As Iran-Israel ramp up tensions, U.S. NSA Sullivan puts off visit to India

As Iran-Israel ramp up tensions, U.S. NSA Sullivan puts off visit to India

Sullivan was to be accompanied by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Campbell and discuss iCET, Indo-Pacific cooperation and Quad Summit delays; for the second time this year, he has cancelled New Delhi trip

As tensions between Israel and Iran grew, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan cancelled his plan to travel to Delhi for talks, officials announced on Tuesday.

Mr. Sullivan, who was going to lead a delegation to hold an annual review of the India-U.S. initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET), was also expected to be accompanied by the U.S.’s second-most senior diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, and was due to land in Delhi on Tuesday ahead of talks with NSA Ajit Doval and other officials including External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday. The talks were expected to closely follow Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra’s visit to Washington on April 10-12, and would have been the highest level visit since the U.S. filed charges in the alleged assassination plot against Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun last November, which implicate Indian security officials.

“Due to ongoing events in the Middle East, NSA Sullivan has postponed his trip to India this week,” the U.S. Embassy spokesperson announced on Tuesday, indicating it was a last minute decision necessitated by renewed fears of conflict in the region.

“NSA Sullivan looks forward to holding the iCET annual review at the next earliest possible date and remains personally committed to advancing our deeply consequential and multifaceted partnership with India,” he added.

This is the second time this year that Mr. Sullivan has put off plans to come to Delhi. He had earlier planned to hold iCET review talks and discuss other bilateral issues in February this year, but that visit was also put off due to tensions in West Asia, and talks around a possible Israel-Hamas ceasefire that didn’t fructify. 

Briefing the media ahead of the planned trip, a senior White House Administration official had said that during his visit Mr. Sullivan’s planned to “to celebrate elements of [the India-U.S.] bilateral relationship, compare notes on the Indo-Pacific, and also talk about the next steps in technology cooperation”, and hoped to take ties “to the next level”. 

The Sullivan-Campbell visit was also expected to take forward the Quad process, which is at an impasse at present due to election cycles in India and the U.S. U.S. President Joseph Biden declined an invitation for Republic Day this year, which could have served as an occasion to hold the Quad summit in Delhi along with leaders of Australia and Japan, and the four countries have been unable to agree on a date for the summit that was last held in May 2023, since then. The next opportunity to meet, given the election in India, could be on the sidelines of the G-7 summit to be held in Italy’s Apulia from June 13-15, but officials said that it is still “unclear” whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is invited and would attend if so. Given the U.S. elections timetable until November, U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti had said that it was unlikely the Quad summit could then be held until after the U.S. elections in November this year, although officials say they remained engaged on the issue.

“President [Biden] looks forward to the next meeting of the Quad leaders and continuing our efforts with India to deliver results for the American and Indian people, as well as our partners, in support of our shared vision for a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” said the U.S. Embassy spokesperson. 

The cancellation of talks this week comes amidst speculation over trouble in the Delhi-Washington relationship over a number of issues including the Pannun investigation, as well as critical comments by the U.S. State department over the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and conduct of the general election that had led the Ministry of External Affairs to summon a senior U.S. embassy diplomat and issue a stern demarche telling the U.S. not to comment on India’s “internal” affairs. When asked on Tuesday about media reports on the “fragile” state of ties, however, State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller only said that “India is the world’s largest democracy, it is an important strategic partner of the United States, and I expect that to remain true.”

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