Blinken, Jaishankar review priorities ahead of 2+2

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Blinken had called Jaishankar last week on the eve of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to New Delhi and spoke about “the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine”, reports Arul Louis

Ukraine has figured in US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s talks with India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar ahead of the ministerial-level meeting of the defence and foreign affairs leaders of the two countries in Washington on Monday, according to State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

He said that during their conversation on Tuesday — the second in less than a week — they reviewed “regional and global priorities, including the situation in Ukraine”.

“They agreed to remain closely coordinated on developments and looked forward to meeting again soon,” he added.

Jaishankar tweeted that they “discussed bilateral issues and latest developments pertaining to Ukraine”.

Blinken had called Jaishankar on Wednesday last week on the eve of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to New Delhi and spoke about “the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine”, Price said.

In diplomatic overtures to India, US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh visited New Delhi last week and the Ukraine situation and the US sanctions on trade with Russia came up in his discussions with the Indian officials.

And a week before that Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, came to India with Deputy Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Amanda Dory for Foreign Office Consultations at which they discussed regional issues of South Asia, the Indo-Pacific region, and the Middle East, and the situation in Ukraine with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and other officials, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

The 2+2 meeting is to take place every year alternating between the capitals, but last year’s meeting — the fourth — expected to be held in December was postponed because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India around that time.

Putin will be the unseen presence casting a shadow over the meeting of Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin with their countries differing in their approaches to Ukraine.

While the US has been pressing India — and all countries — to join in unequivocally condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, New Delhi has taken a neutral stance, abstaining at the United Nations on seven votes relating to Ukraine.

But on Tuesday, India made what is likely its strongest statement on the Ukraine situation so far as it “unequivocally condemned” the killings of civilians in Bucha in Ukraine from where the occupying Russian troops withdrew.

“We unequivocally condemn these killings and support the call for an independent investigation,” T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, told the Security Council, but without naming Russia.

The US has also publicly shown understanding of the difficult Indian position because of its dependence on Russian armaments.

Amid criticism of India for its oil purchases from Russia, President Joe Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki clarified on Monday to the media that its imports were a minuscule 1 to 2 per cent and energy payments to Moscow did not come under American sanctions.

Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby pointed out at his briefing on Monday that India was diversifying its defence purchases and added, “We’ll continue to have that conversation with the Indians.”

India’s purchases of oil and defence equipment are likely to figure in the 2+2 meeting, besides the Ukraine situation.

The US has offered to help India with its energy needs and also in diversifying its defence needs to lessen the dependence on Russia.

A significant item on the meeting’s agenda will be the Indo-Pacific, where India as a member of the Quad, has a crucial role in the US strategy for the region where China has stepped up its aggressive activities.

The Quad, made up of India, the US, Japan and Australia, has been expanding its humanitarian role while also having an eye on strategic affairs.

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