President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a candid discussion Monday about how to counter the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official said.
Despite rising tensions between the two countries, the official characterized the meeting as warm and productive and said the U.S. stands ready to help India diversify its energy imports, which would make it less reliant on Russia. The leaders also discussed India’s role in helping to bolster global food supply, the official said.
Modi’s reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has complicated a budding security partnership between the democracies in countering China’s influence.
Modi, via translator, said he had been appealing for peace and called the killings in the Ukrainian city of Bucha “very worrying.”
“I am confident that our friendship with America will be an integral part of India’s development journey over the next 25 years,” Modi told Biden.
Biden struck an upbeat tone at the start of Monday’s virtual meeting, his first bilateral session with Modi since the invasion.
“The United States and India are going to continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war,” Biden told Modi in their video conference, the opening portion of which was aired live. He said “consultation and dialog are key to ensuring the U.S.-India relationship continues to grow deeper and stronger, delivering our people and our global good that we all are seeking.”
Biden lauded India’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine without mentioning the U.S. pressure for India to take a harder public line against Russia more than a month after the invasion.
“The root of our partnership is a deep connection between our people, ties of family and friendship” and a shared value system, Biden said.
While the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan have piled economic sanctions on Russia, India has declined and instead has continued imports of Russian oil.
India also is the world’s largest buyer of Russian weapons, and Modi has resisted entreaties from the U.S. and Australia to scale back the relationship, insisting that India needs Russian weapons to counter both Pakistan and China and that alternatives are too expensive, according to people familiar with the matter.
India has historically attempted a neutral stance on tensions between major powers, even as it has joined groups such as the Quad security alliance with Australia, Japan and the U.S.
The White House last month dispatched Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh to New Dehli to convey the repercussions of violating sanctions and to make clear that the U.S. doesn’t think India should increase its imports of Russian energy and other commodities, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. Psaki noted that the U.S. would support India in any efforts to diversify its imports.
Top Biden administration officials have publicly expressed alarm and disappointment with India’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its purchases of weapons and discounted oil from Moscow. However, people familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg News that the public position is contrary to private discussions between the two sides.
The virtual meeting between Biden and Modi will be followed by face-to-face meetings Monday in Washington of both countries’ top foreign and defense officials.