Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE)- Despite India refusing to comply with US sanctions against Iran, the United States has signed a ground-breaking agreement for the purchase of sensitive military communication equipment. To indicate the importance of the occasion both Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis were present in New Delhi.
Indian and American officials signed an agreement on secure military communications following talks between top officials, which analysts say will open the door for the sale of sensitive US military hardware to New Delhi.
James Mattis, US defense chief, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held discussions with India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi.
Both sides said they were happy with the progress made so far.
Pompeo called the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement a "milestone" in the US-India relationship, while Sitharaman said the pact would enhance India's defense capability and preparedness.
India's extensive trade ties with US sanctions-hit Iran and Russia have been a key sticking point between the two sides in recent months. On the other side India US trade is no 100 billion.
A US law, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, threatens to impinge on India's massive defense trade with Russia. Iranian oil imports are also vital to India's growth in the coming decades, while the US is demanding that allies cut trade with Tehran.
New Delhi, one of the biggest buyers of Iranian crude, will have to find measures to nullify the effect of US sanctions on Iran.
India's reluctance to disrupt its Iranian oil imports stems from mounting domestic pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi - because of rising oil prices and a weakening rupee against the dollar - months away from a general election.
India is also seeking to avoid US sanctions on those who do business with Russia's military and intelligence sectors.
Russian military hardware accounted for 62 percent of India's total weapons imports during the past five years, the Stockholm Peace Research Institute said in a report this year.
India is also in talks with Russia to buy five advanced S-400 long-range, surface-to-air missile systems, a possible deal that could face rough weather under new US sanctions.
On Thursday, the US and India also announced a hotline between their defense chiefs, Pompeo said.
"Defense came out as the single most important aspect of our discussions today," Sitharaman said.
Economic links have blossomed since India's market reforms in the early 1990s. Two-way trade crossed $100bn in 2016 from just $5bn in 1990, turning the United States into one of New Delhi's key trading partners.
The impulse to strengthen ties with India also perhaps explains why the US downplayed its concerns over New Delhi trading with Moscow and Tehran.
The missile system purchase from Russia and oil from Iran” are part of the conversation. They will certainly come up, but I don't think they will be the primary focus," Pompeo told reporters earlier on Thursday.
India will continue to walk a tightrope between Washington and its traditional allies.