Mar 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: U.S. recalls cable saying India and UAE “in Russia’s camp”

Illustration of an abstract collage of the US, Russia, India and United Arab Emirates flags.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The State Department has recalled a cable to U.S. diplomats that instructed them to inform counterparts from India and the United Arab Emirates their position of neutrality on Ukraine put them "in Russia's camp," Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The recall of the strongly worded cable indicates either a process error with a fabled and vital work product — or a policy dispute inside the U.S. government involving two key allies.

  • Diplomatic cables are typically circulated through relevant parties at the State Department and vetted by numerous officials before being cleared for distribution to embassies.
  • They are the primary ways of communicating internal policy decisions and instructions from "Main State" to diplomats posted abroad.

The intrigue: The cable was blasted to U.S. embassies in the nearly 50 countries represented at the ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday but recalled Tuesday afternoon.

  • Axios, which viewed portions of the cable, initially contacted the State Department for comment on Tuesday morning.
  • "The language in question was never intended for clearance and the cable was released in error, which is why it was recalled," a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday.
  • "The inquiry was not the reason for the recall," the spokesperson said.

Details: The cable, rated sensitive but unclassified, suggested some frank language for U.S. diplomats to use to try to persuade India and the UAE to change their positions.

  • "Continuing to call for dialogue, as you have been doing in the Security Council, is not a stance of neutrality; it places you in Russia's camp, the aggressor in this conflict," said draft talking points in the cable, a template for conversations with Indian and Emirati diplomats.
  • "We strongly encourage you to take the opportunity to support Ukraine in the HRC [Human Rights Council], an opportunity you failed to seize in the UNSC [United Nations Security Council]."

Both countries are big U.S. partners.

  • India is the world's largest democracy and a key ally in U.S. efforts to counteract an increasingly assertive China.
  • The UAE is an active Persian Gulf player, oil provider — and recipient of billions in U.S. defense assistance and military aid.

Driving the news: On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution — with the support of 141 countries — "deploring" Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

  • India abstained; the UAE voted for it.
  • Last week, India, the UAE and China abstained on a U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution that condemned Moscow's "aggression." Russia ultimately vetoed it.

The UAE's decision to abstain was largely due to frustrations over the U.S. response to an attack on Abu Dhabi six weeks earlier, Axios's Barak Ravid scooped on Wednesday.

  • After its Security Council abstention, the UAE claimed "taking sides would only lead to more violence."
  • The Human Rights Council, which meets in Geneva, plans to debate a resolution Thursday condemning the invasion and authorizing a commission of inquiry to collect evidence against Russia.

What they're saying: Representatives from the Indian and Emirati embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

  • Asked to respond to India's and UAE's abstentions during a State Department press briefing on Monday, spokesperson Ned Price said: "We have regular engagement with our Indian partners. We have regular engagement with our Emirati partners."
  • "We have regular engagement with our European allies and our European partners. So, at every level in multiple fora, we have had discussions about this."

Go deeper: The U.S. has been working to further integrate India, which has longstanding military ties with Russia dating back to the USSR, into the U.S. security architecture to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

  • President Biden has sought to elevate the Quad — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — as a potential alliance, but the countries aren't always aligned in terms of how closely they should coordinate.
  • India's purchase of Russia's S-400 missile system, for example, is set to trigger mandatory U.S. sanctions — unless the Biden administration grants a waiver.
  • India also has faced allegations — rarely discussed by the U.S. in public — of democratic backsliding and repression of religious minorities.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Australia is a member of the Quad, not South Korea. It has also been updated to remove a reference to India as a "client state" of the USSR.

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