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NEW DELHI: India and the US on Wednesday looked at ways to deepen their bilateral ties as visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the India-US partnership as key to anchor the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

Blinken on his first visit to India after the Biden administration took office in January also added that there were few relationships in the world that were “more vital" than that between the US and India.

Blinken’s visit to New Delhi is seen as mainly aimed at laying the ground work for an in person meeting of the leaders of the four Quad countries – ie the US, India, Australia and Japan – who back a free and open Indo-Pacific. China views with the Quad with suspicion, wary that its aim is to reduce Beijing’s rising influence in the region. Ties between the US and China have deteriorated sharply in recent years and the two remain at odds over technology, cyber security and human rights. India and China too have tense ties after New Delhi detected Chinese troops inside its territory in May 2020.

During talks between Blinken and his Indian interlocuters, the emphasis seemed to be on building on the convergences and not allowing irritants – like India’s alleged record on minority rights and freedom of the press – to overshadow ties. Blinken met a cross section of people from India’s civil society. But in his opening remarks at the civil society meeting, Blinken spoke of the “great challenges" for all democracies in the world.

A key takeaway from the civil society meeting on Wednesday though was Blinken’s meeting with a representative of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in New Delhi, Geshe Dorji Damdul, a move that could elicit an angry response from China. The US supports the Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama with many thousands of Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in the US.

At his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Blinken and Modi “discussed regional challenges and a growing range of cooperation on covid-19 response efforts, climate change, shared values and democratic principles, and regional security, including through U.S.-Australia-India-Japan Quad consultations," a US statement said.

Speaking to reporters after his talks with Jaishankar, Blinken said that “together the actions that India and the US take, are shaping the 21st century and beyond. That is why strengthening the partnership with India is one of the US top foreign policy priorities."

“We believe this partnership will be critical to delivering stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond," Blinken said.

When asked about Chinese criticism of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific, Blinken said that the former was not a military alliance.

In his remarks, Jaishankar noted that “in a globalised world, India has interests far beyond its immediate borders." In earlier remarks, the minister had spoken of how he and Blinken had spoken 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"and how it had “naturally broadened the (India-US) shared agenda."

“For groups of countries (like the Quad) to get together is not strange," Jaishankar said pointing to the example of Brazil, Russia, India,China and South Africa or the BRICS countries.

“I think people need to get over the idea that somehow other countries doing things is directed at them. I think countries do things in their good and the good of the world and that is the case of the Quad," the minister said.

On Afghanistan and the security situation in the country after the US pullout, Jaishankar said that there were more convergences between him and his counterpart than differences.

“We agreed that…. the peace negotiations should be taken seriously. It is the only way to create a lasting solution and that the diversity of Afghanistan must be taken into account for finding that lasting solution," Jaishankar said against the backdrop of talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Doha not yielding results.

Blinken on his part agreed that military force used by the Taliban was not the way to define the future of Afghanistan. If the Taliban went about using force to come to power without respect for human rights, the group would be seen as a pariah, he added.

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