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Biden reaffirms unwavering commitment to India as a major defence partner

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said both the India-US bilateral meeting and the Quad summit discussed a careful monitoring of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: September 25, 2021 8:33:08 pm
President Joe Biden meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo)

US President Joe Biden in his first-ever meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed the strength to defence relationship and his unwavering commitment to India as a major defence partner, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said Saturday.

President Biden welcomed Prime Minister Modi to the White House on Friday. The meeting of the two leaders in the Oval Office lasted more than 90 minutes, instead of the scheduled 60 minutes.

Follow Live Updates |liveModi in US and UNGA summit

“President Biden reaffirmed the strength to the defence relationship and unwavering commitment to India as a major defense partner. The leaders welcomed the deepening of advanced industrial cooperation in the defence sector,” Shringla said.

During the meeting, he said, there was emphasis on co-developing, co-production and expanding the area of industrial cooperation in the defence sector.

Monitoring Pak role in Afghanistan

Both during the India-US bilateral meeting of PM Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden and the Quad summit comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US, there was a clear sense of a more careful monitoring of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, he said, as the Indian delegation concluded its two days of hectic engagements in the city.

“Pakistan’s role on the issue of terrorism… (whether) it is Quad or its other partners have to keep track of that factor,” Shringla said Friday.

“An important factor which sometimes gets overlooked is when you see Pakistan, protecting itself as a facilitator, whereas, it has really been in many senses an instigator of some of the problems that we’re dealing with in our neighbourhood and beyond,” he said in response to a question.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, speaks during the Quad summit with President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo)

Modi along with his counterparts – Scott Morrison of Australia and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga – on Friday attended the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders hosted by US President Biden.

Shringla said during the bilateral discussion that there was a clear concern expressed on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and the continuing support for an approach that did not seem to be conducive to the international community’s expectations of what the war-torn country should be like.

During the meeting, both India and the US agreed that the issue of terrorism is very important. Both sides denounced any use of terrorist proxies and emphasised the importance of denying logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to plan or launch terror attacks, he said.

The leaders also noted that the US and India will be organising a counter-terrorism joint working group meeting and there is also going to be a renewed US-India Homeland Security dialogue in the areas of law enforcement, he said.

Noting that there was quite a bit of discussion on Afghanistan, Shringla said there was a lot of importance attached to the fact that the United Nations resolution 2593 was adopted and on India’s Presidency of the Security Council.

This is an important resolution which reflected the international community’s general view on the situation in Afghanistan, he said. “So, the two sides underscored the importance of combat and terrorism in Afghanistan. They called on the Taliban to adhere to these and all of its commitments under resolution 2593. That includes, obviously the issue of ensuring that the Afghan territory is not used to threaten attack against any country, shelter any terrorist groups or finance terrorist attacks and underscores the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan,” he said.

The two delegations also called upon Afghanistan to respect human rights of women, children, minorities, provision of humanitarian assistance and access to humanitarian workers, Shringla said. They also called upon the two sides to secure an inclusive political negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, he said.

“This is an important point… the fact that the current ruling dispensation did not appear to be an inclusive one, did not involve the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan to the extent that it should, that it did not did not include participation of women,” he said.

Access for Indian professionals

“He (Modi) spoke of the issue of getting access for Indian professionals to the United States. In that context he mentioned H-1B visa,” Shringla said. The sought after H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

“He also spoke of the fact that many Indian professionals who work here contribute to Social Security. The return of those contributions in the United States is something that affects the number of Indian workers,” Shringla said.

A fact sheet issued by the White House later said the US was proud to have issued a record 62,000 visas to Indian students so far in 2021. The nearly 2,00,000 Indian students in the United States contribute $7.7 billion annually to the US economy.

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Programme worldwide, it said the programme has been bringing Americans and Indians closer together for 71 years since its launch in India. “In 2008, we welcomed India’s decision to jointly fund these fellowships with the United States, and renamed the program the Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship Program. Over 20,000 fellowships and grants have been awarded under this exchange programme, and the United States looks forward to building on these successes,” it said.

“The Partnership 2020 programme continues to foster higher education cooperation to promote economic growth and technological advances. In collaboration with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, this programme funds 15 research partnerships between US and Indian universities in the fields of advanced engineering, artificial intelligence, public health, and energy, among others,” the White House said.

According to the White House, the upcoming launch of the US-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment – a public-private partnership between the Department of State, USAID, the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and George Washington University – will help catalyse collaboration to advance women’s economic resilience and empowerment in India.

Boosting bilateral trade

“There was a strong emphasis by the Prime Minister on developing the trade and economic relations,” Shringla told reporters at a news conference after the meeting at the Oval Office.

It is here that the two leaders felt that they should ask their ministers concerned – the Commerce and Industry Minister in the case of India and the United States Trade Representative in the case of the US – to see how to impart greater dynamism to the trade bilateral relationship, how to speedily implement decisions that could further accelerate the trade ties between the two countries.

There was also a discussion on the TRIPS paper. India appreciated the US decision to support the initiative by India and South Africa, to seek a waiver of IPR at the WTO, so that vaccines could be made more widely available, particularly in the developing world, he said. During the discussion, Biden commented that he took the decision very early on in his presidency, and that he was committed to that decision.

In a fact sheet issued by the White House, the Biden administration said that under the upcoming Trade Policy Forum, the US seeks to work with India to address trade concerns and enhance bilateral trade.

The US also looks forward to holding the next meeting of the US-India Commercial Dialogue and CEO Forum to enhance business and commercial ties between the two countries.

As of 2021, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has a portfolio in India valued at over USD 2.5 billion, covering projects across multiple sectors, including renewable energy, manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, private equity, housing, and insurance. An additional USD 900 million in new projects are expected over the next fiscal year.

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