By Yashwant Raj | Hindustan Times
ON THE WEB, 24 July 2021
The United States said Friday it expects to discuss ways to “further deepen” bilateral ties, the Quad, Afghanistan and the Covid-19 pandemic during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s upcoming visit to India starting 27 July, which will be his first as the top American diplomat.
On 28 July, Blinken will have meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. He leaves for Kuwait later in the day. Blinken previously visited India as deputy secretary of state in the Barack Obama administration in 2015.
“We expect the discussions to focus on ways to further deepen our bilateral partnership, which is very broad in scope, as well as increased convergence on regional and global issues,” acting assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia Dean Thompson told reporters, previewing Blinken’s visit.
On bilateral issues, the US expects the discussions to be focussed on “expanding our security, defense, cyber, and counterterrorism cooperation,” he said. More of that will be part of the upcoming 2+2 ministerial dialogue between foreign and defence ministers of the two countries later in the year.
Afghanistan will figure prominently among regional issues. India is “a critical partner in the region”, Thomson said, adding, “We welcome India’s shared commitment to peace and supporting economic development in Afghanistan”.
India has been concerned over the rapid gains made by the Taliban in Afghanistan as United States-led international forces wind up their 20-year-old operations and leave, way ahead of a self-imposed deadline of 11 September. The US military has said the pullout is nearly over, at around 92%.
Thompson added that discussions with India will be on “how we can work together to realize” the goal of a peaceful and secure Afghanistan and to “find ways to bring the parties together, and continue to pursue a negotiated settlement to end the longstanding war”.
Developments in the Indo-Pacific will figure in the secretary’s discussions, the state department official said, underscoring the importance accorded by President Joe Biden to the region by calling a virtual summit of the Quad, comprising Australia, Japan, India and the US, so early in his tenure, in March, just two months after assuming office.
“We’re working with India and other friends and partners in the region to advance this shared vision of the Indo-Pacific,” Thompson said, adding, “Importantly, we’ll also discuss our health collaboration to combat Covid-19, including the Quad vaccine partnership that was first announced during President Biden’s Quad summit.”
The Quad members had launched a joint initiative at the summit to distribute 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region by the end of 2022, funded by Japan and the US, manufactured by India and distributed by Australia. The rollout has been delayed by India’s own struggles with the second wave of Covid-19 cases.
Amongst the most pressing of global challenges the two countries cooperate on, climate change will figure most prominently in secretary Blinken’s conversations on the visit.
“The partnership will reinforce our collective efforts to achieve both the goals of the Paris Agreement and our own ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy,” Thompson said, referring to the US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership launched in April.