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US Defence Secretary holds talks to deepen Indo-US ties, says discussed rights too

Government sources told The Sunday Express that the human rights situation came up only as “shared values”, and not about the situation in the country with any Indian interlocutor.

Written by Shubhajit Roy , Dipankar Ghose | Mumbai |
March 21, 2021 4:10:14 am
Rajnath Singh with Lloyd J Austin at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on Saturday. (Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

A day after he conveyed Washington’s strong desire to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further enhance the strategic partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership and explore new areas of cooperation in space, cyber and artificial intelligence, among others.

Austin also said that he had a conversation Saturday with Indian Cabinet ministers about human rights issues.

Government sources told The Sunday Express that the human rights situation came up only as “shared values”, and not about the situation in the country with any Indian interlocutor.

The only time human rights of the minorities came up was during the discussion on Afghanistan with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar who, sources said, told Austin that the “US should not let down the minorities in Afghanistan”.

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Quoting US President Joe Biden that human rights and rule of law are important to the US, Austin told reporters that India is a partner, and partners need to be able to have those kinds of discussions. And they can have those discussions in a “very meaningful way and make progress”.

Government sources said that during his meeting with Jaishankar, Austin said “as the two largest democracies in the world, human rights and values are important to us and we will lead with these values”.

“The External Affairs Minister agreed and emphasised that a strong relationship between the two democracies was not only important for both countries but for the rest of the world,” the sources said.

When Austin was asked if he had spoken with Prime Minister Modi about “violations of human rights especially against Muslim minorities in the Northeast”, he said: “I did not have an opportunity to talk with him about that. I did have a conversation with other members of the Cabinet on this issue.”

“You’ve heard President Biden say that human rights and rule of law are important to the United States of America. We always lead with our values. As a democracy, that’s pretty important to us. India is a democratic country and you treasure your values as well. There are a number of things that we can and will work on together,” he said.

After meeting Rajnath Singh, he said, “We discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership… a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration… through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defence trade.”

“In addition, we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber.”

Stressing that India is keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, Singh said: “Our discussions today focussed on our wide ranging defence cooperation and expanding military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support.”

“We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command. Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit,” he said.

Referring to the rise of China, Austin said: “India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics.”

He reaffirmed his commitment to a “comprehensive and forward-looking” defence partnership with India, calling it a “central pillar of our approach to the region”.

“Prime Minister Modi has stated that India stands for freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law,” he said.

“This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific. And it’s clear that the importance of this partnership, and its impact to the international rules-based order will only grow in the years ahead. Our work today is grounded in our shared values and converging strategic interests,” he said.

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