WASHINGTON: Expanding the US-India cooperation on security, defence and counterterrorism and matters like the situation in Afghanistan, Quad, COVID-19 and climate change will be on top of the agenda of Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his maiden trip to India next week, according to a senior American official.
Blinken is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi late on July 27.
He is scheduled to attend a full slate of engagements on July 28.
During his stay in the country, he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
The Ministry of External Affairs said in New Delhi that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will also meet Bilinken.
In the Secretary's meetings with Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, the senior State Department official on Friday said they expect the discussions to focus on ways to further deepen the bilateral partnership, which is very broad in scope, as well as increased convergence on regional and global issues.
"Our bilateral discussions with our Indian partners will focus on expanding our security, defence, cyber, and counterterrorism cooperation," Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters during a conference call on Blinken's visit.
"We collaborate across the government on these issues, including through regular US-India working group meetings, and we look forward to further strengthening our ties with India to ensure a safer and more secure world," he said.
To that end, Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin look forward to hosting their Indian counterparts for the annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this year, he said, without giving specific details of the dialogue.
"On regional issues, we intend to discuss our efforts to support a just and durable peace in Afghanistan," Thompson said.
"All of Afghanistan's neighbours and countries in the region have an interest in a peaceful, secure, and stable Afghanistan, which can only be accomplished through a negotiated political settlement that brings an end to 40 years of conflict, he said.
India, of course, is a critical partner in the region, and the US welcomes India's shared commitment to peace and supporting economic development in Afghanistan, Thompson said.
"We also expect to discuss developments in the Indo-Pacific region with our Indian partners," he said, adding that one of the first multilateral events that President Joe Biden hosted this year was a virtual Quad summit with his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia.
The Quad leaders agreed on a shared vision for the region, one that's free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and respect for human rights, and where sovereignty is safeguarded.
In November 2017, the four nations gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the "Quad" to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas.
Beijing claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea.
But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.
In the East China Sea, China has territorial disputes with Japan.
"We're working with India and other friends and partners in the region to advance this shared vision of the Indo-Pacific. Importantly, we'll also discuss our health collaboration to combat COVID-19, including the Quad vaccine partnership that was first announced during President Biden's Quad summit," Thompson said.
Observing that India and the US have both suffered tremendously during this pandemic, Thompson said: "We are fortunate that the US-India partnership has carried us through some of the most difficult days."
Since March 2020, the US has allocated more than USD 226 million in COVID-19 relief to India, including more than USD 100 million to support India's response to the recent surge.
In addition, more than USD 400 million has been contributed by American citizens and US companies to assist the people of India in their time of need, he said.
Thompson said the United States and India are also working urgently toward their shared goal of overcoming the pandemic.
"We're confident that through our combined efforts, including through the Quad vaccine partnership and the G7-plus vaccine commitment, we will be able to share vaccines -- safe and effective vaccines -- to the Indo-Pacific region and the world. We will continue to seek ways in which we can work together to save lives around the world, and bring an end to the global pandemic," he said.
Climate change would be another major area of discussion, he told reporters.
"The United States and India both recognise the unique role we have to play in reducing the world's emissions, as well as our complementary strengths when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. We're pleased to have launched the US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership in April this year," he said.
"The partnership will reinforce our collective efforts to achieve both the goals of the Paris Agreement and our own ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy, as an excellent example of how the United States and India can bring our strengths to bear on some of the world's most challenging issues," Thompson said.