India, U.S hold broad 2+2 discussions, with Ukraine looming over talks

U.S. concerned about rising human rights abuses in India, Blinken says

April 12, 2022 10:03 am | Updated 10:21 am IST - Washington DC

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken,  Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hold a joint news conference during the fourth U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at the State Department in Washington on April 11, 2022.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hold a joint news conference during the fourth U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at the State Department in Washington on April 11, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

India and the U.S. discussed a broad range of issues — from the COVID-19 response, supply chains, climate action to global and regional issues, but Russia’s war on Ukraine and its ramifications for the world appeared to have been the major theme for the day.  

“Obviously, a good part of my meeting with Secretary Blinken [U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken]  in the morning went to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that has many ramifications,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said at the joint press conference of Defence and Foreign Ministers at the State Department on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Blinken said that it was important that all countries, “especially those with leverage, to press [ Russian President Vladimir] Putin to end the war”.  He called on democracies to “stand together” and speak “with one voice” to defend their shared values. Mr. Blinken said these values “ need to apply everywhere “ — a suggestion that they did not only apply to the Indo-Pacific, where India has faced an aggressive China on its borders, but to the Russia-Ukraine situation.

Both Foreign Ministers found themselves explaining the India-Russia relationship at various points during the interaction.

Mr. Jaishankar appeared irked at questions about India’s stance on Russia — twice thanking reporters sarcastically for “advice” they gave him as part of their questions.

On India’s purchases of Russian energy, Mr. Jaishankar said, “Looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So you might want to think about that.”

He also said that the U.S. and India discussed ways of mitigating the negative impact of the Ukraine situation on food  and energy supplies — a topic that had also been discussed during the virtual meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday morning.  Mr. Jaishankar said that India had already started helping to supply quantities of wheat and sugar as well to help with global shortages.

Mr. Blinken repeatedly stressed that India and Russia have had “a long history” and “a long relationship” at a time when the U.S. was not able to partner with India, but that the U.S. “was both willing and able” now and this was an area of discussion today.

On Ukraine, the Secretary said that India had made “very strong statements” condemning the killing of civilians in Ukraine, at the U.N., and Mr. Jaishankar , in Parliament, had done the same.

U.S. has not made a decision on CAATSA sanctions

Mr. Blinken said that the U.S. continued to urge countries to avoid major weapons purchases from Ukraine but had “not yet made a determination regarding potential sanctions or potential waivers” under the U.S.  CAATSA ( Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) law for New Delhi’s purchase of  the S-400 Triumf missile defence system from Moscow.

 U.S. monitoring rise in ‘human rights abuses’ in India : Blinken

Mr. Blinken also raised the issue of rising human rights abuses in India. The U.S. State Department is set to release its annual Human Rights Report on Tuesday.

India and the U.S. shared a commitment to democratic values, Mr. Blinken said, including the protection of human rights. However, the U.S. was concerned about rising human rights abuses in India.

“ We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values. And to that end, we’re monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” he said.

Cooperation in ‘warfighting domains

On Monday, India and the U.S. also signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Space Situational Awareness — to further cooperation in outer-space. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the two sides had discussed deepening cooperation not just in outer-space but also cyber-space, in order to develop capabilities in both “war-fighting domains.”

Regional issues discussed

During the press conference, Mr. Jaishankar brought up Afghanistan multiple times, saying the two sides discussed what the ramifications of the situation in Afghanistan (where the Taliban has taken over after a chaotic U.S. departure in August last year)  for the neighbourhood. Mr. Blinken, however, did not directly mention Afghanistan.

The two sides discussed other countries in India’s neighbourhood — presumably, Sri Lanka, which is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, and Pakistan, which, after intense political drama, has a new Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced former Prime Minister Imran Khan ,following a no-confidence vote in parliament.  

While the Indian Ministers did not mention China at the press conference, U.S. Defence Secretary made a reference to the country.

“The People’s Republic of China is seeking to refashion the region and the international system more broadly in ways that serve its interests. And so I’m pleased that we’ve identified new opportunities to extend the operational reach of our militaries and to coordinate more closely together across the expanse of the Indo-Pacific,” he said. At his meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Monday morning Mr. Austin had said that China was constructing “dual-use infrastructure” along the border with India and the U.S. would “continue to stand alongside” India to defend its sovereign interest.

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