CAATSA waiver to India is in US national interest, need strong partnership: US lawmaker Ro Khanna

US lawmaker Ro Khanna

WASHINGTON: The United States seeks to enhance its defence partnership with India in the backdrop of China’s assertiveness and New Delhi’s reliance on Russian military exports for its national defence, said American Congressman Ro Khanna.

In an exclusive interview with ANI, Khanna said a waiver to India of Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalises countries that engage in significant defence transactions with Russia, is in the best national interest of the US and the US-India defence partnership.
This comes after the United States (US) House of Representatives on July 14, approved an amendment with an overwhelming majority to the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) that proposes the deepening of India-US defence ties. This amendment was offered by Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California.

Speaking about the waiver in the national security interests of the United States, Khanna divulged that it was the most significant vote to strengthen the US-India relationship since the civilian nuclear deal that was passed with overwhelmingly 300 bipartisan votes.

“The reason it’s in the interests of the United States is we need a strong partnership with India. Defence partnership, a strategic partnership, especially because we are two democratic nations and with the rise of China and with the rise of Putin this alliance is critical for the United States,” said the Indian American Congressman.

The Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in 2008, which gave a fillip to the ties between the two nations, which since then have been on an upswing. A major aspect of the Indo-US nuclear deal was the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) gave a special waiver to India that enabled it to sign cooperation agreements with a dozen countries.

It enabled India to separate its civilian and military programmes and placed its civilian nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

The NDAA amendment is politically significant and the overwhelming 300-plus bipartisan votes send a strong message to US President Joe Biden which will give him the political support for waiving the sanctions.

Khanna has been in coordination and conversation with top officials at the White House. “The amendment would never have passed if the White House was not open to it passing,” said Khanna, adding, “This gives the President the political support for him to waive the sanctions. It makes it all but certain that he will waive the sanctions.”

However, the amendment is not yet a part of the law. The NDAA amendment needs to clear the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden, only then India will avoid US sanctions for its weapons systems relationship with Russia.

Khanna told ANI that Congress has given a “very clear and resounding message” to the President of the United States, “What was relevant is you have 300 House members, the vast majority going on referencing that the US-India relationship is critical. In saying that the sanctions should be waived. And that gives a very clear, resounding message to the President of the United States to waive the sanctions.”

Of late the two democracies have made significant strides in defence cooperation and the NDAA amendment will give a big push to make a robust India-US defence partnership.

Speaking about it to ANI, Khanna said, “Remember, it goes beyond waving sanctions. It talks about the importance of strengthening the defence partnership that we have with India. The challenge is that right now; Russian weapons are cheaper. But Russian weapons are also inferior as we’re seeing in the war in Ukraine, the SU 57 in my view, just simply can’t compete with the F 22 or the F 35, or the US military equipment. It is in America’s interest to get the talent from the brilliant engineers and scientists in India so that we can make sure that we continue to lead the highest technology and ultimately, it’s India’s interest to an American technology which is superior to Russian technology.”

He said that the US is figuring out ways to have an appropriate price point that incentivizes India to transition that will protect the American sensitive technology and it will be negotiated through bilateral communication.

Talking about the threat posed by China that was underscored in the amendment, Khanna said to ANI, “You look at India as the threats that they face at the border. And you know the biggest guarantor of the security has been the United States. A few years ago, the United States assisted India with those border skirmishes. So the US-India alliance in my view is not just in the United States interest but also the security interests of India and that the United States will be a much more reliable and stronger partner.”

Khanna for the last two years has been pitching for the prospects of India joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Plus.

“NATO allies get expedited approval on defence agreements and we have that same agreement with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Israel and South Korea, and I have worked on trying to add India as the sixth country to that and that would facilitate and make it easier to have this growing defence partnership. I had introduced that two years ago. I’m going to continue to work on it. Hopefully we can get that amendment passed in subsequent congresses.” (ANI)