India, US discussing possibility of visit by US Secretary of State Blinken

New Delhi, Jul 20 (PTI) India and the US are exploring the possibility of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and it could take place as early as next week.

It is learnt that both sides are in the process of finalising the dates and other relevant details of the visit that would be Blinken’s first trip to India as the US Secretary of State.

There was no official comment on the proposed visit.

The focus of the visit would be to prepare grounds for an in-person summit of leaders of the Quad grouping comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US in Washington later this year.

The US has been looking at convening the in-person summit of the leaders of Quad to boost practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as well as to send a strong signal about Washington’s commitment to the grouping.

Blinken would be the second high-ranking Biden administration official to visit India since it came to power in January.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin paid a three-day visit to India in March to further boost bilateral defence and security ties.

Austin’s visit to India came days after the top leadership of the Quad grouping of India, the US, Japan and Australia vowed to expand their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region at a virtual summit hosted by President Joe Biden.

The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.

Several countries and blocs have come out with their vision for the Indo-Pacific considering its growing strategic interests.

In April, the European Union came out with a comprehensive strategy for the Indo-Pacific listing its priorities and vision for the region that the bloc said represented the world’s “economic and strategic centre of gravity”.

During Blinken’s India visit, both sides are expected to focus on a range of bilateral and regional issues including the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan, China’s growing assertiveness in the region and ways to boost cooperation in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited the US in May during which he had met senior executives of the leading US pharma companies. The supply of raw materials by the US to India to boost its domestic production was a major focus of Jaishankar’s five-day visit to the US.

It is expected that the situation in Afghanistan will be a major area of focus in the Indo-US talks.

Afghanistan witnessed a series of terror attacks in the last few weeks as the US withdrew the majority of its troops from the country and aimed to complete the drawdown by August 31, ending nearly two-decade of its military presence in the country.

The Taliban was evicted from power by the US-led forces in 2001. Now, as the US is pulling back its troops, the Taliban fighters are attempting to gain control of various parts of the country.