Nirmala Sitharaman on India-US ties: ‘Can choose a friend, not neighbour…’

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who has been in the United States, spoke on India’s purchase of oil and weapons from Russia amid the Ukraine war. 

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman was in the US to attend  the Spring Meetings of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. (PTI) (File photo)(HT_PRINT)

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who has been in the United States this week, on Friday spoke of the Washington-New Delhi ties in context of India’s geography, stressing that ” a friend can’t be weak”. “You can choose your friend but not your neighbour,” the finance minister said as she explained that “India does not have an option to relocate” and, accordingly, the country has to take a “calibrated stance”. Her comments came in the backdrop of questions linked to India’s purchase of weapons and oil from Russia, which has been facing global sanctions over the Ukraine war.

In a video tweeted by news agency ANI, the 62-year-old leader, while answering a question, says: “Every bettering of relationship with the US… there is a recognition that there is a friend there but the friend’s geographical location is to be understood. And a friend can’t be weakened for any reason. We have to understand the geographical location. The northern borders are at tension… the western borders are at odds…and there’s Afghanistan… It’s not like India has a choice to relocate.”

#WATCH Every bettering of ties with US, understand a friend’s geography-our northern borders under tension…India wants to be a friend but if you also want to be a friend…the friend shouldn’t be weakened. Taking calibrated stance due to geography:FM Sitharaman in Washington DC

— ANI (@ANI) April 22, 2022

Invoking former prime minister and BJP veteran Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she added: “You can’t choose your neighbour… you can choose your friend. Your neigbhourhood is what you have. If the US wants a friend, it won’t want a weak friend. So, we are taking decisions because we need to know where we are, given the geographical locations.”

“There is an understanding that India’s relationship with the United States has actually moved forward. It’s gotten deeper. There is no one questioning that. But there is also an understanding, not just the legacy dependence for defence equipment on Russia…that India has legacy issues as much as relationships over several decades. And if anything, I can say with a bit of confidence there is a positive understanding. It is not a negative understanding,” she said.

The energy dependence on Russia – an issue that has been constantly raised amid the Ukraine crisis by the West – was also one of the topics that came up during the press briefing. “In our energy basket which is largely from the Middle East, somewhat from the US…the portion that comes from the Russian Federation is not so much that it’s going to upset us. The portion of crude coming from Russia is not more than 3-4 per cent.”

The war in Ukraine, which began on February 24, has raised challenges for India too, she said. “Some aspects of the Ukraine war are challenging- Sunflower oil supply which largely comes from Ukraine is not happening now…We’re looking for alternatives. Due to sanctions, (supply of) critical fertilisers from Russia is going to be difficult.”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India can supply foodgrains to the world, if the WTO permits. The remarks were repeated by Sitharaman on Friday.

(With inputs from PTI, ANI)


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