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Transcript of Press Statement / Media Interaction following India-US Ministerial Meeting

July 28, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good afternoon.
Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State of United States of America,
Hon’ble Minister of External Affairs of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar,
Distinguished members of both delegations,
Members of the media,

A very good afternoon again to all of you, and a very warm welcome on the special press interaction on the occasion of the visit of the Secretary of State of the United States of America to New Delhi. Thank you for being in person here. We will begin with statements to the media from both ministers. May I now request Honourable Minister of External Affairs, Dr. S. Jaishankar to make his opening remarks.

Dr. S. Jaishankar , External Affairs Minister: Friends of the Media, Secretary Blinken and I just concluded our discussions; I welcome the opportunity to brief all of you. Let me say right at the start that it’s a real pleasure to welcome you back here Secretary, back to Delhi. Our meeting takes place at an important juncture when key global and regional challenges need to be affectively addressed that our bilateral partnership has advanced to a level that enables us to deal collaboratively with larger issues is a matter of particular satisfaction. Now, you are all aware of the extent of transformation of our relationship in recent years. Prime Minister Modi and President Biden have spoken numerous times and participated in summits of the Quad, G7 and Climate Leaders this year and Secretary Blinken and I, the two of us we are actually meeting, I think, for the fourth time this year. As Foreign Ministers, it is our responsibility to regularly review cooperation in different domains and keep our leaders apprised of the progress in our ties and that is exactly what we have done today. Now whether it is responding to the Covid challenge, cooperating on defence and security, encouraging trade and investment, addressing climate change or expanding education and innovation, I can say truly that there is much that has happened in 2021. The Covid issue was naturally a particular priority, so let me first acknowledge the responsiveness of the Biden administration to keeping the raw material supply chain open for vaccine production in India and then say a big thanks for the support we received during the Covid second wave from the United States, a support that I would say was truly exceptional. We focus today on expanding vaccine production to make it globally affordable and accessible; we also discussed travel challenges resulting from Covid. The US has been very forthcoming on students. I really appreciate all the trouble that the State Department and the Embassy has gone to in that regard and I very much hope, will take a sympathetic view of other travellers in the days to come.

We spoke at length about regional concerns, multilateral institutions and global issues, the expanding Indian footprint, be it in Africa, South-east Asia, Caribbean or the South-pacific has naturally broadened the shared agenda. Among the many issues that we looked at, I would specifically note Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific and the Gulf. Regarding Afghanistan it is essential that peace negotiations are taken seriously by all parties. The world wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbours but its independence and sovereignty will only be ensured if it is free from malign influences. Similarly unilateral imposition of will by any party will obviously not be democratic and can never lead to stability nor indeed can such efforts ever acquire legitimacy. The gains to Afghan Civil Society especially on the rights of women, minorities and on social freedoms over the last two decades are self evident; we must collectively work to preserve them. Afghanistan must neither be home to terrorism nor resource of refugees. On the other side of India, the Indo Pacific presents a different set of challenges to stability, growth and prosperity. Under the aegis of the quad framework, we are engaged on maritime security, HADR counterterrorism, connectivity and infrastructure, cyber and digital concerns, COVID-19 response, climate action, education and resilient and reliable supply chains.

The secretary and I discussed not only opportunities for further collaboration on all these issues, but also the importance of observing international law, rules and norms, including UNCLOS. Our ability to work more closely, bilaterally, in the Quad and elsewhere, benefits the international community as a whole. Developments in India's extended neighbourhood are also naturally of great consequence to us. Stability in the Gulf where our political, economic and community interests are so visible was a shared concern. On Myanmar, I conveyed our commitment to its democratic transition as well as our support for ASEAN initiatives. India and the United States are currently both members of the UN Security Council. Some of the agenda before the UNSC was also covered in our discussions as also our approach to reform multilateralism. Countering terrorism has been the common endeavour for us in the UN Framework, bilaterally and in other bodies. We are convinced that the world will never accept cross border terrorism.

As regards climate change, the Agenda 2030 partnership that Prime Minister Modi and President Biden launched in April strengthens our commitment to meet Paris goals, taking forward its clean energy and finance mobilisation tracks is therefore vital.

Given the comprehensive and global nature of our strategic partnership, it is to be expected that our two countries would engage on major contemporary issues. Such conversations are not only essential in a democratic, diverse and multi-polar world, but actually affirm that we have entered a new era. We approach this pluralism through the lens of our own contexts, convictions and cultures. Secretary Blinken and I have been very much part of the journey that has brought our two nations so close today. Our ties, obviously serve our national and mutual interests well, but more important, make a real difference to the world and the big issues of our times. Having noted that, let me ask you, Antony to give your take on our talks today and I request the Secretary for his remarks.

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : Thank you. Thank you very much. And good afternoon, everyone. It's a real pleasure to be back in India, I was just thinking that the first time I came here was 40 years ago, with my family. I'm here now in somewhat different circumstance, but it's wonderful to be here. And I especially want to thank Minister Jaishankar, all of our colleagues in government and some of the individuals I've had the opportunity to meet already today for an incredibly warm welcome. The Minister and I have a partnership and friendship going back some years. And I have to say it's one of the particular pleasures of my job to be able to work with you on a regular basis.

There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than the one between the United States and India. We are two of the world's leading democracies and our diversity fuels our national strength. We are two of the world's largest economies, powered by the innovative spirit of our people. At a time of rising temperatures and sea levels, we two of the world's largest carbon emitters are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the leading edge of a new green economy. Our countries know firsthand the legal consequences of climate change. And the Indian and American people are united by millions of family ties stretching back generations, and by shared values and shared aspirations. Together, the actions that India and the United States take are shaping the 21st century and beyond. That's why strengthening the partnership with India is one of the United States top foreign policy priorities. That's been the case for the past several presidential administrations, Democrat and Republican alike. And President Biden feels a deep personal commitment to making our friendship with India, as strong and as effective as it can be. We believe this partnership will be critical for delivering stability and prosperity in the Indo Pacific region and beyond, and for showing the world how democracies can deliver for their people. And we believe that there's a good deal that we can accomplish together on so many fronts, including in the near term.

As the minister said, we discussed a number of critical issues today. COVID-19 being at the top of the agenda, it's hit both of our countries very, very hard. We remember with gratitude, and we will not soon forget the aid and assistance that India provided to us in the early days of COVID-19 when our hospitals were overwhelmed early in the pandemic. And I'm proud that we could help return the gesture of friendship over the past few months, the United States government's contributed more than $200 million to India for COVID-19 relief. And there's been a huge outpouring from individual Americans from the private sector in support as well. Today, I'm pleased to announce that the United States government will send an additional $25 million to support vaccination efforts across India. This funding will contribute I think, to saving lives by strengthening vaccine supply chain logistics, addressing this information vaccine hesitancy and helping to train more healthcare workers. We're determined to end this pandemic. And India and the United States will work together to do it, including through the quad vaccine partnership, which will bring safe and effective vaccines to others across the region. And I believe, too, that as we move forward, India and the United States together, around the world will be leaders in bringing this pandemic to an end. And I hope, setting up an even stronger global health security system going forward so that we're in a better position should the next pandemic come around. We also have to address the very painful secondary consequences of the pandemic to fuel our economic recovery in the United States must continue to grow our trade relationship. And beyond that, we have to keep working through the barriers that stand in the way of greater bilateral investment, and deeper commercial ties. That's something we talked about today as well. If we create the right conditions for more trade and investment, and innovation, there really is no limit to what our private sectors can achieve together.

The Minister and I also discussed strengthening our regional cooperation, both bilaterally and through the quad with Japan and Australia, as well as other multilateral partnerships. So much of the future of the 21st century, will be written in this part of the world. We share a vision India and the United States of a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo Pacific. We'll work together to make that vision a reality and will continue to advance peace security development worldwide, and to work in international organisations to strengthen rules based international order. Just to come back to one example, the quad countries as the minister noted are focused together on dealing effectively with COVID-19, on advancing the climate agenda, on dealing with emerging technologies. And we're bringing our experts together on a number of other vitally important issues to this region and beyond, including infrastructure, supply chains, maritime security. We discussed regional security issues, as the minister noted, including Afghanistan. India and the United States share a strong interest in a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan. As a leader and critical partner in the region, India has made and will continue to make vital contributions to Afghanistan stability and development. And we'll continue to work together to sustain the gains of the Afghan people and support regional stability after the withdrawal of coalition forces from the country. And indeed, we talked about the climate crisis as well. Earlier this year, we launched the US India climate and clean energy agenda 2030 partnership to help achieve our ambitious 2030 targets for the United States slashing greenhouse gas emissions in half for India, installing 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, among other targets. That's nearly twice the amount of renewable energy capacity that the entire world added in 2020. It would demonstrate to emerging economies that economic development and a cleaner economy go hand in hand.

Today's conversations including my meeting earlier today with National Security Adviser Doval, and my meeting later today with Prime Minister Modi are valuable, important opportunities to carry our cooperation forward. Defence Secretary Austin and I are looking forward to hosting Minister Jaishankar and Defence Minister Singh later this year in Washington for the annual 2+2 dialogue. That's a critical forum for our two countries to deepen our strategic and security partnership. Finally, our bilateral relationship is strengthened by our shared values. As two of the world's leading democracies, we take seriously our responsibility to deliver freedom, equality, and opportunity to all of our people. And we know that we must constantly do more on these fronts, neither of us has achieved the ideals that we set for ourselves. Part of the promise of democracy is the constant striving for better, as America's founders put it, to form a more perfect union, to always seek to strengthen our democratic institutions, expand access to justice and opportunity, stand up forcefully for fundamental freedoms. Those values at the heart of our democratic systems, they're at the core of the vast array of partnerships connecting our countries, not only between our governments, but also between our private sectors, universities, civil societies, most of all, between our people.

One last thing, to prepare for my visit today, I look back on an earlier visit to India, by an American leader. In 2006, then Senator Joe Biden was here. And during that visit to India, he said, and I quote, my dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world would be India and the United States, if that occurs, the world will be safer. Well, it's 2021. Joe Biden is president of the United States, the friendship between India and the United States is one of the most consequential in the world. And we too look to the future, to 2030 and beyond because once again, the choices and investments that we make today can produce a healthier, more peaceful, more prosperous, more democratic future for our children, and for the world. That's the opportunity before us. And that's what the people of India and the United States will work together to achieve. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi , Official Spokesperson: Thank you honourable ministers for your opening statements. I will now invite questions from the members of media here for our dignitaries. Given the time constraints, we will take two questions from the Indian media and then I'll hand over to the spokesperson of the State Department, Mr. Ned Price who is here with us for the two questions from the US side. Let me begin with Parikshit Luthra from CNBC, please.

Parikshit Luthra: Mr. Jaishankar, and Secretary Blinken, I believe both sides had detailed discussions on the situation in Afghanistan. Could you tell us about the areas of convergence and divergence about Afghanistan and the way ahead?

Dr. S. Jaishankar , External Affairs Minister: You know, I would say rather than look at what is the convergence and what is the divergence if the secretary doesn't contradict me, I would say there was much more convergence, and there would be some issues on where we are coming from different places with different interests and backgrounds. I think on the whole it would be fair to say we agreed that, what I emphasised in my remarks that peace negotiations should be taken seriously, it is the only way to create a lasting solution and the diversity of Afghanistan must be taken into account in finding that lasting solution. And as the United States, of course, has a very unique involvement in Afghanistan, but as a immediate neighbour with a historical connection we do feel that the way we are looking at it, the way we see the challenges ahead, what needs to be done, I would say our views were quite similar. I think that would be a fair description.

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : I will certainly not contradict my friend, for the most important reason that what he says is exactly right. I think we largely see Afghanistan the same way. We're both committed to the proposition that there is no military solution to the conflict that afflicts Afghanistan, there has to be a peaceful resolution, which requires the Taliban and the Afghan government to come to the table. And we both agree, I think strongly that any future government Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of the Afghan people. But ultimately, this has to be an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process that we will all support. I think it's also accurate to say that there is largely agreement among most countries, both neighbouring Afghanistan and in the region, on the need for that kind of future. And certainly a rejection of the proposition that military force is the way to define the future of the country and strong support for an Afghanistan that is inclusive and representative of its people. So I would say that we are both not only in alignment, but working together and also working with other countries, both neighbouring Afghanistan and in the region to support that kind of future for Afghanistan. Let me just add one other point to emphasise even as we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan and NATO and others withdraw their forces, we remain very much engaged in Afghanistan. We have not only a strong embassy there, but also important programmes that continue to support Afghanistan, economically through development assistance through security assistance, that remains, and we are very much engaged in the diplomacy, of working to bring the parties together at the table for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Shri Arindam Bagchi , Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Excellences. For the second question, Elizabeth from Mint.

Elizabeth: My question is to both Minister Jaishankar and Secretary Blinken. From your remarks, it seems there's been quite a bit of discussion on the Indo Pacific and the Quad. Now China doesn't lose any opportunity to criticise both these concepts. How would you answer Chinese criticism on the Indo Pacific and the Quad? Because they've described it as an Asian NATO clique of countries, etc. How would you answer this?

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : I'm happy to start.

Dr. S. Jaishankar , External Affairs Minister: And I won't contradict you.

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : What the Quad is, is actually quite simple but as important as it is simple. Four like minded countries, India, United States, Japan, Australia, coming together to work collectively, on some of the most important issues of our time, that are going to have a real impact on the lives of our people. And to do it in a way that hopefully ensures a free and open Indo Pacific region, and peace, security and prosperity for the people of that region. So what we're doing together is coordinating, pooling our resources, pooling our thinking, and actively collaborating on a whole variety of issues that have an impact on the lives of our people on COVID-19. And the vaccine initiative that we took with the first leaders meeting that took place just a few months ago, working on post pandemic economic recovery together, working on the climate crisis, as well as a whole series of issues. Everything from maritime security to infrastructure, that again, are going to have a meaningful impact on the lives of our people. What the Quad is not as a military alliance, it is not that. Its purpose is again, just to advance cooperation, on regional challenges, while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity and stability in the region. And of course, we're doing that as well in cooperation with other countries with ASEAN, and other likeminded partners.

Shri Arindam Bagchi , Official Spokesperson: Thank you. I'll now hand over…

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister: Let me just add a few words before you hand over. Look to what Secretary Blinken said, I would, first of all emphasise, I'm giving you an Indian perspective here. In a globalised world today, India has interests of far beyond its immediate borders. Certainly we have interests in the Indian Ocean in the Pacific Ocean in the Indo Pacific, our major trade partners are there our major trade routes are there, our political partners are there, we have big community interest I mean, any parameter you use, it's very visible that India has interest in the Indo Pacific. The second is that, in this more complicated world with a lot of new challenges, when we talk about rebalancing, what it really means is different countries whose capabilities have grown or have changed, and who are enlightened enough to work with each other, obviously, would like to do so. Now, for groups of countries to work together is not strange, this is the history of international relations, you know, groups of countries work together were in the same region, I mean, you have regional cooperation, or they sometimes work together, even if they can find intersections of interests, I mean, the BRICS is one such example. So, I think people need to get over the idea that somehow, other countries doing things is directed against them. I think countries do things, what are in their interest for their good and for the good of the world and that is exactly what is the case with the Quad.

Shri Arindam Bagchi , Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Mr. Price floor is yours.

Mr. Ned Price: Thank you. Our first question will go to Conor Finnegan of ABC News.

Conor Finnegan: Thank you both. For Mr. Foreign Minister how concerned are you about regional security as the US withdraws its forces from Afghanistan? And do you believe the US government has done enough to pressure Pakistan over its support for the Taliban and for Mr. Secretary, General Mark Milley said last week that the Taliban have the momentum. Ambassador Ross Wilson has said there are credible reports of the group is committing atrocities. And the US recently had to conduct more airstrikes to slow their advances. Are things in Afghanistan headed in the wrong direction? Thank you.

Dr. S. Jaishankar , External Affairs Minister: Well, look. It is natural, I would say inevitable that if the United States which for the last 20 years had a robust military presence in Afghanistan withdraws that presence that there will be consequences. Now, the issue is not whether that's good or bad, what is done is done. It is a policy taken. And I think in diplomacy, you deal with what you have. And a lot of our conversations today and conversations I've had with many of Afghanistan's neighbours address exactly that situation. And now, in terms of what we think about the situation, I think with the previous question, both secretary and I made it very clear, we don't think outcome should be decided by force on the battlefield. We think the peace negotiations should be a negotiation and should lead to peace, it should see cessation of violence, there should be a political settlement. So that is where we are looking at. And I think there is a broad consensus, deep consensus, most of the neighbours of Afghanistan agree with that. Now, I grant you, not everybody who agrees does what they say they would do. I noted the exception, which you have pointed out too, but I think that is a reality, which is not new. That is the reality over the last 20 years.

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : And Conor your question, let me say a few things. Yes, certainly what we're seeing on the ground in the last week, is the Taliban making advances on district centres challenging some provincial capitals. We've also seen these reports of atrocities committed by the Taliban and areas that it's taken over that are deeply troubling, and certainly do not speak well to the Taliban's intentions for the country as a whole. Having said that, a few things first, as I noted, we remain very much engaged in Afghanistan in support of the government through the very supportive assistance we're providing, including to the security forces, as well as the diplomacy that we're engaged in to try to bring the parties together in a meaningful way to resolve the conflict peacefully. And, ultimately, an Afghanistan that does not respect the rights of its people, an Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people would become a pariah state. The Taliban says that it seeks international recognition, that it wants international support for Afghanistan; presumably it wants its leaders to be able to travel freely in the world, sanctions lifted, etc. Well, taking over the country by force, and abusing the rights of his people is not the path to achieve those objectives. There's only one path, and that's at the negotiating table to resolve the conflict peacefully and to have an Afghanistan emerge that is governed in a genuinely inclusive way. And it's representative of all its people.

Mr. Ned Price: Final question, we'll go to Courtney McBride of The Wall Street Journal.

Courtney McBride: Thank you. Question for each gentleman. Mr. Secretary, you've discussed the US India's shared democratic ideals and the challenges of upholding those. And as you look to partner on issues such as climate and COVID, and to offer a democratic alternative to China, how do you address the Indian government's backslide on such issues? And to Dr. Jaishankar what progress did you make in these discussions of a path out of the pandemic? I mean, are you confident in the ability to accelerate vaccine production and distribution? And are you satisfied that the Biden administration is committed to expanding access to the US beyond the students that you mentioned?

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : I'm happy to start. So let me start by saying that our shared values, our shared democratic traditions, the high ideals that we both set for ourselves, we're very much a part of our conversation today as they usually are. And let me just tell you why you've heard me say this already today, I've said it a few times in the past, but the relationship between our two countries is so important, and so strong, because it's a relationship between our democracies, and at its core, a relationship between our peoples. And I think one of the elements that Americans admire most about India is the steadfast commitment of his people to democracy, to pluralism, to human rights to fundamental freedoms. That's in our minds one of the ways that we define India and we see ourselves reflected in that. And it's in part why our shared values, strengthen the relationship. Like our own, India's democracy is powered by its free thinking citizens. We applaud that. And we view Indian democracy as a force for good in defence of a free and open Indo Pacific, indeed, a free and open world. We also recognise that every democracy, starting with our own is a work in progress. And when we discuss these issues, I certainly do it from a starting point of humility, we've seen the challenges that our own democracy has faced in the past and faces today. But this is, in a sense, common to all democracies. I mentioned this earlier, we talk about in our founding document, the search for a more perfect union, that by definition, means that we're not perfect. And that our entire quest is to get closer and closer to the ideals that we set for ourselves. And that's how societies make progress. And sometimes, we were at moments when the challenge is painful. It can even be ugly, but as democracies we deal with it openly. And ultimately, I think we have in our democracies self-writing mechanisms that are made up of free citizens of different backgrounds, different faiths, free media, independent courts, powered by a system of free and fair elections, the most remarkable democratic elections in the world, in many ways are here in India just by sheer numbers. It's the largest expression of free political will by citizens anywhere on Earth. So I say all this because as friends, because we talk to each other about these 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.

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister: Well, before I answer the question, you directed at me, let me just add a few words to what the Secretary said, we had a good conversation on number of issues. And on this broad issue, I think I would sum it up from my perspective, I made three important points. One, that the quest for a more perfect union applies as much to the Indian democracy as it does to the American one, indeed, to all democracies. Number two, it is the moral obligation of all polities to really right wrongs, when they have been done, including historically and many of the decisions and policies you've seen in last few years, fall in that category. And third, that, freedoms are important, we all value them, but never equate freedom with non-governance or lack of governance or poor governance. They are two completely different things. So, we had a good conversation, I'm sure we will continue that conversation. Regarding the vaccine issue, yes we had a, I think, very much a meeting of minds on that. We were very appreciative of the support I would say, really the openness with which the Biden administration has kept the supply chains open, which has enabled us today to really scale up the vaccine numbers, but this is also work in progress. So, given the nature of the industry, the nature of the changes in vaccinations which are coming into stream, we will have to keep working at it. But overall, yes, we were very satisfied, very appreciative. It is an area where we have worked together, we will continue to work together and I would actually thank the secretary personally for his efforts in this regard.

Hon’ble Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State : Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi , Official Spokesperson: Thank you. That brings us to the end of this Media Interaction. Thank you all for your presence. Please remain seated as the delegation members leave.

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