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New Delhi: Indicating that the possibility of sanctions still loom, visiting senior US diplomat Wendy Sherman described the Russian S-400 air defence missile system as “dangerous” and “not in anybody’s interest”, even as India and the US asserted that they were continuing discussions to look into the matter.
“We’ve been quite public about any country that decides to use the S-400. We think that is dangerous and not in anybody’s security interest. That said, we have a strong partnership with India,” US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman told a select group of journalists on Wednesday, according to PTI.
She is on a short visit to New Delhi to hold talks with the Indian establishment as part of a multi-country tour. She held talks with foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and called on external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and national security advisor Ajit Doval.
Sherman’s remarks about India’s purchase of the S-400 missile system are connected with the provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey, a NATO member, for buying Russia’s S-400 system.
India had already paid the first tranche of $800 million to Russia for the $5 billion contract two years ago. The first batch of S-400 missile defence systems will arrive in India before the end of this year, chief of air staff Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhary told reporters on Tuesday.
Sherman stated that any decision on possible sanctions about the S-400 deal will be made by US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“We want to be very thoughtful about the ways ahead, and discussions between our countries try to solve problems, and I hope we will be able to in this instance as well,” she said.
It is learnt that the matter was raised during the delegation-level talks between Sherman and foreign secretary Shringla on Wednesday. There was no official response from the Indian side, but discussions are apparently still going on.
A substantial part of the formal bilateral talks focussed on Afghanistan, which remains in a state of flux as the Taliban government has yet to be recognised by any government and continued to be isolated from the rest of the world.
Following the US withdrawal of troops, the Taliban had walked in and taken control of Kabul, which was the culmination of their military campaign in August.
In her interaction with Indian journalists, Sherman said that India’s security concerns would be the “first and foremost” and at the “front and centre” for Washington. She also stated that India and the US have “one mind and one approach” on developments in Afghanistan, as per PTI.
The US diplomat stated that both India and the US have a similar approach on the way forward in Afghanistan that included the Taliban ensuring an inclusive government and that Afghanistan must not become a haven for terrorists.
Sherman claimed that Washington is putting together a robust programme for “over-the-horizon” (OTH) capability for Afghanistan but did not elaborate.
Indian sources also stated that there was a “lot of meeting of minds” between India and the US on Afghanistan.
The “sense” that Indian officials gleaned from the talks with the US was that the Taliban regime was “very far away from legitimacy, leave alone recognition”. India shared its views about Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan were instrumental in the Haqqani network getting the upper hand in the Taliban’s internal struggle after the fall of Kabul. The head of Pakistan’s military intelligence chief just a couple of days before the announcement of a “non-inclusive” ‘caretaker’ cabinet by the Taliban.
While humanitarian aid was likely to start flowing, unfreezing Afghan asserts abroad would require the Taliban to take more steps, which have still not been taken, the US informed India.
Further on Pakistan, India conveyed its worry over the movement of terror groups in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover. As per sources, the Indian side heard a “clear-eyed view” from the US delegation about Pakistani actions in response.
Sherman travels to Pakistan from Mumbai, the next leg of her Indian journey.
India’s northern neighbour also featured in the talks with the US, on which both sides exchanged notes.
A source familiar with the meeting said India briefed the US about the continuing border stand-off at eastern Ladakh. The visiting US official stated that the “US will compete, cooperate and challenge China”, as quoted by the official. Sherman expanded that the US will compete as they need to establish a level playing field but will challenge China to demand a rule-based order.
(With inputs from agencies)