US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has condemned the "offensive comments" about Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) by members of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On June 5, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma and another party leader, Naveen Kumar Jindal, had made disrespectful remarks about the Prophet (PBUH) and after worldwide condemnation, the BJP had to distance itself from their statements, announcing disciplinary action against the duo.
The party had suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal.
Meanwhile, an uproar was witnessed over the remarks across the world and within India, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party faced condemnation in Muslim countries and other nations. Muslims took to the streets across Asia, including India, where protesters faced a crackdown by Indian authorities.
According to a July 13 Dawn report, police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh had made at least 300 arrests in connection with the unrest after protests erupted there early in the month and razed the houses of several people over their alleged involvement in demonstrations.
Clashes had broken out between Muslims and Hindus and in some cases and between police and protesters in several areas, the report said.
During Price's press briefing on Thursday, a journalist raised the issue of the BJP members' offensive remarks and the subsequent demolition of Muslims' houses.
"Would you like to say something about these hate crimes committed by [the] Indian government against Muslims and other minorities?" he asked the State Department spokesperson.
In reply, Price said, "Well, this is something that we’ve condemned. We condemn the offensive comments made by two BJP officials, and we were glad to see that the party publicly condemned those comments."
He further said the US regularly engaged with the Indian government at senior levels on human rights concerns, including freedom of religion, of belief, and "we encourage India to promote respect for human rights".
The secretary added: "The Indian people and the American people, we believe in the same values: human dignity, human respect, equality of opportunity, and the freedom of religion or belief. These are fundamental tenets, these are fundamental values within any democracy, and we speak up for them around the world."
India's purchase of Russian oil
In a subsequent question, Price was asked about any steps being taken by the US with regards to India and other Asian nations continuing to purchase oil from Russia against the backdrop of Moscow's offensive in Ukraine and consequent sanctions imposed on it by the West.
"India and other Asian nations are becoming an increasingly vital source of oil revenues for Moscow, despite strong pressure from the US. Are you still talking with the Indian authorities on that, offering something else then? You can sell more oil to them they don’t get from Moscow?" the journalist asked.
Price said in reply that the US had held several discussions with its Indian partners on the matter and "the point that we have made is that every country is going to have a different relationship with Moscow".
"India’s relationship with Russia is one that developed over the course of decades, and it developed over the course of decades at a time when the United States wasn’t prepared or able to be a partner of choice for the Indian government," he explained, adding: "That has changed".
Elaborating further, he said: "This is a legacy of a bipartisan tradition now that has been the case for more than two decades. It goes back really to the Clinton administration, certainly to the George W Bush administration, where the United States has sought a partnership with India, has sought to be a partner of choice for India, including when it comes to the security realm. Now, this is not a partnership that we were able to build in the course of days, weeks, or months.
"I mentioned before that India’s relationship with Russia was built up over the course of many decades. As countries reorient their relationship with Moscow, as we have seen many of them do, this will be a gradual process," Price said, adding that however, the US had made it clear to "our Indian partners that we are there for them, we are ready and able and willing to partner with them, and we’ve done just that".
He said the US recently had a 2+2 dialogue with its Indian partners and a meeting was expected with Modi again in the context of I2U2 — a term used for a new grouping of four nations, namely the US, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates — "incorporating India into many of the partnerships we have, including, of course, the Quad".
"And that is a group that this administration has sought to revitalise and has done so at very high levels, including at the leader level four times," he added.
Ties with Pakistan
To another question about progress in ties with the new PML-N-led coalition government in Pakistan, Price said meetings had been held with the representatives of the new setup on multiple occasions.
In this connection, he particularly spoke about the meeting between Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York last month.
"Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to sit down with his Pakistani counterpart to meet him face-to-face in his position for the first time. It was a very good, constructive discussion regarding the full range of issues, including the issue of food security," Price said, adding that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was also discussed between the two dignitaries.
"Pakistan is a partner of ours, and we will look to ways to advance that partnership in a manner that serves our interest and our mutual interests as well," he concluded.