Updated: May 31, 2021 8:51:43 am
External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s visit to the US last week, the first by an Indian cabinet minister since the inauguration of Joe Biden as the president in January, was comprehensive in its outreach and expansive in its scope. Barring President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Jaishankar met most key actors in the Administration who have a say in the US engagement with India. They included the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken; Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin; the presidential envoy on climate change, John Kerry; US Trade Representative Katherine Tai; and Director, National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Jaishankar also met with members of the US Congress and business associations.
If the Biden Administration moved quickly to advance the bilateral relationship that saw steady progress under his three predecessors, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W Bush, Delhi’s challenge in coping with the second wave of the pandemic has generated a surge of bipartisan support for India across the US. It was certainly not Jaishankar’s job to negotiate commercial vaccine contracts. His mission was to mobilise political and policy support in Washington for increased vaccine availability in India. Reports from Washington describe Jaishankar’s conversations on this issue in Washington as positive. While raw material supplies from the US for vaccine production in India are improving, many technical issues will have to be resolved in the talks between regulatory authorities in both countries on the procurement of US vaccines.
Besides the urgent priorities on the pandemic front, Jaishankar’s main objective was to flesh out an ambitious agenda for the bilateral relationship in the next few years. There is no doubt that the Quad — or the Quadrilateral Framework involving Australia and Japan along with India and the US — has become an important new element of the deepening ties between Delhi and Washington. Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s strong political commitment to the Quad that emerged out of bilateral defence cooperation and is now poised to shape the Indo-Pacific regional security order. The virtual summit between the leaders of the four countries in March expanded the remit of the Quad to include a regional vaccine initiative, the building of resilient supply chains, and high technology cooperation. The high-level Quad conversation will continue at an in-person summit later in the year. Jaishankar’s talks in Washington also covered the unfolding regional crises in Afghanistan, where the Taliban refuses to negotiate peace, and Myanmar, where the army is digging in its heels after the February coup. If the Indo-Pacific provides a new regional anchor to India-US relations, Delhi and Washington are also eager to expand their cooperation on a range of global issues, including health security, climate change and trade. En route to Washington, Jaishankar met the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in New York and conveyed India’s determination to make its current tenure as a non-permanent member in the UNSC a consequential one. All indications are that Delhi is finally bringing greater synergy between its bilateral diplomacy in Washington and multilateralism in New York.
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