Antony Blinken meets S Jaishankar: From Afghanistan, COVID to Indo-Pacific, India and US agree to expand partnership

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held extensive discussions on a host of regional and global issues, including the Afghanistan conflict, regional security, the Indo-Pacific and the Gulf.

At a joint presser held after the meeting, Blinken expressed the Biden administration's intent to grow stronger bilateral ties with New Delhi and stressed on the importance of cooperation on various issues including COVID-19 and climate change.

Jaishankar, too on India's behalf, highlighted the large scope of cooperation between the two nations and thanked the United States for help with supply of vaccine raw materials during the second wave of coronavirus.

Listing out the broad topics that Jaishankar mentioned in his opening remarks during the meeting with Blinken, the Ministry of External Affairs on Wednesday stressed on how the India-US cooperation covers "virtually all domains of contemporary relevance".

Here are the key points from what the leaders said at presser after the talks:

On COVID-19

  • Jaishankar said that COVID-19 issues were discussed on priority during the meet and acknowledged the responsiveness of the Biden administration for keeping the raw material supply chain open for vaccine production in India. He also expressed gratitude for the "truly exceptional support" India received during the second wave from the United States.

  • "We focussed today on expanding vaccine production to make it globally available and affordable," he added.

  • "We also discussed travel challenges resulting from COVID. The US has been really forthcoming on students, I really appreciate that. And I very much hope that they will take a sympathetic view in regards to other travellers in the days to come," the Indian foreign minister said.

  • Blinken, on the other hand, announced $25 million assistance to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts across India. "US has contributed more than 200 million dollars worth of COVID-19 assistance. I am pleased to announce that the US government will send additional $25 million to support vaccination efforts across India," Blinken announced.

  • "We are determined to end this pandemic in India and the United States. We will work to do it," he added.

Global cooperation:

  • Jaishankar said that the meeting between him and Bliken has taken place at an important juncture when key global and regional challenges need to be effectively addressed.

  • "Our bilateral partnership has expanded to the level it allows us to deal with larger issues collaboratively is a matter of particular satisfaction. As foreign ministers, it is our responsibility to regularly review cooperation in different domains and keep our leaders apprised of the progress. That is exactly what we have done today," he said.

  • "Whether it is in responding to the COVID challenge, cooperating on defence and security, encouraging trade and investment, addressing climate change, or expanding education and innovation, there's much that has happened in 2021," he added.

  • "We spoke at length about regional concerns, multilateral institutions and global issues. The expanding Indian footprint, be it in Africa, Southeast Asia, or the Caribbean, it has naturally broadened our shared agenda. Among the many issues we looked at, I would specifically note Afghanistan, Indo-pacific and the Gulf," Jaishankar added.

On Afghanistan

  • Regarding Afghanistan, Jaishankar said, "It is essential that peace negotiations are taken seriously by all parties."

  • The EAM said, "The world wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbours."

  • "But its independence and sovereignty will only be ensured if it is free from maligned influences. Similarly, unilateral imposition of will by any party will not be democratic and can never lead to stability," Jaishankar added.

  • Blinken said both India and the US are committed to the proposition that there is no military solution to the conflict in that country, asserting that there has to be a peaceful resolution that requires the Taliban and the Afghan government to come to the negotiating table.

  • "We both agreed strongly that any future government in Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of the Afghan people... Ultimately it has to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process," he said.

  • Blinken said India "has and will" continue to make a vital contribution to Afghanistan's stability and development.

  • "An Afghanistan that does not respect the rights of its people, an Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people would become a pariah state," Blinken added.

  • "The Taliban says that it seeks international recognition, that it wants international support for Afghanistan. Presumably it wants its leaders to be able to travel freely in the world, sanctions lifted, etc. The taking over of the country by force and abusing the rights of its people is not the path to achieve those objectives," the US Secretary of State added.

Indo-Pacific and the Quad

  • Addressing reporters after the talks, Jaishankar said that the Indo-pacific presents a different set of challenges, including ensuring that everyone observe international laws and rules.

  • "Under the aegis of Quad framework, we are engaged on maritime security, HADR, connectivity and infrastructure, cyber and digital concerns, counter-terrorism, COVID-19 response, climate action education, etc. The secretary and I not only discussed opportunities for future collaboration on all these issues, but also the importance of observing the international laws rules and norms. Our ability to work together in the quad benefits the international community as a whole," Jaishankar added. The Quad is a forum which includes US, India, Australia and Japan.

  • Bliken said that the US views the Indian democracy as a force for good in defending a free and open Indo-Pacific. "Like our own, India's democracy is powered by its free thinking citizens. We applaud that. We view Indian democracy as a force for good in defence of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a free and open world," he said.

  • During the presser, the US Secretary of State also stressed that the Quad or Quardrilateal Security Dialogue, is not a military alliance. "What Quad is? It's quite simple but as important. Four like-minded countries coming together to work on some of the most important issues of time that are going to have real impact on the lives of the people and do in a way that ensures a free and open Indo-Pacific," Blinken said.

  • "Quad is not a military alliance. Its purpose is to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, proseparity, stability in the region," Blinken added.

On Gulf

  • Jaishankar said, "Developments in India's extended neighbourhood is also of great consequence to us. Stability in gulf, where our political, economical and community interests are so visible was a shared concern."

  • "On Myanmar, I conveyed our commitment to democratic traditions as well as our ASEAN initiatives. Some of the agenda before UNSC was covered in our discussions," Jaishankar added.

On Democracy, Human Rights

  • Blinken said, "Both of our democracies are works in progress... As I said before, sometimes that process is painful. Sometimes it's ugly. But the strength of democracy is to embrace it."

  • "At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms €" we talk about a democratic recession €" it's vital that we two world-leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals," he added.

  • Jaishankar on his part subtly acknowledged that the discussion did take place. He said: Given the comprehensive and global nature of our partnership, it is to be expected that our two countries will engage in conversation on major contemporary issues. Such conversations are not only important in a diverse, democratic and multipolar world, but actually affirm that we have entered a new era.

  • He, however, added, "We approach this pluralism through the lens of our context, conviction, and culture."

With inputs from agencies

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