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Antony Blinken’s visit to prepare ground for Quad summit; Afghan situation on talks agenda

Blinken is scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Wednesday noon and PM Modi at 4 pm, before flying to Kuwait later in the evening. Blinken is also likely to meet NSA Ajit Doval.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: July 28, 2021 7:24:23 am
US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken arrives at Delhi airport Tuesday. (PTI)

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a brief visit that is expected to lay the groundwork for the Quad leaders’ summit later this year in the US, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend.

Modi is expected to travel to the US for the first in-person Quad leaders’ summit, provided the Covid-19 situation does not disrupt travel schedules of the leaders from the four member countries, which include Japan and Australia.

Blinken is scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Wednesday noon and PM Modi at 4 pm, before flying to Kuwait later in the evening. Blinken is also likely to meet NSA Ajit Doval.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) to attend the defence ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries, which will be attended by ministers from China, Russia and Pakistan, among others. Afghanistan is expected to dominate the agenda at the SCO meeting.

It’s an issue that will also feature in Blinken’s talks in Delhi. Sources in Delhi said “implications of withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terror havens, will be part of the agenda”.

The US officials have said that they “intend to discuss efforts to support a just and durable peace in Afghanistan”.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, Washington said he will also raise the issues of human rights and democracy in India.

In response, New Delhi has said that as a long-standing pluralistic society, India is “open to engaging those who now recognise the value of diversity”, which, sources said, is an oblique underlining of the polarised nature of US society.

Sources in the Indian government said “issues such as human rights and democracy are universal and extend beyond a particular national or cultural perspective”, and “India is proud of its achievements in both domains and is always glad to share experiences”.

They said discussions on deepening Quad engagement will be a key focus area of the talks, with the possibility of a foreign ministerial Quad meeting later this year. The talks will also “take forward Quad vaccine initiative to enable supply of vaccines produced in India from early 2022 to countries in Indo-Pacific region”.

Earlier, the Quad vaccine initiative was scheduled to be launched at the end of 2022, and efforts are now underway to advance it to the end of this year or early next year.

In the defence domain, both sides are expected to explore ways and means to deepen their collaboration. This will cover policy exchanges, exercises, and defence transfers and technologies. These will be covered in greater detail during the fourth 2+2 ministerial dialogue due in the US later this year.

Sources said that discussions will cover Covid-19 containment and recovery efforts. “India will press for gradual resumption of international travel, while maintaining health protocols, especially easing mobility of students, professionals, business travellers, family reunions, humanitarian cases,” a source said.

On vaccines, India will continue to push for ensuring open and consistent supply chains for materials and items required for vaccine production, as India ramps up both for domestic vaccination and for global supplies thereafter.

Blinken’s visit follows other high-level visits from the Biden administration — US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in March, and Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry in April.

The visit reciprocates the visit by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to the US in May 2021. The two leaders have also had detailed conversations this year in the UK (at the G7 meeting) and Italy (at the G20 meeting).

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