Quad summit more likely after the U.S. elections in November: American envoy Garcetti

At a discussion on the Quad’s new version, former officials clarify it was the U.S. and Australia, and not India, that pulled out of the Quad in 2007

February 06, 2024 02:21 am | Updated 10:32 am IST - NEW DELHI

PM Narendra Modi with leaders of U.S., Australia and Japan during the Quad Leaders’ Summit last year in Hiroshima, Japan. File

PM Narendra Modi with leaders of U.S., Australia and Japan during the Quad Leaders’ Summit last year in Hiroshima, Japan. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Leaders of the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Quad may not be able to meet for a summit in India before the U.S. elections take place, American Ambassador Eric Garcetti said, stressing that the Quad agenda would be “more productive” by the end of 2024. Mr. Garcetti, who was speaking at a discussion with envoys from Australia and Japan, and former officials, at the Jaipur Literature Festival over the weekend, indicated that the election schedules and campaign requirements would make it difficult for U.S. President Joseph Biden to travel to Delhi. Mr. Biden had earlier declined an invitation to attend the Republic Day parade followed by the Quad summit, with the dates proposed by New Delhi for January 26-27.

“Absolutely. It will take place right after the elections,” Mr. Garcetti said in response to a question from The Hindu during the discussion, clarifying that he meant the U.S. elections, to be held on November 5, 2024.  “As exciting as 2023 was for bilateral relations, with PM Modi’s state visit, President Biden’s visit to India for the G-20 summit, India being the number one destination for U.S. Cabinet members, and Treasury Secretary Yellen visiting the country four times, we need time to put the agenda back together…. This will make the end of the year have more productive outcomes,”  the American envoy said.

Mr. Garcetti said that there would be some Quadrilateral discussions on technology later this month on the sidelines of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) meetings. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to lead a delegation to Delhi for talks with the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval for the iCET inter-sessional meetings, and to address the annual Raisina Conference organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation on February 21-23.

Mr. Garcetti, however, rejected the idea that the election schedule, or the possibility of Republican frontrunner and former U.S. President Donald Trump defeating Mr. Biden in the elections due in November, would affect the India-U.S. bilateral or Quadrilateral relationship.

The panel, which included former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran (2004-2006) also shed light on how the first round of Quad engagement from 2005-2007 had come to an end, until it was revived in 2017 by the four countries involved. According to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, it was Australia that publicly announced its decision to pull out of the Quad first in 2008, although former Foreign Secretary Shyam added that behind the scenes, it was the then-Bush administration that had directly asked India “not to push [the Quad] forward”.

The accounts are at some variance with the belief that it was India, not the U.S. and Australia that ended the Quad’s earlier version. During a speech in February 2023, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar had said that “in 2007, one country put pressure, you can guess which one and we backed down,” he said referring to pressure from China, and comparing the responses in 2007 against 2017.

Mr. Saran, however described a phone call from a senior U.S. official just before the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo in 2006. “Please tell your PM not to encourage Abe [the then Japanese PM] on the Quad. This is not the time we should push this forward,” he said. Mr. Saran added the official cited the ongoing Iran nuclear deal and North Korea six-party talks as reasons for the U.S.’ desire to not annoy Beijing in 2006.

Mr. Turnbull added that, subsequently, in 2008, it was Australia that publicly announced it was pulling out of the Quad. Speaking at the session, Mr. Turnbull acknowledged that Mr. Rudd, who is now Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S., had denied “torpedoing” the Quad grouping, but that the public comments were a matter of public record. During a visit to Tokyo in 2008, and again in Canberra, the then Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had denied the U.S.-Japan-Australia Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD) would expand “by including India”, after which the Quad grouping, which was set up after the 2004 tsunami, appeared to have run its course. 

The envoys present on stage, including Mr. Garcetti, Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Suzuki, and Australian High Commissioner Philip Green did not comment on the details of “Quad 1.0”. However, “Putting aside the history, what the QUAD is today is a great success,” Mr. Suzuki said. Comparing the increase in Quad engagement Mr. Green said that just four years ago, there were no leaders’ meetings, occasional senior officials’ meetings, and no joint communiques. “Now we have annual summits, communiqués, new activities, and work programmes,” he said. But, “The present and the history we are writing” was more important in terms of Quad (2.0) engagements on maritime domain awareness, critical and emerging technologies, space projects, and humanitarian assistance in the region and other spheres.

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