Washington: While both India and the US approach the Ukraine crisis from “different perspectives”, the two also have convergences on the issue, and the US would like India to use its leverage to support a peaceful resolution, Donald Lu, the top American official dealing with South Asia in the US State Department, has said.
He said the key is for the US to show it can offer a more valuable partnership and for India to see greater value in working with the US. The US also sees India as not just a partner but a leader of Quad in key areas; it believes that China has not shown good faith in border negotiations with India, and is confident that the upcoming 2+2 dialogue will show that the bilateral India-US relationship is “very healthy and moving forward”.
In an interview, Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said that the US was looking forward to partner with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar to deepen the “diplomatic and security cooperation” at the 2+2 dialogue, scheduled for April 11. “I am hoping we will be able to announce some new initiatives and concrete progress on space cooperation, higher education collaboration, building our collective defence capabilities, coordination on maritime domain awareness, and cultural property protection.”
Lu refused to get drawn into the controversy about Imran Khan’s direct allegation of a US conspiracy to oust him and indirect hints that during a conversation with the outgoing Pakistani ambassador to the US, Lu warned Pakistan of consequences if Khan survived in power, and said: “We are following developments in Pakistan and we respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law.”
Lu, who recently returned from India after participating in foreign office consultations with under-secretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland, said that it was “no secret” that India and the US came at the Ukraine crisis from different perspectives. “That’s all the more reason that we, as strategic partners, should have good communication and good discussions at every level to both explain our positions, but also to look for places of convergence where we can work together. Both the United States and India are in favour of a ceasefire and of a diplomatic resolution of this crisis. We have urged India to use its leverage to support a peaceful resolution. Similarly, both the US and India are supporting humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people. That’s, I think, a real place for potential coordination and collaboration.”
He said Nuland, who led the US delegation during the talks with foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, was one of the US State Department’s key experts on Russia. “And we are really pleased that we could offer our leading Russia expert to have serious and deep conversations with her Indian counterparts during this important moment in history.”
When asked about US deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh’s comments on possible consequences if India sought to circumvent sanctions, Lu said: “Let me put it this way. There is the possibility that Russia will try to use many countries to evade sanctions, both American sanctions and other sanctions. And I think it’s important that we have a conversation about how that might be, so that India is very clear in its mind what some of these tactics are. But what I really want to say is it’s important for us, the United States, to show that our relationship with India is going to be the more valuable relationship, and for India to see value in working with us.”
Asked to elaborate on Nuland’s offer to deepen India-US defence cooperation to offset Indian dependence on Russia, Lu said that the US had shared its assessment with India that it would be difficult in the months and years ahead to get reliable military supplies from Russia due to sanctions, unavailability of key components of Russian military systems, and Russia rebuilding its own military stock because it had expended so many of its resources in the conflict. “The US supports many partners in identifying military resources around the world, and we are ready to work with India.”
On Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to India, and Beijing’s military assertiveness coupled with diplomatic outreach, Lu said that the US supported a diplomatic resolution of the disputed border, and was glad that India and China were talking, but had seen “little evidence” that China was negotiating with goodwill. Recalling that the US condemned Chinese aggression in the Galwan Valley in 2020 and had “provided support to India to reinforce its ability to deter Chinese aggression”, he said: “The best way to guarantee peace along the Line of Actual Control is for India to be strong and capable of defending its territorial integrity from PRC aggression.”
The US official, who participated in an official-level Quad meeting on Wednesday, said that India was not just a “great Quad partner”, but “a leader in many aspects of Quad cooperation”, including humanitarian relief and disaster response capability, Covid-19 vaccine production, and higher education.
Lu also put forth a robust defence of the Indian democracy, saying that, as American diplomats, it was important for them to be humble about their own democracy as the US had faced real challenges at home and was continuing to improve its own democracy: “I have had the pleasure of working all over the world. I can say, honestly, India is the most democratic place I have served. And it’s a strong democracy not because of politicians or parties. It’s a strong democracy because of political traditions, strong democratic institutions like its independent judiciary, its free press and its robust civil society. And, of course, because the people of India, who participate robustly in India’s democracy and civil society, are committed to the principle of democracy. India certainly has areas to work on, just like all of us, but I am a believer in the strength of Indian democracy.”
With Sri Lanka imposing an emergency in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, Lu emphasised that all of Sri Lanka’s friends must come together to support it at a time of economic challenges, and said: “We support the courageous decision of the government to work with the IMF on a debt sustainability programme. The government has certainly taken some questionable loans from the PRC in the past, but we are hoping that, going forward, we can support a diversification of sources of credit and investment. India, the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia, all of us could be big parts of that diversification.”
On whether the Sri Lankan experience was a cautionary lesson to other countries on China’s economic practices, Lu said that there are many places in the world where people could draw lessons about the way that Chinese did business. “I would just say it would be success in my mind as an American diplomat, if China would begin to do business like the rest of the world does and begin to operate by the same rules and expectations. And I hope that we are helping in that process.”
Lu reiterated the international community’s redlines with regard to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. “The international community is united in pushing the Taliban to fulfil its counterterrorism commitments, respect for the rights of its citizens, including women, girls, and minorities, and to assemble a government that is truly representative of the diversity and strength of the people of Afghanistan.”
Responding to a question on whether the US’s ties with the Bangladesh government were fragile due to sanctions it had imposed on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and ran the risk of alienating a regime which was seen as fighting Islamism, Lu — who had also travelled to Dhaka — said they had “very constructive conversations” in Bangladesh about the economic partnership, cooperation on development and institution-building, and concerns about the RAB.
“I would note that there have been no reports over the last four months of extra-judicial killings or forced disappearances in Bangladesh. That progress is real and its tangible, and we hope it continues and that the government will hold those accused of extra-judicial killings accountable under the law. If it does, it will help us to deepen our economic and security partnership. We continue to work closely with the Bangladesh national police on counterterrorism and counter-trafficking.”