External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, in what was their second meeting after they met on May 3 on the sidelines of the G-7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in London.
The meeting, which was ongoing at press time, was expected to focus on vaccine cooperation between the two countries. While India is struggling with a shortage of vaccines, the US has surplus vaccines and raw materials needed to manufacture them.
At the beginning of the meeting, Blinken described Jaishankar as “my friend and colleague”. “The United States and India are working together on so many of the most important challenges of our time and ones that are putting a profound impact on our lives,” he said.
“We are united in confronting Covid-19 together, we (are) united in dealing with the challenge posed by climate change, to partner together directly, through Quad and other institutions in the United Nations in dealing with many of the challenges that we face in the region and around the world,” Blinken said.
“The partnership between the United States and India is vital. It’s strong. And I think it’s increasingly predominant,” he said.
Echoing Blinken, Jaishankar said, “We have a lot of issues to discuss. But our relations have grown stronger over the years and I’m very confident we’ll continue to do so, but I also want to take the opportunity to express to the Secretary and through him to the administration of the United States for the strong support and solidarity at a moment of great difficulty for us.”
At this point, Blinken said, “We remember, in the earlier days of the pandemic, India was there with the United States. Something we’ll never forget. And now we want to make sure that we’re there for and with India.”
Jaishankar and Blinken have spoken at least four times in the past three months, twice in the last fortnight, and once at the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting through video-conferencing.
Over the last 24 hours, Jaishankar met senior US administration officials — Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, top American lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, and top American business leaders in Washington DC.
The issues discussed included vaccine cooperation, contemporary security challenges, support for efficient and robust supply chain, among others. While there was no readout after the meetings, sources said that vaccine cooperation was one of the key areas of conversation between the two sides, especially at the meetings with Sullivan and Tai.
Jaishankar’s in-person meetings come days after US President Joe Biden announced that the US will begin shipping 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines to unspecified needy countries by June-end, in addition to 60 million shots of AstraZeneca.
Although Washington has not yet decided how these 80 million doses will be distributed, India is likely to be one of the beneficiaries — be it AstraZeneca, which is already made and distributed in India as Covishield, or the ones by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, or a mix.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not authorised for use in the United States yet. The US had cited faults in a plant in Baltimore that is manufacturing both the AstraZenenca and J&J vaccines.
During Jaishankar’s wide-ranging discussions with NSA Sullivan, the two countries agreed that people-to-people ties and shared values are the foundations of the US-India strategic partnership that is helping to end the pandemic, supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific, and providing global leadership on climate change.
“Pleased to meet Jake Sullivan. Wide-ranging discussions including on Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan. Conveyed appreciation for US solidarity in addressing the Covid challenge. India-US vaccine partnership can make a real difference,” Jaishankar said in a tweet after the meeting.
“Our people-to-people ties and our values are the foundation of the US-India partnership and will help us end the pandemic, lead on climate, and support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Sullivan wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
After his meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Jaishankar tweeted: “Welcomed her positive stance on IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) issues & support for efficient and robust supply chains.”
Earlier this month, Tai, after consultations with various stakeholders, had announced support to the move by India and South Africa to waive certain IP aspects of Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Jaishankar also said that he had a “warm meeting” with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, during which they discussed further developing strategic and defence partnership between the two countries and exchanged views on “contemporary security challenges”.
Jaishankar is the first Indian Cabinet minister to visit the US after Joe Biden became President on January 20.
Jaishankar also had meetings with the top American business leadership hosted by the US India Business Council and the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum. It was not immediately clear, however, who the participants were, and whether the vaccine manufacturers or raw material suppliers were part of these meetings.
Jaishankar also met influential American lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties and discussed developments about Quad and the cooperation on vaccines with them.
He tweeted that he had “good conversations” with co-chairs of the House India Caucus, Congressman Brad Sherman and Rep. Steve Chabot.
“The US Congress has been a tremendous pillar of support as India meets the Covid challenge,” he said.