President Joe Biden has signalled he would seek to deepen the close relationship between the United States and India in his first talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he added climate change and “democratic values” to the agenda.
Biden’s telephone call late on Monday marked a continuation of the upbeat tone of his predecessor Donald Trump, who paid a state visit to India a year ago on his last foreign trip as his administration saw a partner in its tough stance on China.
But Biden also raised climate change, which the new US leader has elevated to a top priority amid the planet’s rapidly warming temperatures.
Biden and Modi committed to “work closely together to win the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, renew their partnership on climate change, rebuild the global economy in a way that benefits the people of both countries and stand together against the scourge of global terrorism,” the White House said in a statement.
In New Delhi, the prime minister’s office said Modi welcomed Biden’s raising of climate ambitions and rejoining of the Paris accord, from which Trump withdrew in 2017.
It said Modi looked forward to participating in a climate summit that Biden plans to call in April.
India is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide responsible for climate change after China and the US and historically has argued that it is unfair for it to be held to the same rules as developed nations.
In its statement, the White House also said Biden “underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the US-India relationship”.
India enjoys broad support in the US but has come under growing criticism from some legislators in Biden’s Democratic Party as Modi pursues his Hindu nationalist agenda, including revoking the statehood of Muslim-majority Indian-administered Kashmir.
India in recent days has drawn additional scrutiny from prominent figures including pop superstar Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg over the internet blackouts around New Delhi, where protesting farmers have been camped out for more than two months.
The White House said Biden also spoke to Modi about how the “rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld in Burma,” where the military retook power a week ago.
India has a close relationship with its neighbour, also known as Myanmar, maintaining contact with its military even as Western nations shun it on human rights grounds.