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India Will Focus On Indo-Pacific In Washington 2+2 Meeting

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‘India is not hesitant to discuss the Ukraine situation, but the talks should be focused on how to stop the violence and address the humanitarian crisis immediately instead of the politics related to it.’

New Delhi: Even as the stage is set for the 2+2 dialogue between India and the United States on 11 April, Monday, New Delhi intends to steer the conversation to the Indo-Pacific instead of allowing Washington to push its “agenda” of “bloc politics” over the Ukraine crisis. With the Ukraine war having divided the world into two geopolitical blocs, the Biden administration is consistently stepping up pressure, including warnings at various levels, on India to join the Western bloc in condemning Russia and strictly follow the sanctions guidelines against Moscow. “The US is keen to utilise the upcoming 2+2 Dialogue to try to bring India on the side of the Western bloc,” The Sunday Guardian has learnt from reliable diplomatic sources who are privy to the high-level meetings to chalk out the strategy for the talks.

External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will hold a “2+2” dialogue with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on 11 April in Washington. The meeting is being held under the shadow of tensions between the Western countries and Russia, with India trying to do a diplomatic tightrope walking.

Sources, privy to the strategic sessions at South Block, told The Sunday Guardian that “The EAM, who will also hold a separate bilateral meeting with his US counterpart Antony Blinken in Washington on the sidelines of the 2+2 dialogue, will not allow the geopolitical issues related to the Ukraine situation to overshadow the meeting, which, India insists, should focus more on bilateral issues including the Indo-Pacific.” Jaishankar has already told the Western countries not to give a political colour to India’s stand vis-à-vis the Ukraine situation. “So no politics, please—is the message from New Delhi, ‘’ sources added.

“India is not hesitant to discuss the Ukraine situation, but the talks should be focused on how to stop the violence and address the humanitarian crisis immediately instead of the politics related to it,” sources familiar with the preparations said. Amid the Ukraine crisis, India always stood against the power which perpetrated crimes against humanity. New Delhi did not stop short of condemning the Bucha killings in Ukraine and rather demanded a probe into it. India did not, for a second, care about Moscow’s warning and went ahead with its decision to abstain from voting at UNGA where Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Council on Thursday. EAM Jaishankar has repeatedly said that India is on the side of peace, and will, for that matter, continue to oppose any action that does away with the peace and tranquillity in any part of the globe.

“These are the arguments that EAM Jaishankar will push across the table during the meeting with Secretary Blinken,” sources said. Sources told this newspaper that EAM Jaishankar in recent telephonic talks with Secretary Blinken amply hinted at Indian priorities during the 2+2, which include Indo-Pacific and Chinese aggression amid a host of other global and strategic issues of bilateral and mutual interests. It is in this context that the EAM will explain how the West’s approach during the Ukraine crisis has brought China and Russia closer. “EAM Jaishankar will apprise Secretary Blinken of New Delhi’s displeasure over the warnings being given by the Biden administration officials to India over its ties with Russia,” sources added.

In what is being attributed to India’s relentless diplomatic messaging, Washington significantly tried to strike a conciliatory note hours ahead of 2+2 dialogue. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised ties with India on Friday, saying that President Joe Biden believed that the US-India partnership was the most important relationship the United States has in the world. Psaki said the President expected that the dialogue would continue driving forward US’ work with India and shared goals in the Indo-Pacific region. The spokesperson also said that Biden Administration’s key architect for Russian sanctions Indian-American Daleep Singh had not issued any warning to India on oil imports from Russia during his recent trip to New Delhi and had a rather constructive dialogue.

MEA officials at South Block see these observations from the White House spokesperson as conciliatory tones as a result of India’s clear message to Western powers including Washington vis-à-vis its stand on the Ukraine situation. That India is not going to be dictated by any country was what EAM Jaishankar has underlined at every meeting with the US and European ministers in the recent past. His recent observations in the Lok Sabha on the Ukraine situation were also a blunt message to the western nations as well.

There was another stern message to the US in what MEA spokesman Arindam Bagchi said, “We’ve established economic relations with Russia. Our focus is on stabilising these relations in the current circumstances. We’ve been very open about it. I think that’s very clear regarding our position.” He made these remarks amid growing criticism of India by several Western countries on its trade ties with Moscow and not standing with Ukraine in the time of crisis. In what strengthened this argument, EAM Jaishankar had said, “The conflict has had significant consequences for the global economy and for our national economy.” “Like all countries, we too are assessing the implications and deciding what is best for our national interest,” he added.

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