between the militaries of the two countries in Galwan Valley last year." "I think we're brought together by two thin's one we are democracies, the largest and the oldest and two we are also being pushed together by China, which is pursuing aggressive policies in the region," Sherman asserted.
Pointing to the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August, Waltz emphasised that he feared Kashmir might be the first casualty of that.
"Unfortunately, I fear that the first place you may see billions of dollars of American equipment spreading is into Kashmir. That breaks my heart. And I fear that. I think we're going to have to be prepared to work together," he said.
The strategic relationship between the United States and India is among the most consequential of the twenty-first century--the lawmakers underlined, and both sides must cultivate their economic and defence ties including trade ties that could transform the India US relationship.
Swadesh Chatterjee, chairman of the US-India Friendship Council, said the relationship between the two countries has grown over the years and that the two democracies "have just scratched the surface of what is possible."