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US delivers large shipments of medical supplies to India

NEW DELHI, April 30: Two American military aircraft on Friday brought to India large amounts of emergency medical supplies as part of the Joe Biden administration's support to the country's fight against a devastating wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The first consignment of the supplies was brought to Delhi in a C-5M Super Galaxy, one of the largest strategic airlift aircraft of the US Air Force, while the second shipment was delivered by a C-17 Globemaster.

The medical supplies included 423 oxygen cylinders with regulators, 210 pulse oximeters, 17 large oxygen cylinders, 8,84,000 Abbott rapid diagnostic test kits and 84,000 N-95 face masks, officials said.

Hours after the shipments were delivered to India, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held a telephonic conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, focusing on India's requirements of medical supplies.

In a couple of tweets, Jaishankar said his discussions with Blinken focussed on Indian requirements to address the COVID-19 challenge 'more effectively'.

'Reviewed the flow of equipment and material from the US. Highlighted the importance of strengthening oxygen supply, expanding vaccine production and increasing Remdesivir supply. Appreciated the forthcoming response of the US in this regard,' he tweeted.

On his part, Blinken said he reiterated to Jaishankar continued US support for COVID-19 relief efforts in India.

'Spoke with @DrSJaishankar to share my condolences and reiterate continued US support for COVID-19 relief efforts in India. The US government has stepped up to help our partners, just as the American private sector, NGOs, and citizens have also helped to meet this challenge,' he tweeted.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said healthcare partnership between India and the US can help effectively tackle the global pandemic.

'A strategic partnership of global significance! Our healthcare partnership can help effectively tackle the global pandemic. Deeply appreciate gift of 423 oxygen cylinders with regulators and other medical supplies from the USA,' he said after landing of the first US aircraft.

As India battles a devastating second wave of coronavirus pandemic, countries around the world have announced sending medical supplies to help it tide over the situation.

Several other countries also delivered to India medical supplies that included 280 oxygen concentrators and 40 ventilators from the UK and 700 oxygen concentrators and 365 ventilators from Ireland. Romania too supplied 80 oxygen concentrators, 75 oxygen cylinders and 20 high-flow humidify oxygen therapy devices, officials said.

Several other countries including France, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, New Zealand and Kuwait are also sending assistance to India.

On Thursday, Russia delivered to India 20 tonnes of medical supplies mainly comprising oxygen concentrators, ventilators and medicines.

According to European Union officials, Italy, Finland and Austria are also sending medical supplies to India.

'We are working around the clock to channel EU assistance to India. It is in everyone's interest to support efforts at tackling the latest outbreak in the country,' said EU's Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarci.

'I thank France, Italy, Austria, Finland and Ireland for their latest offers of assistance. EU solidarity is fully in action,' he said.

Various EU member countries are sending assistance under the bloc's Civil Protection Mechanism.

Biden pledges NATO-like military presence in Indo-Pacific

WASHINGTON, April 29: The US will “maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific” just as it does with NATO in Europe, and it will retain an “over-the-horizon” capability as it leaves Afghanistan in September, President Joe Biden has said in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

In a 65-minute speech to a chamber sparsely populated in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden recalled major accomplishments of his first 100 days in office such as a rescue plan and laid out his agenda for the remainder of his term that many experts described as the most progressive for a Democratic president in decades.

“America is on the move again,” he said as he started his speech that was focused mostly on domestic issues, such as the handling of the pandemic, economic recovery, healthcare expansion, gun rights reforms, immigration policy, eradication of child poverty, raising the minimum wage to $15, equal pay for women, among others.

Biden also spoke on key foreign policy issues such as America’s relations with China, the main competitor, and the pull-out of troops from Afghanistan that he has pledged to wrap up by September 11 - the 10the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks in the US.

“We will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific just as we do with NATO in Europe – not to start conflict – but to prevent conflict,” the US president said he told China’s President Xi Jinping when the latter had called to congratulate him.

Biden never fails to bring up that conversation, and he mentioned it again, saying it had lasted two hours.

No details were available immediately of plans to boost US military presence in the region, as the area of responsibility of the Indo-Pacific Command, with a look-in from the Africa Command and the Central Command in the Biden administration’s expanded vision of the region as the Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR).

Reasserting his tough stand on China, Biden, a veteran of foreign policy issues going back decades in the US Senate, said, “America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries, like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and intellectual property.”

On Afghanistan, a major policy issue for the Biden administration that India is following closely, the American president said, “After 20 years of American valour and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home. Even as we do, we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.”

That should give New Delhi some comfort as worried as it has been with Biden’s decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan without a residual force, something that he himself had advocated against as a candidate for the White House.

“But make no mistake - the terrorist threat has evolved beyond Afghanistan since 2001, and we will remain vigilant against threats to the United States, wherever they come from,” Biden said.

Vaccinated People Don't Need Mask Outside Except In Crowd: US Health Body

WASHINGTON, April 27: Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to wear masks outdoors, except at crowded events, US government health authorities said Tuesday.

Under the newly released guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, fully vaccinated people can eat, walk or attend small gatherings outside without a mask.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing many things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," the government body said in a statement.

Masks are still considered necessary for vaccinated people if they are at concerts, parades or large sporting events, even when outdoors, the CDC said.

Indoor activities remain under a masks recommendation. This includes movie theaters and even "uncrowded" indoor shopping centers and museums, the CDC said.

The CDC stressed that its newly relaxed guidance only applies to people who have had their full vaccine doses and are two weeks past the final shot.

More than half of all US adults have now received at least one of two vaccine doses. The surging rate of people seeking out vaccines has begun to taper, but new Covid-19 cases are also falling.

COVID Situation in India: Satya Nadela ‘Heartbroken’, Sundar Pichai ‘Devastated’

NEW YORK, April 26: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela has expressed concern over the prevailing COVID-19 situation in India and thanked the United States for having mobilised help in this hour of crisis.

Nadela tweeted that he was “heartbroken” by the current situation in India, adding that he was “grateful the US government is mobilising to help”.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, too, tweeted that he was “devastated” to see the worsening COVID crisis in India. He said Google and Googlers will be assisting Rs. 135 crores in funding to Give India and UNICEF for medical supplies, organisations supporting communities,, and grants to help critical information.

Nadela also said that Microsoft will continue to use its “voice, resources, and technology to aid relief efforts, and support the purchase of critical oxygen concentration devices".

In a statement, Sanjay Gupta Country Head & VP, Google India, said the tech giant's funding would include grants from Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm.

“The first is to GiveIndia to provide cash assistance to families hit hardest by the crisis to help with their everyday expenses. The second will go to UNICEF to help get urgent medical supplies, including oxygen and testing equipment, to where it's needed most in India. It also includes donations from our ongoing employee giving campaign — so far more than 900 Googlers have contributed $500,000 (roughly Rs. 3.7 crores) for organisations supporting high-risk and marginalised communities,” Gupta said.

Nadela and Pichai's tweets came within hours of the United States saying it would “immediately” make available sources of raw materials required to expand production of Covishield vaccine as India continues to fight a daily surge of over 300,000 cases.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Voices Concern Over CAA
US President Joe Biden assured India of the American assistance, saying the country was "determined" to extend help.

On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and confirmed this as also that his country had "identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and PPE suits that will (also) be made immediately available to India".

The US is also "pursuing options to provide oxygen and related supplies on an urgent basis" to help India overcome a shortage that has endangered the lives of thousands of both COVID-positive patients and those fighting other diseases.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need," the US said.

Meanwhile, the situation in India remains extremely critical as it clocked 3.52 lakh new infections in the last 24 hours. Another 2,806 people lost their lives to the infection on Sunday. This is the highest-ever single-day spike in death numbers. India now has a mammoth 2.8 million active cases even as people struggle to get beds, oxygen supply, and ventilators in private as well as government healthcare facilities.

Air India brings in 300 oxygen concentrators from New York

NEW YORK, April 26: Over three hundred oxygen concentrators have been dispatched on Sunday morning from New York to India, according to a Government of India official based in the United States.

Air India's A102 is transporting five tonnes (5000kg) of oxygen concentrators as cargo from the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and is scheduled to land in Delhi by Monday noon.

The wide-bodied passenger aircraft will operate non-stop for over 15 hours. India is witnessing a deadly Covid-19 wave, with the country reporting over 3 lakh daily cases from the last few days. The country is facing a critical shortage of oxygen amid a devastating surge in Covid-19 infections.

"Apart from this consignment that's has been shipped by Philips Atlanta, additional flights carrying oxygen concentrators will take off from San Francisco and Newark to transport hundreds of concentrators. The next flight from the US to India is scheduled to depart from Newark airport and will land in Delhi on April 27," according to the Indian government official based in the United States.

The official also noted that the Indian Mission in the United States and Air India are getting requests and inquiries from donors based in the United States to transport not just concentrators but also other medical supplies including oxymeters.

"The Indian American community, NGO's and individual are inquiring about the logistics of ways to reach out to those who are impacted the most by the pandemic in India," the source added.

Earlier in the day, US president Joe Biden said that the United States is determined to "help" India as it faces an unprecedented Covid-19 crisis.

"Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need," Biden tweeted.

The United States has announced that it will provide the raw material required for the Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine to India.

The announcement was made after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke on the phone with Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, expressing deep sympathy for the people of India following the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.

According to a readout from The White House, Sullivan affirmed America's solidarity with India. US and India are the two countries with the greatest number of Covid-19 cases in the world.

India on Sunday reported 3,49,391 new Covid-19 cases and 2,767 deaths in the last 24 hours. According to the Union Health Ministry, five states -- Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Kerala -- contribute 54 per cent of the cases.

Will Send Raw Material 'Urgently Required' For Covishield, Says US

NEW DELHI, April 25: The United States will "immediately" make available sources of raw materials required to scale up production of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine - of which there is a critical shortage as India fights daily new cases over three lakh and an active caseload of nearly 27 lakh.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on Sunday to confirm this, and also that his country had "identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and PPE suits that will (also) be made immediately available to India".

The US is also "pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis" to help India overcome a crippling shortage that has endangered the lives of thousands of both Covid-positive patients and those fighting other diseases.

"Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need," the US said.

The White House statement, however, did not mention sending surplus vaccines, as a backlash grows over the fate of a stockpile of some 30 million doses - of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University drug that the Serum Institute makes in India as Covishield - that not been approved for use.

Earlier today US Congressman, a Democrat from Illinois, made an appeal on those grounds.

The United States' offer of help on sourcing raw materials for vaccine production comes after appeals from Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla, whose Pune facility manufactures Covishield.

Last week Poonawalla tweeted tagging President Joe Biden and asked him to lift an embargo on the export of raw materials. Imposed in February the "short-term embargo", according to The Washington Post, was to ensure US pharma giant Pfizer had resources to produce its vaccine.

That was after Pfizer - from whom the US has ordered several hundred million shots - said it was having difficulties meeting delivery deadlines.

The Serum Institute is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer and a key player in the production of enough doses to protect a large portion of the global population against the COVID-19 virus.

It is also, as of now, the principal supplier of Covid vaccines for the Indian government - to whom Bharat Biotech is supplying Covaxin - and which is reportedly facing a critical vaccine shortage just as a deadly new wave of infections sweep the country.

Starting next Saturday India has opened vaccination to everyone over 18 - including 101 crore people in the 18-44 group that were so far excluded, making any potential shortage a nightmare scenario.

The US' offer of help also comes hours after the United Kingdom said it was sending life-saving medical equipment to India - including ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

The first shipment is expected to reach Delhi early Tuesday, with more scheduled for the coming week. In total, nine containers carrying over 600 pieces - including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators - will be sent.

Hours before that the European Union also promised to help India in its fight to contain a wave of infections that has brought an already-creaking health infrastructure to its knees.

India reported 3.49 lakh new cases in 24 hours on Sunday morning - adding to the 3.46 recorded Saturday, the 3.32 lakh on Friday and the 3.14 lakh on Thursday.

The frightening surge has left hospitals overflowing, and oxygen and medicines in very short supply.

The week-long oxygen crisis in Delhi - where at least 50 patients died Friday alone due to supply issues - has grabbed much of the headlines, but the situation is as dire in other parts of the country.

The surge in cases in India, experts have said, is likely the result of more aggressive strains in circulation, in addition to people's laxity in following Covid-appropriate protocols.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has been criticised for failing to anticipate and plan for this wave of infections, has held multiple meetings over the past week.

US defends restrictions on export of COVID-19 vaccine raw materials amid India's request to lift ban

WASHINGTON, April 23: Defending US' restrictions on the export of key raw materials for the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccine that threatens to slow India's vaccination drive, a senior State Department official has said the Biden administration's first obligation is to take care of the requirements of the American people.

When asked when the Biden administration would decide on India's request to lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: '...the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.'

"That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons. Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone," he said on Thursday.

It is not only in the US interest to see Americans vaccinated; but it is in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated, he said.

'The point the Secretary (of State Antony Blinken) has made repeatedly is that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. So as long as the virus is spreading uncontrolled in this country, it can mutate and it can travel beyond our borders. That, in turn, poses a threat well beyond the United States,' Price said in responses to questions.

As for the rest of the world, 'We will, of course, always do as much as we can, consistent with our first obligation,' he said.

India is currently facing a horrible surge in coronavirus infections. The country on Friday added a record over 3.32 lakh new coronavirus cases in a single day taking the country's tally to 1,62,63,695, while active cases crossed the 24-lakh mark.

The Biden administration recently conveyed to New Delhi that it understands India's pharmaceutical requirements and promised to give the matter due consideration.

It observed that the current difficulty in the export of critical raw materials needed to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines is mainly due to an Act that forces American companies to prioritise domestic consumption.

President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump had invoked the war-time Defence Production Act (DPA) that leaves US companies with no option but to give priority to the production of COVID-19 vaccines and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for domestic production to combat the deadly pandemic in America, the worst-hit nation.

The US has ramped up the production of COVID-19 vaccines mostly by Pfizer and Moderna to meet the goal of vaccinating its entire population by July 4.

The suppliers of its raw materials, which is in high demand globally and sought after by major Indian manufacturers, are being forced to provide it only for domestic manufacturers in the US.

The Serum Institute of India is the world's largest producer of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In recent weeks, India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu has been taking up the matter with the Biden administration officials.

During the telephonic conversation between US Secretary of State Blinken and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, the two top diplomats also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and ways to deal with it.

State Department spokesperson Price said the US has played a leadership role when it comes to containing, seeking to contain the virus beyond its borders.

'We have re-engaged with the WHO on day one, the USD 2 billion we’ve contributed to COVAX, with 2 billion more on the way. When it comes to our own hemisphere, the loan arrangement with Canada and Mexico, and when it comes to India, the Quad and the arrangement with the Quad, including to increase production capacity in India,' he said.

'So as we are more comfortable in our position here at home, as we are confident that we are able to address any contingencies as they may arise, I expect we’ll be able to do more,' he said.

Blinken calls on Jaishankar, reaffirms US-India cooperation on regional security

WASHINGTON, April 23: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday (local time) spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and reaffirmed the importance of the US-India relationship while agreeing to coordinate closely to establish peace in Afghanistan and restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

The information about the talks between the US Secretary of State and External Affairs Minister was shared by US State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Blinken and Jaishankar agreed for a close and frequent coordination in support of a lasting peace and development for the people of Afghanistan, informed Ned Price.

US President Joe Biden has announced that all US forces will leave Afghanistan by September 11. Other NATO allies, including Germany, agreed to leave the country following the US move.

They also reaffirmed their shared commitment to democratic values and mutual support for the restoration of democracy in Burma (Myanmar).

The Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency on February 1 and at least 707 people have been killed since, according to the United Nations.

Moreover, both diplomats discussed US-India cooperation on climate change, COVID-19, and other global challenges and pledged to remain in close contact on these and other issues of mutual concern, said Price.

US, Japan to work together to handle 'challenges' posed by China: Biden

WASHINGTON, April 17: Affirming his "ironclad" support for the US-Japanese alliance, President Joe Biden on Friday said that both the countries are committed to work together to take on the challenges posed by China to ensure the future of free and open Indo-Pacific.

"Today, Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our iron-clad support for the US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security. We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea as well as North Korea to ensure the future of our free and open Indo-Pacific," Biden said after a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

"Our commitment to meet in person is indicative of the importance and value we place on this relationship between Japan and the United States," he added.

This statement comes amid growing aggression from China in East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Biden said that Japan and the United States are two strong democracies in the region and we are committed to defending and advancing our shared values and including human rights and rule of law.

"Today, we are announcing a new competitive and reliance partnership (CORE) between Japan and the United States that will enhance our ability to meet the pressing challenges of time. Together meet those challenges," he added.

The United States and Japan will increase cooperation on 5G telecommunications, supply chains for semiconductors, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, Biden said.

"We're going to work together across a range of fields, from promoting secure and reliable 5G networks, to increasing our cooperation on supply chains for critical sectors like semiconductors, to driving joint research in areas like AI, genomics, quantum computing and much more," Biden added.

This meeting is their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January.

4 Sikhs Among 8 Killed In FedEx Shooting In US

NEW DELHI, April 17: India will render "all possible assistance" to local authorities and community leaders in Indianapolis, US, where at least eight people, including four Sikhs, have died after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx facility on Thursday night, a "deeply shocked" Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said today.

About 90 per cent of the workers at this delivery service facility are said to be Indian-Americans, mostly from the Sikh community. This was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone.

Late on Friday night, the Marion County Coroner's Office and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department released the names of the victims: Amarjeet Johal (66), Jasvinder Kaur (64), Amarjit Sikhon (48) and Jaswinder Singh (68). The first three who died are women.

The shooter has been identified as 19-year-old Brandon Hole. The police could not yet say why he opened fire as he shot himself before being apprehended.

"Deeply shocked by shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Victims include persons of Indian American Sikh community. Our Consulate General in Chicago in touch with Mayor & local authorities in Indianapolis as well as community leaders. Will render all possible assistance," Jaishankar said in a tweet today.

One person injured in the incident has been identified as Harpreet Gill, an American citizen of Indian heritage, from Amritsar's Jagdev Kalan. He was hit in the head.

"Harpreet was the first to realize there was firing at FedEx. He rushed outdoors that's when a bullet came and hit his skull. He is being operated as we speak. The bullet is 2 and 1/2 inch close to the eye. The bullet is not yet out," said Gill's brother-in-law Khushwant Bajwa. "He has three children, wife and mother."

Reacting to the shooting incident, Dr Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, expressed grief over this latest killing in Indianapolis, the report said.

The Indian embassy in Washington DC conveyed its heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died and said it is praying "for the speedy recovery of those injured".

"Our Consulate in Chicago is in touch with local authorities in Indianapolis, community leaders, and will render all assistance, as required," it said in a statement. "The Consul General has spoken to the Mayor of Indianapolis, who has assured full support. We are closely monitoring the situation and remain ready to provide all possible assistance."

US President Joe Biden, yesterday, termed the incident a "national embarrassment". All US flags will be flown at half-staff until April 20 out of respect for the victims, the White House said in a statement. This applies to embassies, military bases, and other US facilities around the world.

US Imposes Sanctions On Russia, Expels 10 Diplomats

WASHINGTON, April 15: The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

US President Joe Biden ordered a widening of restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and sanctioned 32 individuals alleged to have tried to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, the White House said.

Biden's executive order "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international action," the White House said in a statement.

The statement listed in first place Moscow's "efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners."

This referred to allegations that Russian intelligence agencies mounted persistent disinformation and dirty tricks campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, in part to help Donald Trump's candidacy.

The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners," referring to the massive so-called SolarWinds hack of US government computer systems last year.

The statement also called out Russia's extraterritorial "targeting" of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.

In addition, the Department of Treasury, together with the European Union, Australia, Britain and Canada, sanctioned eight individuals and entities associated with Russia's occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.

In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities."

Blinken warns of China's 'increasingly aggressive actions' against Taiwan

WASHINGTON, April 11: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday the United States is concerned about China's aggressive actions against Taiwan and warned it would be a "serious mistake" for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.

"What we've seen, and what is of real concern to us, is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the Straits," Blinken said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

Beijing on Thursday blamed the United States for tensions after a U.S. warship sailed close to Taiwan.

The United States has a longstanding commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to sustain peace and security in the Western Pacific, Blinken said.

Asked if the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese action in Taiwan, Blinken declined to comment on a hypothetical.

"All I can tell you is we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself. We have a serious commitment to peace and security in the Western Pacific.

"We stand behind those commitments. And in that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force."

Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China's air force near the island, which China claims as its own.

The White House on Friday said it was keeping a close watch on increased Chinese military activities in the Taiwan Strait, and called Beijing's actions potentially destabilizing.

Also on Friday, the U.S. State Department issued new guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan, a move that deepens relations with Taipei amid stepped-up Chinese military activity around the island.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the new guidelines had followed a congressionally mandated review and would "provide clarity throughout the Executive Branch on effective implementation of our 'one China' policy" - a reference to the longstanding U.S. policy under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei.

US Navy Sends Warship Close to Lakshadweep Without India's Consent

NEW DELHI, April 9: The 7th Fleet of the US Navy says it has sent a warship 130 nautical miles (about 224 kilometres) west of India’s Lakshadweep islands to assert “navigational rights and freedoms”, a move experts describe as “unnecessary” at a time when ties between Washington and New Delhi are on the upswing.

An unusual press note by the 7th Fleet Public Affairs — datelined Philippine Sea, April 7 — admitted that “India’s prior consent” was not requested, but went on to say the move by guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones was in line with “international law”.

While Indian laws require prior notice for such a passage or manoeuvers through its “exclusive economic zone of continental shelf”, the 7th Fleet maintains that it conducts “routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs)”, which are “not about one country, nor are they about making political statements”.

Navy sources said it was a strong statement. “If this was an innocent passage, there is no violation of law. But going by the statement that the 7th Fleet has put out, this sounds like a passage exercise,” a source said.

In a passage exercise, if a foreign ship passes through the waters of a country, the latter usually accompanies it in the process — which did not happen in this case.

To be sure, this was not the first time that a US warship passed through India’s exclusive economic zone without permission; in fact, it happens regularly. But what is unusual is the aggressive press note.

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” the 7th Fleet note said.

The development caught geo-political watchers by surprise because it came at a time when the two countries had signalled close cooperation to tackle the China threat in the Indo-Pacific.

Leaders of India, the US, Japan and Australia — a bloc known as Quad — held a virtual meeting on March 12 that observers termed “historic”. The leaders discussed vaccines, climate change, emerging technologies, and promoting a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Recently, the Quad members also joined France in a war game in the Indian Ocean, in an apparent message to Beijing.

The development also came close on the heels of high-profile visits by Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, and John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, to India.

The 7th Fleet’s aggression in such a backdrop was unexpected. “U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” its note said.

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said it was an “unnecessary move by a friendly country”. Incidentally, he said, the US was one of the few countries that did not sign “the international law the US quotes”.

He added that the move was probably a “message aimed at China”, but it “doesn’t make sense to send that message” from the Indian Ocean Region.

The 7th Fleet has a history with India. It is infamous for sailing into the waters of the Bay of Bengal in 1971, when the war for Bangladesh’s liberation was underway.

In September 2019, the Indian Navy chased away a Chinese research vessel from the Indian waters in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Back then, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said: “Our stand is that if you have to do anything in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), you have to notify us and take permission.”

Biden ‘heartbroken’ over deadly attack at Capitol, slain cop hailed as ‘martyr’

WASHINGTON, April 2: US President Joe Biden has said that he and First Lady Jill Biden were “heartbroken” about the attack at the US Capitol on Friday that left one police officer dead and another wounded.

"Jill and I were heartbroken to learn of the violent attack at a security checkpoint on the US Capitol grounds, which killed Officer William Evans of the US Capitol Police, and left a fellow officer fighting for his life," President Biden said in a statement.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to Officer Evans' family, and everyone grieving his loss."

Biden said that he knows what a difficult time it's been for the Capitol and all who work there and protect it. Friday's incident came about three months after the January 6 insurrection that killed a Capitol police officer and four other people.

Biden released the statement from the Camp David presidential retreat, where he is spending the weekend. He expressed gratitude to the Capitol Police and the National Guard troops for responding quickly to the attack.

President Joe Biden also ordered that US Flags at the White House be lowered to half-staff until April 6 in honour of a US Capitol Police officer who was killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, the Law enforcement officials said that “terrorism is not suspected in a deadly confrontation outside the US Capitol that began when a man rammed his car into two officers outside the Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife.”

The Capitol Police officer, who was killed in the attack, was identified as an 18-year veteran of the force.

William Billy Evans joined the department in 2003 and was a member of its first responders unit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed Evans as a ‘martyr for our democracy’, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was ‘heartbroken.’

The death is the latest moment of sorrow for a department after the loss of Brian Sicknick, who clashed with rioters during the January 6 insurrection and died a day later, and Howard Liebengood, who committed suicide weeks after that.

Video shows the driver of the crashed car emerging with a knife in his hand and starting to run at the pair of officers, Capitol Police acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told reporters.

Authorities shot the suspect, identified by law enforcement officials as 25-year-old Noah Green.

Investigators were digging into his background and examining whether he had any history of mental health problems as they tried to discern a motive. They were working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.

The crash and shooting happened at a security checkpoint near the Capitol typically used by senators and staff on weekdays, though most are away from the building during the current recess.

The attack occurred about 100 yards (91 meters) from the entrance of the building on the Senate side of the Capitol. One witness, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, said he was finishing a Good Friday service nearby when he suddenly heard three shots ring out.

It comes as the Washington region remains on edge nearly three months after a mob of armed insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden's presidential win.

Five people died in the January 6 riot, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was among a badly outnumbered force trying to fight off insurrectionists seeking to overturn the election.

Authorities installed a tall perimeter fence around the Capitol and for months restricted traffic along the roads closest to the building, but they had begun pulling back some of the emergency measures in recent weeks. Fencing that prevented vehicular traffic near that area was recently removed.

Fully vaccinated can travel again, says new CDC guidance

WASHINGTON, April 2: Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.

Every day you get more data, and you change your guidance based on the existing data," said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska's College of Public Health.

Khan said the update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.

Unvaccinated people are still advised to avoid unnecessary travel.

The new guidance says:

Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, socially distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.

For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, though some destinations may require it.

Vaccinated people should still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to the U.S., and be tested 3 to 5 days after returning. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.

The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Already, the agency had said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or social distancing. It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low-risk for severe illness if infected.

The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December with the first vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses taken a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.

US climate envoy heads to India to push ‘climate ambition’

WASHINGTON, April 1: United States climate envoy John Kerry will hold talks with Indian leaders during an Asian tour starting on Thursday in an effort to narrow differences on climate change goals to slow global warming.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is facing calls from the US and the United Kingdom to commit India, the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, to a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

India, whose per capita emissions are way lower than that of the US, European countries and China, is concerned that binding itself to such a target could constrain the energy needs of its people.

Kerry on Thursday kicks off a trip that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, which experts say is especially vulnerable to climate change as it has large numbers of people living in areas barely above sea level, and lacks infrastructure to protect them.

“Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will travel to Abu Dhabi, New Delhi, and Dhaka  April 1-9, 2021, for consultations on increasing climate ambition …” the US Department of State said.

Kerry will take part in a climate dialogue for the Middle East and North Africa hosted by Abu Dhabi on April 4, the UAE state news agency WAM said on Thursday.

It said the regional climate dialogue would provide a platform for countries to “unite around progressive, practical solutions” to help reach global climate goals.

Kerry is leading efforts to get countries to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by about the middle of the century.

US President Joe Biden has called a summit of 40 leaders including India and China for April 22-23.






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