U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise human rights issues with New Delhi: U.S. official

‘We firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t,’ says official Dean Thompson

Updated - July 24, 2021 09:58 am IST

Published - July 24, 2021 09:27 am IST

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Washington. File photo

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Washington. File photo

During his visit next week to New Delhi , the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise concerns around human rights in India, according to a U.S. official. Mr. Blinken is expected to arrive in New Delhi late on July 27 and will meet with his counterpart S. Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (according to the U.S. version of his schedule).

“And with respect to the human rights and democracy question, yes, you’re right; I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t,” Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters on Friday, when asked how important human rights were to the meeting agenda.

Right priorities: Editorial on U.S. COVID-19 aid to India

“And we believe India is going to be a really important part of continuing those conversations and building strong efforts on those fronts in partnership as we go forward,” he said, adding that the U.S.-India bilateral relationship was “ strong” and has, and would, endure through all types of U.S. administrations.

On Pegasus spyware

On the question of the Pegasus spyware story, Mr. Thompson was more circumspect. The phones of a number of Indian citizens and foreigners in India were hacked using this software, produced by an Israeli firm – NSO Group – which has said it sells its software only to government clients.

“We – I don’t have any particular special insights into the India case. I know this is a broader issue, but I will say that we’ve been, I think, quite vocal about trying to find ways for companies to be able to ensure that their technology is not used in these types of ways. And we will certainly continue to press – to press those issues,” he said.

The Biden administration – which only days earlier had accused China and Russia of “protecting” and “accommodating” cyber hackers and their hacking – has been apparently reluctant to apply the same standards to democracies Israel (one of America’s closest allies) and India (a partner of growing significance). Earlier this week, in their reactions to the story, the White House and the State Department refrained from naming either country.

The meetings next week will cover a host of issues such as expanding cooperation on the security, cyber, defence and counter-terrorism fronts. It will also include discussions on the Indo-Pacific and a partnership among Quad countries to roll out at least a billion COVID-19 vaccines in 2022 to the Asia region. The overall response to the pandemic and cooperation on climate action are expected to be major issues on next week’s agenda.

On the question of what the U.S. is “ looking for” from India as regards Afghanistan, Mr. Thompson did not want to get into specifics but said that Mr. Blinken would discuss how the U.S. and India could work together to get a “stable and secure” Afghanistan.

On whether India and Pakistan’s relationship would figure in next week’s talks, Mr. Thompson said the U.S. believed, “strongly,” that the issues were for India and Pakistan to resolve between themselves.

“We are pleased to see that the ceasefire that went into place earlier this year is – has remained intact, and we certainly always encourage them to continue their efforts to find ways to build a more stable relationship going forward,” he said, articulating a position that is different from the Trump administration’s position.

Former President Donald Trump had repeatedly made offers to mediate between the two countries if they requested his assistance.

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