Stage set for Jaishankar, Blinken talks

The visit is likely to be watched closely by both China and India's time-tested friend Russia

New Delhi: US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken, who arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, will be holding talks on Wednesday with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar on key issues like the Afghanistan situation in the context of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, cooperation within the four-nation Quad and the situation in the Indo-Pacific as well as at the Sino-Indian border in the wake of China’s military assertiveness. The battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, including the supply of vaccines to India by the US, and the deepening of defence ties between the two nations will also come up. Mr Blinken will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and meet national security adviser Ajit Doval on Wednesday.

The visit is likely to be watched closely by both China and India’s time-tested friend Russia. This will be Mr Blinken’s first visit to India after assuming office and will be the latest in a series of high-level visits from the Biden administration -- after the visits by US defence secretary Lloyd Austin in March, and special envoy on climate change John Kerry in April. From the Indian side, Mr Jaishankar also visited the US in May.

On the situation in Afghanistan, India is expected to discuss the implications of the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and emphasise the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terror havens. The security situation in the Indo-Pacific and the need to deepen the cooperation within the Quad will also feature prominently. But it is the cooperation in the field of vaccine production and also the supply of vaccines to India which is expected to be perhaps the most important part of the discussions, given the Covid second wave that ravaged India this summer.

On vaccines, India will push for ensuring open and consistent supply chains for materials and items needed for making vaccines, as it ramps up both for domestic vaccination and as for global supplies thereafter, sources earlier said. India is also likely to press for gradual resumption of international travel, while maintaining health protocols, especially easing mobility of students, professionals, business travellers, family reunions and humanitarian cases.

The sources had earlier said that “in the defence domain, both sides are expected to explore ways and means to deepen their collaboration” and that “this will cover policy exchanges, exercises, and defence transfers and technologies”. Sources said these will be covered in greater detail at the fourth 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at the foreign and defence ministers’ level due in the US later this year.

The United States had earlier said it would raise human rights issues with India, which is not expected to shy away from this discussion but rather take it head-on. Giving the Indian perspective, sources earlier said issues like human rights and democracy are universal and extend beyond a particular national or cultural perspective, and that India was proud of its achievements in both domains and was always glad to share its experiences. The sources had also pointed out that as a long-standing pluralistic society, India was open to engaging those who now recognise the value of diversity.

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