By: Amb. NAVTEJ SARNA, Former Ambassador of India to the US
A full agenda covering all aspects of the extensive bilateral strategic partnership between the United States and India as well as important regional and global issues awaited the US Secretary of State, Mr Antony J. Blinken on July 28 on his first visit to India after assuming office. Mr Blinken’s visit was the third Cabinet-level visit from the Biden administration, following the visits to India by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in March and Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry in April. Prime Minister Narendra
Modi and President Joe Biden have also spoken to each other on a number of occasions and participated in Summits of the Quad, G-7 and Climate Leaders.
Mr Blinken called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had wide-ranging discussions with his counterpart, the External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar as well as the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Dr Jaishankar also hosted a working lunch for the visitor and held a joint press conference along with the US Secretary of State. Mr Blinken also held a separate meeting with a select group of civil service representatives.
The visit was an opportunity to further consolidate bilateral cooperation across a vast agenda. Naturally, a particular focus was on the cooperation in Covid-19 response efforts. The two sides agreed to work together on vaccine availability and production. Dr Jaishankar acknowledged the responsiveness of the Biden administration in keeping the vaccine raw material supply chain open for production in India and thanked the US for its support during the second wave in India.
The US extended support of a further $ 25 million for India’s vaccination programme. India also took up the issue of gradual resumption of international travel, subject to health protocols, of not only students but also of other categories of travellers. The two sides reviewed the preparations for the fourth round of the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries due later this year in Washington DC. This dialogue brings together the Defence and Foreign Ministers of both countries to review the entire strategic landscape.
Another issue that received special attention during Mr Blinken’s visit was the situation in Afghanistan. India and the United States share a strong interest in a peaceful, secure, and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself as well as its neighbours. They are of the view that Afghanistan must neither be home to terrorism nor a source of refugees. The gains to Afghan civil society, especially on the rights of women, minorities, and on social freedoms over the last two decades, should not be lost. The visit provided an important opportunity for a detailed examination of these matters and the way forward.
The challenges and opportunities for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including in the framework of the QUAD were also reviewed. These include maritime security, HADR, counterterrorism, connectivity on infrastructure, cyber and digital concerns, COVID-19 response, climate action, education, and resilient and reliable supply chains. India and the United States share a vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific and are committed to working together to realise this vision.
Multilateral and global issues were also covered during the discussions. These acquire a special significance given the presence of both India and the United States on the UN Security Council. The discussions covered some of the agenda before the UNSC as well as the common endeavour to counter terrorism in the UN framework. The most significant global issue before the world today is that of climate change and discussions covered the US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. This initiative, launched earlier this year, will help the two countries achieve their Paris goals, particularly by taking forward its clean energy and finance mobilisation tracks of dialogue.
All in all, the visit once again highlighted how multi-faceted the relationship between the two countries has become in recent decades and brought out the tremendous possibilities of cooperation in diverse fields for bilateral and global good.