Washington: The Trump administration, which is determined to impose fresh set of sanctions on Iran and countries and entities engaged in business with Tehran, is currently reviewing India's development of the strategically important Chabahar port in the Islamic Republic, a senior government official has said.
The Chabahar port is being considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries besides ramping up trade among the three countries in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to New Delhi.
"We are reviewing (Chabahar project) in the context, in particular of Afghanistan, and in the spirit that the idea of our sanctions are not to punish partners or to imperil partners, but to bring a price tag for Iran's malign behaviour," Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told a Washington audience.
"As we review the issue of Chabahar, it'll be in the context of what it provides for the stabilisation of Afghanistan or for the kind of regional connectivity that serves other interests as well. But it's an ongoing process of review," Wells said in response to a question at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a top American think-tank.
Last month, President Donald Trump issued a strong warning to anyone trading with Iran, following his re-imposition of sanctions on the country.
During the recently held 2+2 Dialogue, Wells said the US emphasised the administration's resolve to impose sanctions on Iran and voiced its expectation that its partners will work to reduce oil imports from the oil-rich Islamic Republic to zero.
Wells said the Trump administration is very focused on bringing Iranian oil exports down to zero by November. As such, the US officials have had a detailed conversation both with the Indian private sector and the Indian counterparts to discuss what this means and what steps the US is taking to ensure the adequate supply.
"Obviously, India is quite sensitive to price fluctuations," she said, acknowledging that particularly in an election year, this is a very important issue.
"We've already seen a reduction underway over the last month. There's been a substantial reduction (in India's purchase of oil from Iran). I think the private sector responds to a risk and concern over consequences. So I think that's going to be there. You're going to see a clear response from the private sector in that regard and will continue our conversations with the government of India," she said.
David F Helvey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said that the Trump administration is committed to implementing all provisions of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which imposes sanctions on countries and entities making major arms deal with Russia. A recent amendment has the provision of a presidential waiver in some cases.
"We are working with our partners, including India, and talking to them about ways to encourage them to avoid potentially sanctionable acquisitions or activities. So those conversations are ongoing," he said, noting that he can't really get into details or the specifics of what those conversations are.
"With respect to the waiver provision in National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) fundamentally though this is a provision that allows the president to make these determinations. I'm not going to get ahead of the president how he may or may not exercise that authority," he said.
"But I do think it's just important to know that the purpose of the sanctions is not to punish our allies or our partners or damage their military capabilities. (The purpose) is to impose costs and consequences on Russia for its behaviour. This is a complicated issue. We are having the conversation with India and all our partners. But I'm not gonna speculate on how, when, or where, or if, that waiver provision would be employed," Helvey said.
Responding to a question, Helvey said the Trump administration recognises that there's a considerable amount of India's legacy force structures of Russian origin or other defense partners of India.
"I'm part of the process of working with the Indians to make sure that we've got the right assurance and mechanisms in place to ensure that our defence technology, which is hard to come by and based on investment of considerable resources to develop the type of technology that we have, that we want to put in the field with our forces, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, to make sure that they have the best equipment," he said.
"We're willing to share that with our partners and we just have to make sure that we have the right types of assurances with that. So when you have agreements, whether it's COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) or others, that allow us to have that confidence that gives us the space to be able to move forward and look at where we can do," he said.
The two countries are looking at co-development and co-production in the defence technology and trade initiative or even just looking at ways to have the right type of interoperability and that's what the COMCASA agreement allows.