Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin to visit New Delhi next week for ‘2+2’ dialogue

The group of Ministers will discuss “both bilateral and global concerns and developments in the Indo-Pacific”, the U.S. State Department says

Updated - November 02, 2023 11:34 pm IST

Published - November 02, 2023 02:01 pm IST

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to New Delhi is part of a larger November 2-10 trip to Tel Aviv, Amman, Tokyo and Seoul. File

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to New Delhi is part of a larger November 2-10 trip to Tel Aviv, Amman, Tokyo and Seoul. File | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to New Delhi next week for the ‘2+2’ meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, according to the U.S. State Department.

The group of Ministers will discuss “both bilateral and global concerns and developments in the Indo-Pacific”, the State Department said. Mr. Blinken’s visit to New Delhi is part of a larger November 2-10 trip to Tel Aviv, Amman, Tokyo and Seoul. The New Delhi visit is expected to take place on November 9-10.

Secretaries Blinken and Austin will also meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the ministerial meetings , the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement.

The meeting comes a few months before India is expected to host the Quad Summit in New Delhi, with the leaders of the U.S., Japan and Australia. The speculative date for this meeting is January 27 with U.S. President Joe Biden being invited to attend the Republic Day on January 26. When asked by The Hindu earlier this week, the White House could not confirm his attendance.

Next week’s meeting is the fifth annual dialogue in this format and the first after Israel and Hamas’s latest round of fighting, a topic which is expected tooccupy some of the discussion. Other subjects are likely to include Ukraine and Russia and the reform of international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — one of India’s priorities as the outgoing president of the G-20.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu confirmed both conflicts are on the agenda.

“With India, we share the goals of preventing this conflict from spreading, preserving stability in the Middle East, and advancing a two-state solution,” Mr. Lu said about the Israel-Hamas conflict on a briefing call with reporters on Thursday. He noted that the government had condemned the Hamas attack and also called for sustained humanitarian access to Gaza.

Rift with Canada

This 2+2 is also the firstsuch meeting since diplomatic relations soured between India and Canada, an ally and neighbour of the U.S., over allegations that the government was behind the killing of a Canadian Khalistani separatist leader in British Columbia. The falling out between Ottawa and New Delhi had left Washington in an awkward position as it tries to balance its commitments and interests with both countries. Washington has urged India to cooperate in Canada’s investigation into the killing, a position Mr. Lu reiterated on Thursday.

“We are hopeful that Canada’s investigation will proceed, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” he said.

The meetings in New Delhi are also expected to cover China and the south Asian neighbourhood — where there have been a number of recent developments. For instance, the September election in the Maldives of president-elect Mohamed Muizzu, who wants to loosen ties with India. There are also differences between Washington and New Delhi in their approach to Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh — particularly responses to concerns over the conduct of elections in January 2024. Past discussions have also included Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the neighbourhood and next week’s talks will likely get into these topics.

Defence ties

In the defence space, the two sides discussed the implementation of the road map for U.S.-India Defence Industrial Cooperation during their intercessional meeting in Washington in September. This is likely to continue in New Delhi next week. The U.S. and India have also been negotiating Security of Supply Arrangement and the Reciprocal Defence Procurement agreement. India is also moving forward with a purchase of 31 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, with the countries hoping to finalise the deal by February 2024.

Co-production of defence equipment between the countries has been a “key part” of the dialogue, as per Mr Lu.

 The four Ministers “will also discuss our efforts to advance democracy and human rights, as well as our expanded cooperation in clean energy, counterterrorism, artificial intelligence, space, and semiconductor manufacture”, according to Mr. Lu. The Modi government’s record on democratic norms and rights, especially with regard to minorities, has been a concern in Washington, while New Delhi has bristled at the raising of the topic, blaming ‘vote bank politics’ (i.e., pressure from the left flank of the Democratic party in the U.S. Congress). In recent years, the State Department has resorted to framing these discussions more as a dialogue rather than something that is one-sided.

During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit to Washington in late September, his talks with his American counterpart had been framed partly around initiatives announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington DC in June — and the ‘2+2’ is likely to see a continuation of this.

Mr. Blinken will be in Tokyo prior to his New Delhi visit, for the G7 (Group of Seven) Foreign Ministers’ meet. His trip across Asia, “demonstrates our [U.S.] enduring commitment to and focus on the Indo-Pacific, even amidst other global challenges”, said Daniel Kritenbrink, the Sate Department’s top diplomat for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

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