Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually on Monday morning, as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh were in Washington for the fourth ‘2+ 2’ foreign and defence ministry dialogues with their U.S. counterparts. The war between Russia and Ukraine featured prominently in the opening remarks of both.
The government’s readout of the meeting said the two leaders had discussed Ukraine at the meeting, as well as regional and global issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy, climate and “ recent developments in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region”. Speaking to reporters on a briefing call, a Senior U.S. administration official said that developments in Sri Lanka and Pakistan had been “touched on” but not discussed in a detailed manner.
Mr. Modi, who spoke via videolink to Mr Biden, described the situation in Ukraine as “very worrying” and said he had spoken, several times, with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin and had not just urged peace, but also direct talks between them. India’s unwillingness to call out Russia by name for its attack on Ukraine has not gone down well in Washington, but U.S. officials have also said that they hoped countries that have relationships with Moscow might leverage them to bring about a resolution to the situation.
“The United States and India are going to continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilising effects of this Russian war,” Mr. Biden said in his opening remarks.
The government’s readout of the meeting said that Ukraine was also discussed. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, a senior U.S. administration official said there was a “pretty detailed and candid exchange of views” on Ukraine but added that Mr. Biden made no “concrete ask” of India and Mr. Modi gave no “concrete answer”.
The comment by the official was in response to a reporte’s question on whether any explicit commitments were sought from India in terms of Russian oil, and also with regard to condemning Russia for attacking Ukraine. Both the official and Press Secretary Jen Psaki emphasised that while payments for energy from Russia were not sanctioned, the U.S. was discouraging India from increasing its purchases of Russian energy. In comments shortly after the bilateral meeting, Ms. Psaki said that Mr. Biden had “made clear” what the impact of US sanctions would be, adding, “We expect everybody to abide by those”.
“The President made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities,” Ms. Psaki said, adding that Mr. Biden had reiterated a U.S. offer to help India diversity its energy imports. India currently imports only a small 1-2% of its energy from Russia as per official estimates.
Ms. Psaki used the words “constructive” , “productive” and “direct” to describe the conversation. She said the call was not “adversarial”.
During the opening segment of the bilateral meeting, Mr. Jaishankar, Mr. Singh, India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were seen seated at the table with Mr. Biden .
Referring to Mr. Biden’s slogan, ‘Democracies can deliver’ , Mr. Modi said, ‘The success of the India-America partnership is the best means to make this slogan meaningful. “
“At the root of our partnership is a deep connection between our people, ties of family, of friendship, and of shared values,” Mr Biden said on Monday. The President was seen nodding as Mr. Modi outlined the humanitarian assistance that India had provided Ukraine.
“I want to welcome India’s humanitarian support for the people Ukraine, who are suffering a horrific assault, including a tragic shelling on a train station last week that killed dozens ... attempting to flee the violence,” Mr. Biden said.
The meeting involved a discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy and climate action, the government’s readout said, as were regional and global issues, including those in South Asia and the Indo Pacific. The U.S. official briefing reporters said that Sri Lanka and Pakistan were discussed, but not in detail, with more detailed discussions expected over the next day and a half, i.e., during the course of the 2+2 meetings..