THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to this on-the-record Foreign Press Center teleconference on the U.S.-India relationship. Our briefer today is Acting Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson. He will start with some opening remarks, and then we will open for questions. And with that, over to you, Assistant Secretary.
MR THOMPSON: Thank you, Doris. Thank you, Justin. And hello to everybody on the call. My apologies for being a few minutes late, but I really appreciate your being here and everyone joining us today. It’s really a pleasure to be here to speak about the U.S.-India relationship and the tremendous growth in our partnership. In fact, today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and Minister Jaishankar, one of the first in-person visits that we’ve had in Washington since the beginning of the pandemic, showcased the breadth and depth of our relationship with India, which we view as one of the most important partnerships in the region, and in fact in the world.
Now, that’s what I’d like to talk about today – our regional and global cooperation with India – after which I’ll be happy to take your questions.
I’d like to start with our COVID-19 cooperation, which has never been more critical as the world struggles to come out of this pandemic. The United States and India have suffered heavily during this crisis. I know many of you here today have friends, family, and colleagues in India and have been personally affected by the most recent outbreak. We certainly extend our deepest condolences for those who have been lost and our sympathy for the people of India who are struggling with the current wave.
And just as India helped us when we were in a challenging situation last year, we have resolved to help India, most recently by deploying seven planefuls of oxygen and oxygen-related equipment, therapeutic medicine, PPE, and rapid diagnostic tests. We have also redirected one of our own orders of critical vaccine manufacturing supplies, which will allow India to make over 20 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. In total, the U.S. Government, state governments, U.S. companies, and private citizens have provided over $500 million U.S. in COVID-19 relief supplies to India.
The latest crisis has only strengthened our commitment to working together on COVID-19 response, which will be essential to helping the world recover from the pandemic. Expanding the production of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority for both the United States and India. Together with our Quad partners – Japan and Australia – we’re continuing to identify options for cooperation in the areas of vaccine manufacturing capacity in India, as well as COVID-19 vaccine administration and delivery across the Indo-Pacific region. We continue to engage at the highest levels, including at the ministerial level conversation today, on global vaccine distribution and addressing worldwide shortages of critical inputs for vaccine production.
The United States and India have also strengthened our cooperation in the region. Over the course of the past year, we’ve worked together to address a range of regional issues, such as China, Burma, and Afghanistan. On China, we’ve shared concerns about some of China’s problematic activities in the region, and have become increasingly likeminded on these issues. On the coup in Burma, the U.S. and India have called for an end to the violence, urged the release of political prisoners, and called for the restoration of democracy. And on Afghanistan, we’ve long shared the view that a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is in our mutual interest. We need to continue working together and with the region to press for political settlement to end the conflict there.
We’re also pleased with the scope of our Quad cooperation, building on historic leader-level summit – the historic leader-level summit earlier this year.
Now, before I turn over to your questions, I want to emphasize these areas of collaboration represent really only a small portion of the U.S.-India relationship. There are many more areas in which we have dramatically expanded our cooperation – climate, energy, and education, for example – far too many to cover in the short time we have today. Not only do the United States and India work together across these areas, but we also work together at all levels of government, whether it’s regular ministerial level meetings to frequent senior official meetings at my level to extensive collaboration at the working level.
It’s really been extraordinary to see the growth in the U.S.-India relationship in recent years. Today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and Minister Jaishankar demonstrates our deep commitment to the partnership and to strengthening it in the years to come.
So with that, I will turn it over to you, and I look forward to answering your questions.
OPERATOR: And just a reminder, ladies and gentlemen, just press 1 followed by 0 if you’d like to queue up here for a question. And if you are using a speakerphone, it may be helpful to lift the handset before pressing those keys. Once again, 1 followed by 0.
We have the line of Sriram Lakshman of The Hindu. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks very much for doing this. I’m not sure if the meetings are still going on or if they’ve just concluded, but could you give us a sense of what was discussed or what’s being discussed, at least from the U.S. side, what’s on the agenda specifically? Will vaccine procurement for India be discussed during this meeting? Thank you.
MR THOMPSON: Yeah, the meeting just concluded, and there was a short statement by both ministers at the top where they talked a bit about their pleasure in getting together today and having the opportunity to cover these things.
We talked about a broad range of issues, including COVID-19 relief, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad, a shared commitment to combating the climate crisis, and enhancing multilateral cooperation including at the UN Security Council.
They also talked about developments on the India-China border, the coup in Burma, and continuing support for Afghanistan. So in the broadest sense, we were covering the waterfront of issues.
To your specific question, I’m not going to get into the very specific angles of what was discussed, but certainly, vaccine manufacturing procurement, delivery – the larger question of how we can cooperate together both bilaterally and on the larger Quad context were covered today.
OPERATOR: Next, we have the line of Reena Bhardwaj, ANI. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. Now, going forward from here, will the U.S. bring additional aid to India as COVID-19 cases continue to soar in India? Was there any requests from the Government of India today during this meeting, or is there any commitment that the Secretary made to the Minister?
And also in terms of vaccines, is there any timeline that has been decided in terms of, in the coming days, when can India receive those vaccines that have been committed by the U.S. Government?
MR THOMPSON: Sure, thanks for the question, and I think it’s a good opportunity for me to maybe quickly recap some of the assistance that has been provided. Again, I want to reiterate that the U.S. Government is determined to deliver on its commitment to stand with the people of India as they fight this devastating second wave of COVID-19.
To date, the U.S. Government has rapidly deployed seven planeloads of lifesaving supplies worth about 100 million U.S. dollars to New Delhi. Further, as I mentioned a bit earlier, private U.S. citizens and companies and other entities have stepped forward and provided assistance through donations made directly to the Indian Government or through nongovernmental organizations operating in India. So in addition to the 100 million that the U.S. Government – worth of supplies, we understand the private sector has donated an additional 400 million. So totaling almost a half billion U.S. dollars in assistance.
The supplies have included courses of remdesivir to help treat critically ill patients, 1,500 oxygen cylinders to address India’s critical oxygen shortage – these can be repeatedly refilled as well at local supply centers – 1 million rapid diagnostic tests in order to quickly identify COVID-19 cases, and nearly 2.5 million N-95 masks to protect healthcare professionals. And of course, we will continue to work with the Indian Government to respond to any particular needs that have come up. I’m not aware of any new requests as of today, but we will certainly through the channels that we’ve established to follow up on these things continue to do so.
On your question about sort of vaccine deployment and where we stand, I think most people are familiar with the situation on the ground. The President has talked about a donation of up to 80 million doses – 60 million doses of AstraZeneca which will not be used here in the United States immediately, as well as an additional 20 million doses of vaccine that is over and above what we need for U.S. purposes for the U.S. vaccine program.
The 60 million doses of AstraZeneca are still undergoing the control checks by FDA and they will become available once those have been completed, and so I don’t have a specific timeframe to get, but I do hope that we’ll have news about those in the coming weeks.
In respect to – no, yeah, sorry – so that was the timing question about where we stand on that. And so we will continue to work towards getting to that. Oh, I know, I just wanted to flag that we will – as for allocations of these, final decisions are still pending and discussions and work is still underway to determine how and where those will be done. There will be a combination of efforts with COVAX and with our – with partners as we go forward. But those efforts are still underway. Thanks.
OPERATOR: Next, we have Seema Sirohi, Economic Times of India. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. I have a more specific question about supply line ingredients. The Defense Production Act kind of clogs up the supply chain; that’s what’s been discovered. So apart from diverting what you said that President Biden has diverted to India, were there any discussions on other ingredients that might be made available, like other companies – like Indian companies that are in the queue, could they move ahead in the line?
And my second question is about China. Was there any discussion about the origins of the pandemic and whether India would support the U.S. effort in trying to get to the bottom of this? Thank you.
MR THOMPSON: Thanks. Let me start with your question about the vaccines supplies and the question of inputs, and in particular I think you asked about the Defense Production Act. Just to reiterate, the United States is the largest contributor to the COVAX facility, and we intend to continue to take a leadership role in galvanizing further contributions, including by providing an additional $2 billion of support through 2021 and 2022. In addition, we’re working through our Development Finance Corporation and Biological E in India to produce at least a billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, which would include the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
So I think our commitment through these vehicles really demonstrates America’s determination to support equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally, and ensure there’s a standard for considering and distributing the vaccines.
Just to be clear, there is no export ban. The President has been very clear that we’re working to be in a position to be able to share vaccines as well as knowhow with countries in real need, and our top priority is just making sure that we’re doing everything we can to save lives and end the pandemic. It’s a global challenge, it requires a global response, and there – just want to reiterate there’s no ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine inputs.
Now, we have redirected our own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will facilitate the production of over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in India, which I talked about a bit earlier. And the administration remains committed to addressing the pandemic globally and supporting those multilateral mechanisms that will facilitate equitable global delivery of the vaccines through COVAX and through partnerships like the Quad Vaccine Partnership that includes us, India, Australia, and Japan.
As to your question about the origins of the pandemic, you all have seen that the President has asked our intelligence communities to report on that within the next 90 days, and so that effort is underway. Today, the discussion I would characterize as much more broad with respect to the real questions of vaccine production, distribution, manufacturing, and the critical work to organize it to save lives on the ground. Thanks.
OPERATOR: Next we have Manik Mehta, the National Journal (ph). Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks very much for doing this, sir. I have a two-part question. The first one relates to initial reluctance shown by some U.S. pharmaceutical company to give away IPR rights to Indian manufacturers. Could you provide an update on that, please?
Secondly, was it – in context of India’s – strategic relationship with India, was there any discussion on the situation in the Himalayan region of Ladakh? We still see the – a kind of a stalemate with neither side willing to go back on its original position. Thank you.
MR THOMPSON: Thanks. I’ll start with your second question just to note that, as I talked about at the top, there was – there were some – just discussions of developments on the India-China border. I’m not going to characterize the discussions beyond that other than to say we continue to watch the situation very closely and hope that everything can be resolved peaceably as things go forward.
With regard to your first question, I think I can offer a – maybe a bit of a broad answer to it without having great insights into each company’s concerns necessarily. But as I mentioned earlier, the top priority for the U.S. in this whole effort is saving lives and ending the pandemic in the U.S. and around the world. And so we’re committed to working together with the World Trade Organization and its members on a global response to COVID-19. It’s a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures.
Now, the administration has made very clear that it believes strongly in intellectual property protection, but in service of ending the pandemic, the U.S. is supporting a waiver of IPR protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, we know that text-based negotiations at the WTO will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved, and that’s why we’re working with the private sector and all possible partners to expand the manufacturing and distribution around the world and to increase the raw materials that are needed, and we talked about that a little bit earlier.
So we look forward to working with the WTO, with its members, and the manufacturers to find a way forward that will benefit the world writ large in this effort. Thanks.
OPERATOR: Next, we do have the line of Lalit Jha of PTI. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask you about the discussion – ask of the discussion on climate change as the Special Envoy Secretary John Kerry was present there. Can you give us insight into it? And was Afghanistan discussed post-withdrawal of U.S. troops? What kind of assistance or help you – or role you need India to play in Afghanistan? And finally, was any date discussed about the 2+2 later this year? Thank you.
MR THOMPSON: Thanks. I would refer you to our Defense Department with regard to the 2+2 discussions. At this point, I don’t have anything new on that front to offer.
With respect to the question about Afghanistan, certainly providing an update on what’s happening in Afghanistan and talking – the two ministers talked about where things are headed on that front. But as to specific discussions and asks, I don’t think I’ll get into those right now.
On the larger climate change question, it’s an area that’s of great importance to the United States and that we hope to address even more closely with India in the years – in the year and years to come, especially in the lead-up to COP26. As you all I think are aware, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry traveled to India in April, met with Prime Minister Modi, and discussed U.S.-India cooperation on addressing the climate crisis and raising the global ambition both heading into the climate summit that took place and then COP26, the United Nations Framework Convention.
During those meetings, Special Presidential Envoy Kerry and the Prime Minister affirmed that given the two nations’ shared desire to combat climate change and complementary strengths, that the U.S. and India can collaborate on a 2030 agenda for clean and green technologies in the service of the planet, and the officials of the two countries will pursue ways in which they can deepen their partnership on climate and clean energy. So we continue to work closely with India on that front and discuss ways forward. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Do we have time for another question, or do you have any closing remarks for us, Mr. Secretary?
MR THOMPSON: No, I do have to go to another meeting. So I’ll just say, again, thank you very much to everyone who was able to participate on the call today. Really appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit with you about the meeting and about the direction of this dynamic relationship. And we look forward to continuing our discussions with our strategic partner of India and making progress on the fronts I discussed today. Thank you.
MODERATOR: And this is Doris. I just wanted to say that we will have a transcript of today’s call that we hope to send out and post later today. And I just wanted to thank the Assistant Secretary today for taking the time to talk to us. And I also wanted to thank the journalists for joining us as well.
MR THOMPSON: Thank you. Everyone have a good weekend.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. This concludes the briefing today.