Secretary Blinken With Indrani Bagchi of Times of India

QUESTION: Welcome to The Times of India, and —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

QUESTION: So let’s just start off right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please.

QUESTION: So what has – what have we achieved in the Quad so far? And where do you think it’s (inaudible)? You’ve got a summit coming up.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first we had the first ever leaders-level meeting of the Quad. That was in and of itself very significant, because it just underscored the importance that the four countries – India, the United States, Japan, and Australia – attach to the Quad. And what we’ve achieved already is bringing together four likeminded democracies in common purpose to deal with some of the most important problems and challenges facing our countries, and in fact facing the region and even the world, starting with COVID-19, and a commitment to work together to finance, to produce, to distribute millions of vaccines.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the progress on the vaccine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, I think we’re making – we’re making progress on that. I think the – when the leaders get together next, they’ll be able to assess that progress. Of course, COVID-19 remains a huge challenge for all of us, and since the first virtual leaders meeting, the second wave hit India. I’m proud that the United States was able to come to India’s assistance, as India came to our assistance early during the pandemic when we had real challenges.

QUESTION: We’ve seen reports of a digital services tax that had been proposed by the U.S. Is there something —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m sorry, digital services?

QUESTION: A digital services agreement between countries – likeminded countries, I guess. Is there something that you —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re – there – we’re doing work in a wide variety of areas, to include not just COVID-19, but working together on the climate crisis, working together on infrastructure, on maritime security, on – and on emerging technologies. And that includes in the digital space.

QUESTION: And if you would tell us, for Indian readers, because we are – we know the China challenge. We’ve shed blood. What – how would you describe the challenge of China to the world, to West and India —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: For the United States, in a way as for India, it’s both one of the most consequential and most complicated relationships that we have. I think we’ve seen China – unfortunately, the government in Beijing act more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad in recent years. That poses a challenge for all of us. As we look at it, we see a relationship that is in parts adversarial, in parts competitive, and also in parts cooperative. And I think what we’ve found is that whether it’s adversarial, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative, the most effective way to engage China is working with other countries that are similarly situated and that face similar challenges. India, of course, is a strong partner for the United States.

QUESTION: Do you think the era of cooperation with China may be over?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: No. As I said, I think the relationship has different elements in it. Cooperation remains one of them because on some issues, it’s profoundly in our mutual interest to cooperate, and irrespective of the competition, irrespective of the adversarial nature of parts of the relationship, that’s – those interests remain. Climate may be the best example. That’s an issue that is important to all of us.

QUESTION: With the troops withdrawal – U.S. troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, I have two questions. One is: Do you think it affects the U.S. credibility as a partner? Second, as a woman, I have to ask this: For 20 years, women have had a good run in Afghanistan. Do you think we’re sort of feeding them to the wolves, so to speak?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Two things. As you just said, 20 years. It’s been 20 years. We have to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. It’s because we were attacked on 9/11. We went to do justice for – to those who attacked us and to try to make sure that it couldn’t happen again. And we’ve largely succeeded in that effort. Usama bin Ladin was brought to justice 10 years ago. And al-Qaida, the organization that attacked us, in terms of its capacity to do that again from Afghanistan, that’s been vastly diminished.

It’s now 20 years later, a trillion dollars later, more than 4,500 American soldiers lost their lives later. Afghanistan ultimately has to be able to shape its own future, but with our support. Even as we withdraw our forces, we are staying very much engaged in Afghanistan with a strong embassy, with programs to support women and girls, economic development, humanitarian assistance, and the security forces. So we’re remaining very much engaged – also with our diplomacy, because the only resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan is at the negotiating table, not at the battlefield.

QUESTION: Pakistan continues to support the Taliban. And are we seeing the same effect in Afghanistan today that we saw for the last 20 years?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Pakistan has a vital role to play in using its influence with the Taliban to do whatever it can to make sure that the Taliban does not seek to take the country by force. And it does have influence, and it does have a role to play, and we hope that it plays it.

QUESTION: What are your priority items with India? And when do we expect a presidential visit to India?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I can’t put a date on it, but I know that President Biden very much looks forward to visiting India, and similarly to having Prime Minister Modi in the United States. But no date yet, but I’m sure that that will come.

Look, in terms of priorities, the relationship is both so wide and so deep there are – as we discussed today through several hours with Foreign Minister Jaishankar – a multiplicity of places where we’re working together. But I would say, again, we’re obviously focused on COVID together. We’re focused on climate together. We’re focused on the role of emerging technologies together. But we’re also focused on strengthening our trade and investment relationship, bringing our scientists and technologists and innovators together, strengthening people-to-people ties. We look forward to welcoming nearly 70,000 Indian students to the United States for this next semester.

So it’s incredibly broad, and what we’ve seen over the last 20 years, 25 years through different administrations in both countries is a relationship that’s only gotten stronger and deeper.

QUESTION: Squeezing in one last —

MR PRICE: Very short.

QUESTION: The – India will probably take delivery of the S-400 from Russia later this year. How will that impact, given what the Congress – CAATSA act? What – how would that impact U.S.-India relations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have – we have our laws. We’ll – we apply our laws, but we shared our concerns with India about this. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself. We’ll see how things evolve in the coming months.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Secretary. Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

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