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Jaishankar, Blinken have ‘productive discussion’, Indian side highlights vaccine partnership

Blinken said that they discussed issues on “regional security and economic priorities to include U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan”.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, in what was their second meeting after they met on May 3 on the sidelines of the G-7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in London.

After the meeting, both Jaishankar and Blinken called it a “productive discussion”.

Blinken said that they discussed issues on “regional security and economic priorities to include U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan”. “As friends, we will work together to address these areas of shared concern,” he said.

 

Jaishankar said that that they also “focused on Indo-US vaccine partnership aimed at expanding access and ensuring supply”. “Appreciated strong solidarity expressed by US at this time,” he tweeted.

He also said that covered Indo Pacific and the Quad, Afghanistan, Myanmar,  UNSC matters and other international organizations.

“Today’s talks have further solidified our strategic partnership and enlarged our agenda of cooperation,” he tweeted.

Acting Assistant Secretary at the US State Department Dean Thompson told reporters that on the allocation of 80 million doses, “Final decisions are still pending and discussions and work is still underway to determine how and where those will be done.”

Thompson said that US President Joe Biden has talked about a donation of up to 80 million doses – 60 million doses of AstraZeneca which will not be used in the United States immediately, as well as an additional 20 million doses of vaccine that is over and above what is needed for the U.S. vaccine program.

“The 60 million doses of AstraZeneca are still undergoing the control checks by FDA and they will become available once those have been completed, and so I don’t have a specific timeframe to get, but I do hope that we’ll have news about those in the coming weeks,” he said.

“In respect to the timing question about where we stand on that.… we will continue to work towards getting to that….as for allocations of these, final decisions are still pending and discussions and work is still underway to determine how and where those will be done.  There will be a combination of efforts with COVAX and with our – with partners as we go forward.  But those efforts are still underway.”

He also said that there is no export ban. “The President has been very clear that we’re working to be in a position to be able to share vaccines as well as knowhow with countries in real need, and our top priority is just making sure that we’re doing everything we can to save lives and end the pandemic.  It’s a global challenge, it requires a global response, and there – just want to reiterate there’s no ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine inputs,” Thompson said.

According to a statement released by the US State Department, they discussed issues including COVID-19 relief, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad, and a shared commitment to combating the climate crisis and enhancing multilateral cooperation, including at the UN Security Council. “Secretary Blinken and Minister Jaishankar also discussed regional developments, the coup in Burma, and continuing support for Afghanistan.  Secretary Blinken and Minister Jaishankar pledged to continue their cooperation on shared economic and regional security priorities,” the statement said.

While India is struggling with a shortage of vaccines, the US has surplus vaccines and raw materials needed to manufacture them.

At the beginning of the meeting, Blinken described Jaishankar as “my friend and colleague”. “The United States and India are working together on so many of the most important challenges of our time and ones that are putting a profound impact on our lives,” he said.

“We are united in confronting Covid-19 together, we (are) united in dealing with the challenge posed by climate change, to partner together directly, through Quad and other institutions in the United Nations in dealing with many of the challenges that we face in the region and around the world,” Blinken said.

“The partnership between the United States and India is vital. It’s strong. And I think it’s increasingly predominant,” he said.

Echoing Blinken, Jaishankar said, “We have a lot of issues to discuss. But our relations have grown stronger over the years and I’m very confident we’ll continue to do so, but I also want to take the opportunity to express to the Secretary and through him to the administration of the United States for the strong support and solidarity at a moment of great difficulty for us.”

At this point, Blinken said, “We remember, in the earlier days of the pandemic, India was there with the United States. Something we’ll never forget. And now we want to make sure that we’re there for and with India.”

Jaishankar and Blinken have spoken at least four times in the past three months, twice in the last fortnight, and once at the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting through video-conferencing.

Over the last 24 hours, Jaishankar met senior US administration officials — Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, top American lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, and top American business leaders in Washington DC.

The issues discussed included vaccine cooperation, contemporary security challenges, support for efficient and robust supply chain, among others. While there was no readout after the meetings, sources said that vaccine cooperation was one of the key areas of conversation between the two sides, especially at the meetings with Sullivan and Tai.

Jaishankar’s in-person meetings come days after US President Joe Biden announced that the US will begin shipping 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines to unspecified needy countries by June-end, in addition to 60 million shots of AstraZeneca.

Although Washington has not yet decided how these 80 million doses will be distributed, India is likely to be one of the beneficiaries — be it AstraZeneca, which is already made and distributed in India as Covishield, or the ones by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, or a mix.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not authorised for use in the United States yet. The US had cited faults in a plant in Baltimore that is manufacturing both the AstraZenenca and J&J vaccines.

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