Human rights, Pegasus to come up during Blinken's visit

Main agenda to advance security, defence, cyber, counterterrorism ties: US officials

Human rights, Pegasus to come up during Blinken's visit

Antony Blinken. Reuters file

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 24

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will arrive here on Tuesday with a heavy security-side agenda along with discussions on human rights, said two senior State Department officials while briefing the media on Blinken’s twin-country visit.

Human rights is a regular talking point in meetings of Indian diplomats with their European and American counterparts but this administration will be attempting to draw a distinction between its responses and those by the Trump administration.  

“We will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson when asked why he hadn’t mentioned human rights in his opening statement.

Asked if he could “quell any jitters” because of the Modi government's close ties with the previous US administration and whether India will remain a top priority under the Biden administration,” Thompson said the relationship with India had endured through administrations of “all colours and stripes in the United States, and will continue to do so”. 

The Pegasus controversy, but in a broader sense, could also be one of Blinken’s talking points. Thompson reacted sharply to the “whole notion of using this type of technology against civil society, or regime critics, or journalists, or anybody like that through extrajudicial means” and said as a broader issue, the US has been vocal about trying to find ways for companies to ensure that their technology is not used in “these types of ways”. 

“And we will certainly continue to press those issues,” he added.

But the thrust of Blinken’s talks with PM Narendra Modi, where NSA Ajit Doval may be present, and with his counterpart S Jaishankar will be on expanding security, defence, cyber, and counterterrorism cooperation. 

The Biden administration’s move towards tighter geo-security proximity with India began with the visit by Defence Secretary Llloyd Austin. After the Blinken visit, the next major engagement will be the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue involving Foreign and Defence Ministers of both countries. The US is likely to host Modi at the White House later this year.

On Afghanistan, the US position, as stated by the officials, would be of interest to India. New Delhi has frequent high-level conversations with Kabul signalling its stakes in the current government. “We certainly intend to continue our relationship with the Afghan government,” said Thompson, adding that the US wanted “just and durable peace through a negotiated political settlement”.

Blinken will hold talks in New Delhi “to realise that goal” and “to find ways to bring the parties together to end the longstanding war”. The US has already conducted bombing runs to destroy the equipment captured by the Taliban.  

Speaking on Quad, whose summit was one of the first multilateral events Biden hosted (virtually) this year, the officials said its goal of producing 100 crore vaccines had faced some delay as India battled the second wave. But the working groups have been meeting and the plan still remains for the billion doses to roll out in 2022.

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