S Jaishankar
Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar.AP

Indian Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar defended on Monday India's defence procurement of S-400 missile system from Russia during his visit to Washington amid threats of the US imposing sanctions on India.

Referring to India's defence deals as "sovereign right", S Jaishankar told reporters before meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "We would not like any state to tell us what to buy or not to buy from Russia any more than we would like any state to tell us to buy or not buy from America."

"That freedom of choice is ours and we think it's in everybody's interest to recognise that," he was quoted as saying by AFP.

US has threatened India multiple times that going ahead with the defence deal with Russia will risk sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The 2017 law states that the US will impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia. 

Apart from the defence deal, India held talks with White House officials discussing its differences with US' aggressive stance on Iran.

Tensions between the US and Iran have deteriorated since the introduction of CAATSA in 2017.  Subsequently in 2018, the US officially withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Apart from sanctions on Iran, the US has also threatened to impose trade restrictions on all countries in a bid to stop buying oil from Iran. 

jaishankar and Mike pompeo
Indian Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.Twitter

India, being a leading importer of Iranian oil, had decided to continue to obtain crude oil from Iran in 2018, ignoring the US sanctions. The US President Donald Trump's administration however ended special trade status for countries, including India, in May.

Speaking on the issue, Jaishankar said, "We view Iran from the east, and from the east, Iran has been a very stable, status quo power." 

He also stated that India has been "repeatedly assured that the affordable and predictable access to energy will not change."

India's relation with Iran is crucial as it has an interest in expanding the Chabahar port to reach Afghanistan's market avoiding Pakistan's Gwadar port.

Defence sanctions

India and US relations have been strained after New Delhi's signed an intergovernmental agreement with Russia in 2017 to acquire five 400 km range S-400 Triumf air defence system worth $5.43 billion.

Despite US' repeated threats of imposing sanctions on India under CAATSA provisions, India has been resilient in its agreement with Russia.

Russian S-400 air defence mobile missile launching systems
Russian S-400 air defence mobile missile launching systems take part in a military parade during celebrations marking Independence Day in Minsk July 3, 2014.REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Last month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov stated that the missile systems are "in strict accordance with the schedule" and will be delivered in "18-19 months".

However, the US had imposed sanctions for purchasing the S-400 before. In 2018, a Chinese military agency was sanctioned under CAATSA for the defence deal.

Washington has warned Turkey, who is also buying the air defence system from Russia, that it will deny its F-25 fighter aircraft defence deal if it went ahead with the deal. 

India had earlier stated that it "cannot wish away" from its defence cooperation from its Cold War ally. Jaishankar had discussed India's stand on the deal during Mike Pompeo's state visit in June.