Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden’s Virtual Meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India
12:39 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. And thank everyone for joining. So, as a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to a senior administration official, and the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.
For your awareness and not for reporting, our speaker on the call today is [senior administration official]. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to you for some quick remarks at the top, and then we’ll take some questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, [moderator], and thank you to everyone for joining. As [moderator] said, I will do some remarks and we’ll do a few questions afterwards.
I just wanted to talk about the meeting that President Biden just held with Prime Minister Modi. He met virtually with Prime Minister Modi, and this is ahead of the U.S.-India 2+2 ministerial that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin are holding today with their Indian counterparts.
President Biden last spoke to Prime Minister Modi in early March, along with other Quad leaders. And as you all remember, President Biden welcomed Prime Minister Modi in person to the White House last September.
During the course of the meeting, President Biden affirmed that our partnership with India is one of our most important relationships, and the two leaders had a chance to have an hourlong, very candid conversation to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues. The meeting was warm and productive, and they covered a lot of ground.
The leaders were able to talk about joint efforts on the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. They talked about climate. They talked about strengthening the global economy. And they talked about upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific, including the development of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and infrastructure.
And President Biden also took the opportunity to continue the close consultations we’ve been having with India at a number of different levels across our government and over the course of many weeks on Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. The U.S. and India are partnering and consulting on mitigating the most destabilizing impacts, both on global food supply and other commodity markets.
And throughout the course of the 2+2, today, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, of course, will have the chance to go over these issues and many more, including sanctions compliance — again, including cooperation on food supply, including energy.
And the 2+2 will cover also science and technology partnership initiatives. They’ll cover people-to-people ties. They will cover counterterrorism; operationalizing the Major Defense Partnership; new domains of cooperation in space and cyber and emerging technologies; and multilateral cooperation.
But the leaders meeting at the top was a very useful touchpoint for the two of them to share perspective on a range of issues.
So, let me stop there and take a couple of questions. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Great. Can we cue up the directions to ask a question, please?
Q Could you talk a little bit about whether there was any discussion on the call about the energy purchases that India is making from Russia, and whether those need to stop and whether there’s any formal kind of agreement about what that would look like? Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The two leaders covered the whole range of issues related to Russia-Ukraine. It was a very candid conversation. I think you will have seen — even in Prime Minister Modi’s remarks at the top to press, he talked about it as well. They were very direct conversations.
On the energy issues: Of course, it’s a subject of discussion. We’re aware of what India — you know, we haven’t asked India to do anything in particular; we’re having a very open conversation. We know that not all countries will be able to do what we’ve done. We know that India is not a major consumer of Russian oil. Its current imports are about 1 to 2 percent of its total energy imports.
And, as of now, our energy payments — our energy payments are exempt from current sanctions. And we’ve been very clear that we’ve been able to ban oil and LNG and coal imports from Russia, but other countries have to make their own choices.
That said, we don’t think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy. And the U.S. is ready to support India, remain in a conversation with India about its diversification of imports.
Q Hey there. Following up on the last question, but maybe in a — in a little bit broader way: India has obviously been among the nations that had been more reticent to speak out against the war in Ukraine. They’ve obviously abstained from several votes at the U.N., including the vote the other day to withdraw — to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council.
What — did the President bring that up? Did the President — is this an opportunity for the President to try to push India to be — you know, essentially to take a side here, as opposed to the sort of neutral position that they’ve taken? Did he specifically do that? Did he specifically ask India to take a side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, India is going to make its own judgments. Prime Minister Modi brought up the situation, again, in his public remarks, and there was discussion. I mean, the President shared his views, and Prime Minister Modi shared his views.
You will have seen in recent days that India made some pretty strong statements in New York condemning the killings of civilians, supporting calls for an independent investigation. India is also providing humanitarian relief material to Ukraine, including medicine and other supplies.
There were close consultations in early days about the Indian students that were — needed to be evacuated from Ukraine.
So we’re going to continue these discussions with India. I think India will make its own decisions, but we’re going to continue the discussions.
And as I mentioned earlier, there were conversations about how to mitigate the destabilizing impacts of Putin’s war, including on food supply, where India is in a position to assist — has done some things, and there was discussion about what more India might be able to do.
Q Hi. Thank you, guys. Sort of following up, actually, on both the prior questions — I was wondering if any explicit commitments were made by India in regards either on oil but more broadly. I know you said that the Prime Minister made some comments at the beginning that were public where he seemed to use stronger words to condemn Russia’s behavior. Was that a sort of satisfactory condemnation from the Biden administration’s perspective?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I’ll say is that Prime Minister Modi took the opportunity to share his views in a pretty candid way about what’s going on.
We know that Russia has concerns — we know that India has concerns about the links between Russia and China. India, of course, is facing a very tense situation along the Line of Actual Control. And when India sees the tight links between China and Russia, that’s obviously going to impact their thinking.
Whether there was — there was no sort of concrete ask and concrete answer, but the leaders were able to step back and have a pretty detailed and candid exchange of views.
Q Hi, thank you. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask you if the neighborhood was discussed, because the situations in both Sri Lanka and Pakistan is not that very good. Did that issue came up for discussion, and what was it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the leaders did discuss developments in the region, in South Asia. They touched on some of the developments in Sri Lanka, in Bangladesh. And I know that our State Department colleagues will be able to follow up on those discussions. It wasn’t a detailed discussion by the leaders, but it did come up. And I am positive there will be more detailed discussions throughout the course of the next day and a half.
MODERATOR: Great. All right. Well, thanks, everyone, for joining. As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” And the embargo on the call will lift at the end of this call.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to me and we’ll make sure to get back to you.
12:50 P.M. EDT