Blinken calls US-India relationship 'vital' during official visit

Blinken calls US-India relationship 'vital' during official visit
© getty: Secretary of State Anthony Blinken

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenChina asks its sworn rival, the United States, to 'guide' the Taliban GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Pope on Biden communion debate: Bishops shouldn't 'go condemning' MORE on Wednesday called the relationship between the U.S. and India “vital” during his visit with officials in New Delhi.

The secretary also reinforced cooperation between Washington and New Delhi on a range of global issues from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change to Afghanistan.

“There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than the one between the United States and India,” Blinken said during a press conference. 

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His counterpart, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said ties between the U.S. and India "serve our national and mutual interests well, but more important, make a real difference to the world and the big issues of our times.”

The U.S. and India are partners in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, referred to as the “Quad,” along with Japan and Australia. It is viewed in the U.S. as a key buffer to China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

Blinken stressed that the dialogue group is not a “military alliance” but is aimed at reinforcing international rules and “values” to combat regional challenges and built on shared democratic values.

Blinken's visit is just the latest by a top Biden administration official. Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPentagon asks all personnel to report symptoms of 'Havana syndrome' Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right New Army office to address sex crimes removed from chain of command MORE visited India in March. 

Blinken and Austin will host their Indian counterparts in Washington later this year for their annual dialogue. 

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“That’s a critical forum for our two countries to deepen our strategic and security partnership,” Blinken said. 

The two top diplomats also addressed shared U.S. and Indian cooperation on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban makes key military and territorial gains across the country. Blinken said that reports of atrocities against civilians committed by the Taliban are “deeply, deeply troubling.” 

Blinken and Jaishankar said that the U.S and India are on the same page in pushing for a peaceful, political solution to the Taliban’s ambitions against the government in Kabul. 

Blinken did not address whether he raised concerns about human rights in India, which have come under scrutiny from the State Department’s own 2020 Country Report on Human Rights. The report cited a lack of accountability for official misconduct that was persistent at all levels of government and contributed to widespread impunity.

“We talk to each other about these issues,” Blinken said in response to a question on whether he addressed the Indian government’s backslide on human rights issues.

“We talk about the challenges that we’re both facing in renewing and strengthening our democracies. And I think, humbly, we can learn from each other, because no democracy, regardless of how large or how old, has it all figured out. And we celebrate that the world’s oldest and the world’s largest democracies are dedicated at heart to a shared set of values that I believe will ensure not only the ultimate success of democracy, but the success of the relationship between India and the United States.”

Blinken also announced that the U.S. will provide $25 million to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts across India as the country recovers from a devastating wave of infections that nearly collapsed its health services and impeded the global vaccine supply. 

The funding will go toward strengthening vaccine supply chain logistics, addressing misinformation and vaccine hesitancy and training more health care workers, Blinken said. 

The secretary also on Wednesday met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the secretary and the Indian leader “discussed regional challenges and a growing range of cooperation on COVID-19 response efforts, climate change, shared values and democratic principles, and regional security, including through U.S.-Australia-India-Japan Quad consultations.”