US President Joe Biden, alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh (fourth right), takes part in a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House.—AFP
US President Joe Biden, alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh (fourth right), takes part in a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House.—AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has conveyed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it’s not in India’s interest to increase oil imports from Russia, the White House said on Monday.

Mr Biden and Mr Modi had their first virtual summit that focused on the war in Ukraine where the invading Russian army is struggling to curb a strong Ukrainian resistance.

Sharing the details of the meeting with the media, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden “made it clear … he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy, and other commodities as well”. This was an obvious reference to an India-Russia deal for providing S-400 Russian air defence systems to New Delhi.

The Biden-Modi interaction coincided with the maiden India-US 2+2 dialogue under the Biden administration that seeks to further expand an already close US-India partnership. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is representing India at the 2+2 meeting, also met President Biden at the White House earlier in the day.

At her afternoon news briefing, Ms Psaki characterised the Biden-Modi talks as a “constructive, productive” video conference between the leaders who discussed the conflict in Ukraine and India’s increasing reliance on Russian oil.

The US media, however, reported that President Biden tried to dissuade Mr Modi from continuing to purchase oil from Russia but failed to get a commitment from him.

“What the president did … was to make clear what the impact of course of our sanctions would be. We expect everybody to abide by those,” Ms Psaki said.

“India only imports about 1-2 per cent of its energy from Russia. The president made clear that we would be happy to help them in diversifying this as well.”

Asked if Mr Modi had given any commitment to reduce or eliminate purchases of Russian oil, Ms Psaki said: “I’ll let prime minister Modi and the Indians speak to that.” Ms Psaki, however, clarified that the relationship with India was “vitally important to the United States and to the president”, adding that she did not see the virtual meeting “as an adversarial call”.

Mr Modi on Monday availed the opportunity to underline India’s commitment to protecting human rights in Ukraine. “We have placed importance on the safety of the civilian population in Ukraine and the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid to them,” he said.

The White House also issued a readout of the meeting, saying that Mr Biden spoke with Mr Modi to inaugurate the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. It said President Biden and Mr Modi will meet in person later this spring, in Tokyo, for the Quad summit.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2022

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