Modi calls U.S. and India "natural partners" in meeting with Biden
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a virtual meeting with President Biden on Monday that he believes the U.S. will play an "integral part" in India's development over the next 25 years, hailing the world's two largest democracies as "natural partners."
Why it matters: The Biden administration has made strengthening the U.S. relationship with India a cornerstone of its strategy for confronting China in the Indo-Pacific, but has found itself at odds with the nationalist Modi government on a number of key issues.
- That includes the war in Ukraine, where India has refused to condemn or sanction its longtime military partner Russia.
- Since Modi's election in 2014, India has experienced democratic backsliding and frequent outbreaks of anti-Muslim mob violence, as well as other human rights concerns.
Driving the news: In opening remarks ahead of a closed-door meeting, Biden welcomed India's pledge to send humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and said the two sides would "continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war."
- Modi said he had spoken several times with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and proposed direct talks between the two leaders.
- Modi condemned the civilian killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and called for an "independent investigation," without explicitly naming Russian forces as the perpetrators.
Behind the scenes: Asked repeatedly whether Biden urged Modi behind closed doors to take a harder line against Russia, a senior administration official told reporters that discussions focused mostly on what India could do to mitigate food supply shocks and other destabilizing effects of the war.
- "There was no concrete ask or concrete answer, but the leaders were able to step back and have a pretty detailed and candid exchange of views," the official said.
- "I think India will make its own decisions but we're going to continue the discussions," they added.
- Between the lines: The official also suggested that Modi has "concerns" about China's support for Russia, given that India and China are currently engaged in a tense border dispute along the mountainous Line of Actual Control.
The big picture: Modi and Biden's relatively brief meeting kicked off a day of talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Indian counterparts, marking the first time the U.S. and India have met in that format since the Biden presidency began.
What they're saying: "At the beginning of your term in office, you used a very important slogan — 'democracies can deliver,'" Modi said, addressing Biden directly. "The India-America partnership, and the success of the India-America Partnership, is the best means to make this slogan meaningful."
What to watch: Biden said he looked forward to seeing Modi in-person in Japan "on about the 24th of May," in what is likely a reference to an upcoming Quad leaders' summit planned for the spring.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about Biden and Modi's meeting.