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U.S., India Tout Defense Ties, But No Breakthroughs On Iran, Russia Purchases

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hand with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swarah before a meeting in New Delhi on September 6.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hand with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swarah before a meeting in New Delhi on September 6.

The United States and India vowed to cooperate more closely on defense matters, but reported no breakthroughs regarding U.S. threats to impose sanctions over New Delhi's purchases of Iranian crude oil and Russian weaponry.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis met with their Indian counterparts in New Delhi on September 6, one day after Pompeo visited regional rival Pakistan.

The State Department said the two sides signed an agreement on secure military communications that could pave the way for Washington to sell sensitive military equipment to India.

Pompeo and Mattis also agreed with Foreign Minister Sushma Swarah and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to establish a hotline between their top diplomats and to hold joint military exercises off India's eastern coast next year, it added.

However, reports said the sides were unlikely to reach an understanding during the U.S. visit over Washington's objections to India's continued purchases of Iranian oil and its planned $6 billion purchase of S-400 antiaircraft missiles from Russia.

The United States has asked Indian to reconsider plans to purchase the advanced surface-to-air missile-defense system, saying it could face penalties for dealing with sanctioned Russian defense contractors.

India has said that if it finalizes the deal with Moscow, it will ask Washington for a special waiver.

The U.S. administration has also set a deadline of November 4 for countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil to zero or face sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump in May pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with six world powers and last month began reimposing sanctions that had been eased as part of the accord.

"We have told the Indians consistently, as we have told every nation, that on November 4, the sanctions with respect to Iranian crude oil will be enforced," Pompeo told reporters after meeting his counterpart.

He added that "we will consider waivers where appropriate, but that it is our expectation that the purchases of Iranian crude oil will go to zero from every country, or sanctions will be imposed."

"We'll work with the Indians" and that "it takes a little bit of time to unwind," the U.S. top diplomat said, without being specific.

The U.S. officials' talks in India came a day after Pompeo met with leaders of New Delhi's bitter nuclear rival, Pakistan.

In Islamabad, Pompeo said he was "hopeful" of resetting the troubled U.S. relationship with Pakistan after he met Prime Minister Imran Khan and other senior officials.

The Pentagon announced it was canceling $300 million in aid a week before Pompeo's visit in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on Pakistan to contribute more to U.S. and Afghan efforts to defeat the Taliban or forge a peaceful settlement with the militant group.

U.S. intelligence officials say Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have even helped fund and arm the Taliban, both for ideological reasons and to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has denied the accusations.

With reporting by Bloomberg, AP, and AFP
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