WASHINGTON/ NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his maiden trip to India next week would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to discuss a wide range of issues, including Indo-Pacific engagement, shared democratic values and cooperation on COVID-19 response efforts, his spokesperson said on Friday.
In addition to his trip to New Delhi, Blinken will also travel to Kuwait City during his foreign trip from July 26 to 29, which State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said is to reaffirm America's commitment to strengthening partnerships and underscore cooperation on their shared priorities.
"In New Delhi on July 28, Secretary Blinken will meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss a wide range of issues, including continued cooperation on COVID-19 response efforts, Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values and addressing the climate crisis," Price said.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that Bilinken will also meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Secretary Blinken's visit is an opportunity to continue the high-level bilateral dialogue and bolster the India-US global strategic partnership, the MEA said in a press release. "Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations, and potential for consolidating them further," it said.
It added that discussions will focus on regional and global issues of mutual interest - including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan and cooperation in the United Nations.
It is expected that the evolving situation in Afghanistan will be a major focus of the discussions between the two sides.
Blinken's visit will take place at a time when the Taliban has pushed back the Afghan military and seized significant swaths of territory as the US nears the end of its withdrawal, ending nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-torn country.
It will be Blinken's first visit to India after assuming charge as the US Secretary of State and the second by a high-ranking official of the Biden administration since it came to power in January. US Defence Secretary General (Retd.) Lloyd Austin visited India in March.
It is learnt that both sides will also discuss the possibility of holding an in-person summit of leaders of the Quad grouping in Washington later this year. The US has been looking at convening the first in-person summit of the leaders of Quad to boost practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, amidst aggressive moves by China in the region.
The Quad comprises India, Japan, Australia and the US. US President Joe Biden hosted a virtual summit of the leaders of the four Quad members in March. Prime Minister Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended the meeting on March 12.
Meanwhile, talking to MSNBC, Blinken said, "And yes, I'm going to India this week. This is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19. The Indians stood up for us in the early days when we were having great challenges, helping to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for example."
"We've now stood up for them as they have encountered wave after wave of COVID-19, including providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars of assistance to them. We have millions of vaccines ready to go to them when they finish their own legal process to bring them in. And India is the leading country when it comes to the production of vaccines," he said.
"Of course, they're focused understandably on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that's going to make a big difference, too. So I'll be talking to our Indian friends about that next week," he said.
The top American diplomat would return to Washington, DC on July 29.