India critical partner in the region, says US State Department ahead of Blinken’s visit to the country

New Delhi: Ahead of US Secretary of state Antony J. Blinken’s India visit, Washington has described India as a “critical partner in the region” with both countries having a “shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan”. Blinken will be in Delhi on 27th and 28th July, his first to the Indian capital since the new Biden administration took charge. In India, he will call on PM Narendra Modi and hold talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and external affairs minister Dr. S Jaishankar.

In a briefing ahead of the visit, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson said, “Our bilateral discussions with our Indian partners will focus on expanding our security, defense, cyber, and counterterrorism cooperation.” Blinken is the 2nd Biden Administration official to visit Delhi this year, after United States Secretary of Defense, General (Retd.) Lloyd J. Austin. This will also be his 4th meeting with EAM Jaishankar, after meetings in London, Washington, and Italy.

Afghanistan remains the top focus, with Thompson pointing out, “we welcome India’s shared commitment to peace and supporting economic development in Afghanistan.” He explained, “We expect that all the countries in the region have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan going forward” and so “we will certainly be looking at talking with our Indian partners about how we can work together to realize that goal, to find ways to bring the parties together, and continue to pursue a negotiated settlement to end the longstanding war.”

Both sides have continued to engage on the issue. Earlier this month, India’s external affairs minister Dr. S Jaishankar had met Dy NSA Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and US Spl Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad last week in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the connectivity summit

Other key issue will be Quad, with Thompson highlighting, “I expect the Quad and ideas about our engagements with the Quad to definitely factor into our conversations next week”.  The US is set to host the first in-person Quad summit later this year. March saw the first virtual leadership level meet in which the key outcome was the Quad vaccine partnership. Under the initiative, the plan is to roll out a billion doses of vaccines in 2020, with India as the base of manufacturing.

The State Department said, “Quad leaders agreed on a shared vision for the region, one that’s free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and respect for human rights, and where sovereignty is safeguarded. We’re working with India and other friends and partners in the region to advance this shared vision of the Indo-Pacific”.

The ongoing covid crisis remains part of the ongoing discussion. Washington had sent assistance to Delhi amid the 2nd wave of crisis. Since March 2020, the U.S. has allocated more than $226 million in COVID relief to India, additionally, $400 million has been contributed by American citizens and U.S. companies.

Other issues like climate change will also be part of the talks. In April this year, US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership was launched.

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