US Congress amends law to waive sanctions against India over arms deal with Russia

The United States Congress has passed a $716 billion defence policy bill that seeks to amend law threatening sanctions against countries like India for conducting business with Russia.

The Senate voted 87-10 for the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The bill, which now moves to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign it into law, among other things, provides a modified waiver to section 231 of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) under which sanctions are levelled on countries that purchase significant military equipment from Russia.

Unlike the existing version of the act, the proposed modified waiver requires presidential certifications designed to protect US alliances, military operations and sensitive technology.

“The CAATSA waiver that the Congress has made available to India in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act should provide ample flexibility for New Delhi to proceed with the purchase of the Russian S-400 system,” Joshua White, a former senior official of the National Security Council in the White House, told news agency Press Trust of India.

“The legislative language is designed to look very tough, as though the Congress is tightening its secondary sanctions on countries that procure Russian equipment. In reality, the language contains multiple loopholes that benefit India,” he said.

STRENGTHEN DEFENCE PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIA

In a joint conference report, which aligned the two different versions of the bill, the House and the Senate said the US should strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India, and such a partnership should enable “strategic, operational and tactical coordination between our militaries, and be jointly developed between the countries”.

The bill asks the Trump Administration to explore additional steps to implement the “major defence partner” designation to better facilitate military interoperability, information sharing and appropriate technology transfers; and pursue strategic initiatives to help develop India’s defence capabilities, including maritime security capabilities.

TOUGH ON CHINA

The bill also has provisions that bar China from participating in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime warfare drill and prevent its companies from accessing certain telecom equipment for defence and security establishments.

“No country has been more aggressive than China in going after American technology in sectors like aviation, robotics, new energy vehicles, and others where the US has established itself as a global leader,” Senator Sherrod Brown said.

This provision will ensure that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is better equipped to handle “emerging threats” from China.

“We have arrived at a new era where China is now in a leading position in terms of technological strength, defence capabilities, composite national strength and with a military which can fight and win,” Senator Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor.

“And you see evidence of these beliefs. You see it in their impressive and massive military buildup and quantum leaps in technological advances. You see how they’re working to destroy the current world order that was built by America and our allies, and now seek to replace it with one that they build and one that will be led by them,” he said.

(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)

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Updated: August 2, 2018 — 10:01 am