Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joseph Biden will hold a virtual meeting prior to the “2+2” Foreign and Defence ministerial meeting in Washington on Monday, to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the U.S. White House announced on Sunday. However, while the White House said President Biden would speak about “the consequences of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine”,” the MEA didn’t refer directly to discussions about the conflict, where the U.S. and India have differences in their positions.
“The two leaders will review ongoing bilateral cooperation and exchange views on recent developments in south Asia, the Indo-Pacific region and global issues of mutual interest,” the MEA statement said. Dramatic developments have been seen in south Asia, both in Pakistan, where Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was ousted over the weekend, and Sri Lanka, where massive protests over the economy are challenging the Rajapaksa government.
The White House listed amongst subjects for discussion cooperation on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, global economy, and “upholding a free, open, rules-based international order to bolster security, democracy, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”, as well as developing the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” on infrastructure expected to be announced during the 2+2 meeting.
“President Biden will continue our close consultations on the consequences of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating its destabilising impact on global food supply and commodity markets,” the White House statement added.
Ahead of the 2+2 ministerial meeting with U.. S. counterparts Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defence Secretary Gen. (retired) Lloyd Austin, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Washington on Sunday.
Number of visits to Delhi
The Modi-Biden summit via videoconference, which was not announced earlier, follows a number of visits by senior U.S. officials to Delhi to discuss India’s position on the Russian war in Ukraine, and signs of a strain in ties over the issue. While Mr. Biden referred to India as “somewhat shaky” amongst Quad countries, Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh had spoken of “consequences” for countries that attempt to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Russia through alternative payment mechanisms, like the Rupee-Rouble system Delhi and Moscow are in talks about.
Subsequently, other officials have sought to downplay the differences between the two countries, indicating that Mr. Singh’s words were not a “warning” to India., and India remains one of the U.S.’s “most important partnerships”. Apart from joining U.S. and EU sanctions, Washington has been asking India not to increase its intake of Russian oil being offered at a discount, and to reconsider its position at the UN, where India has abstained on at least a dozen votes on the Ukraine conflict, including any statement critical of Russia’s actions. In a Parliament debate last week, Mr. Jaishankar said India stood “on the side of peace” and for “diplomacy and dialogue”.
At a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee during a congressional hearing, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the administration “would prefer that India move away from their long-term history of non-alignment, G77 partnership with Russia.”