Modi, Biden to speak ahead of key 2+2 dialogue

Updated on Apr 11, 2022 12:54 AM IST

The virtual meeting and the dialogue comes in the backdrop of differences between the American and Indian positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting on Monday, April 11. (HT PHOTO.)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting on Monday, April 11. (HT PHOTO.)
By, , New Delhi/washington

Ahead of a crucial 2+2 meeting between India and the US on Monday, in a departure from the norm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting to discuss the entire gamut of the relationship, developments in the Indo-Pacific as well as the crisis in Ukraine, officials said on Sunday.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar landed in Washington on Sunday to participate in the 2+2 dialogue with their counterparts, secretary of defence Lloyd J Austin and secretary of state Antony J Blinken — this is the first dialogue under the format since the Biden administration took office and the fourth 2+2 dialogue since the inception of the format.

The virtual meeting and the dialogue comes in the backdrop of differences between the American and Indian positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. India has emphasised the need for dialogue and diplomacy, end to cessation of hostilities and violence and spoken up for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states — but has refrained from condemning Russian aggression. The US has led the international coalition against Russia and offered military support to Ukraine, and nudged India to take a stronger position against the Russian invasion and reduce its energy, defence and economic engagement with Russia.

Officials said that Monday’s conversations will reflect the ability of both sides to manage the differences, place it within the wider context of deepening ties, and build on convergences in a range of areas — including health, defence, space, cyber, higher education, climate and emerging technologies, among other issues.

But even as the two governments seek to focus on the wider relationship, Ukraine will remain a key focus area. The White House’s statement on the virtual summit said: “President Biden will continue our close consultations on the consequences of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating its destabilizing impact on global food supply and commodity markets.” A statement released by India did not specifically mention Ukraine.

Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, said that Biden and Modi will meet to “further deepen ties between our governments, economies, and our people”. “President Biden and Prime Minister Modi will discuss cooperation on a range of issues including ending the Covid-19 pandemic, countering the climate crisis, strengthening the global economy, and upholding a free, open, rules-based international order to bolster security, democracy, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” the White House said. The discussion will also “advance ongoing conversations about the development of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and delivering high-quality infrastructure”.

In New Delhi, the ministry of external affairs said that the two leaders will “review ongoing bilateral cooperation and exchange views on recent developments in South Asia, the Indo-Pacific region and global issues of mutual interest”. “The virtual meeting will enable both sides to continue their regular and high-level engagement aimed at further strengthening the bilateral Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” the Indian statement added.

Biden and Modi last spoke during a virtual meeting of Quad leaders in early March soon after the Ukraine crisis broke out. They had a bilateral in-person meeting in September last year, when Modi travelled to Washington for an in-person Quad summit.

Besides participating in the 2+2 dialogue, the Indian ministers will also have a set of bilateral engagements. Jaishankar is also expected to meet other cabinet members of the Biden administration and senior national security officials, besides engaging with Washington’s wider policy and strategic community. Blinken and Jaishankar will also address an interaction with students at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington DC.

The external affairs minister is also expected to travel to New York later in the week.

Singh will travel to the Indo-Pacific command in Hawai in another sign of the shared bilateral interest in securing a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. Defence is expected to be among the top issues on the 2+2 agenda, with Austin saying: “This year’s ministerial will feature an ambitious agenda for US-India defence cooperation.”

Speaking on the larger mood in Washington about Delhi in the wake of the Russian invasion, Sameer Lalwani, senior fellow at the Stimson Centre and a defence analyst, said that the foundations of the relationship were still strong. “The central argument for the relationship with India is about creating a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. And what is happening in Russia and Europe has never been a central part of what the US has sought from India. So the general logic holds.” He added that there were some concerns about India’s accommodation of the Russian position but also an understanding as to why that was the case. “Ultimately, India’s decisions when it comes to China will be much more consequential and revealing of the prospects of how durable this relationship is going to be.”

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    Rezaul H Laskar is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Hindustan Times. His interests include movies and music.


    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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