Secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit India for the first time as America’s top diplomat on July 28. Blinken is scheduled to meet his counterpart S Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US state department said in an announcement of the visit on Friday.
He will also meet national security adviser Ajit Doval, the Indian ministry of external affairs (MEA) said in a separate announcement of the visit. The MEA said, “Secretary Blinken’s visit is an opportunity to continue the high-level bilateral dialogue and bolster the India-US global strategic partnership. Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations, and potential for consolidating them further.”
Blinken last visited India as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration in December 2015.
The state department said Blinken will hold discussions on “a wide range of issues including continued cooperation on Covid-19 response efforts, Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis”.
Afghanistan is likely to be a key topic of discussion as US withdrawal of troops, which will be wrapped soon, could be followed by the Taliban’s return to power.
India has watched with concern as the Taliban have rapidly expanded areas under their control, raising fears of the return of their brutal and regressive policies and practices. Jaishankar had underscored New Delhi’s worries during his visit to Washington DC in May.
Blinken will be the second member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet to visit India, following defence secretary Lloyd Austin in March, which was a part of the first foreign trips undertaken by senior Biden admin officials. Blinken had then gone to South Korea and Japan, who are treaty allies of the United States.
Blinken’s India visit comes after and ahead of high-level interactions between the two sides after Biden took over as president in January.
Prime Minister Modi and President Biden spoke on phone and met virtually at the first summit of the Quad leaders, which Biden hosted in March and the Climate Summit that the American leader hosted in April.
The two leaders are expected to meet later in the year at an in-person summit of the leaders of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) involving Australia, Japan, India and the US, which is likely after October, when Japan is scheduled to hold general elections, according to people familiar with preparatory discussions.
There was a possibility earlier of holding the meeting at the time of the UN general assembly when leaders were likely to be in the US.
The US side is understood to be very keen to hold the summit as a stand-alone in Washington DC, and there is a possibility of Biden hosting the leaders at the presidential retreat outside Washington DC at Camp David in Maryland.
A bilateral India-US summit on the sidelines of the Quad summit is also under discussions.
Dates are under discussion for the next 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries. It will be hosted by the US this year; the last one was held in New Delhi last October, with then secretaries of state and defence Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper travelling to India.
Blinken will then leave India for Kuwait on July 28 only.