Notwithstanding critical reviews and battering of New Delhi’s image for its sketchy handling of the pandemic, Jaishankar’s five-day US visit began with a global outreach at the UN, where India began serving a two-year non-permanent term on the Security Council in January. “Confident that India will continue to shape the big debates of our times,” the minister tweeted as he began his meetings, even as officials contested the characterisation of the US visit as a “vaccine mission.”
A productive strategy session with @ambtstirumurti and our UN team in New York @IndiaUNNewYork. Confident that Indi… https://t.co/LZnXlocyiL
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) 1621882523000
In a background preview of the visit, senior diplomats drew a wide-ranging picture of the foreign minister’s agenda, insisting it went beyond the pandemic issue and India’s urgent need to procure millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, to cover the gamut of India-US engagement including bilateral and multi-lateral issues.
The US State Department endorsed the expansive agenda saying Jaishankar’s counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks forward to meeting the minister and discussing a broad range of issues, including Covid-19 relief, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad, enhanced UN and multilateral cooperation, and a range of other shared regional security and economic priorities.
Blinken left US for the Middle East even as the Indian minister arrived in NYC, but he is expected to be back in Washington DC for a meeting on Friday, by which time Jaishankar would have engaged a wide range of US officials — including a possible White House drop-in — business leaders, and corporate executives, including pharma honchos, as he seeks to restore New Delhi’s equities that have taken a beating on account of its perceived mishandling of the pandemic.
A more contextual and nuanced narrative that takes into account India’s massive population and New Delhi’s generous outreach to help the global community in the early months of the pandemic is expected at these meetings.
Indian diplomats were at pains to emphasize on Monday that the minister’s remit was not focused on just procuring millions of doses of urgently needed vaccines, the groundwork for which had already been laid by senior officials in Washington and New Delhi. He is scheduled to attend events organised by the US India Business Council and the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, where leaders from the pharmaceutical sector are expected to be present, with possible individual meetings on the margins.
The diplomats also acknowledged generous US assistance with regards to the pandemic after a widely-criticized initial underwhelming response, recognising bipartisan support from across the US political spectrum, the private sector, and civil society.
Strenuous outreach by India’s ambassador Taranjit Sandhu has drawn in even progressive lawmakers such as Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who are otherwise critical of the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, enlisting their support on issues such as supply of surplus vaccines and waiver of patents.
By Indian official estimates, the US has lined up approximately $500 million in pandemic aid to India in recent weeks, including more than $ 100million from the administration and more than $ 350 million from the private sector.