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Jaishankar, Blinken Review Indo-Pacific, Quad, Vaccines

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, May 28: India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had a fruiful and productive meeting the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The two leaders discussed various aspects of our bilateral cooperation as well as regional and global issues.

The talks covered Indo Pacific and the Quad, Afghanistan, Myanmar, UNSC matters and other international organizations.

Jaishankar, who is on an official trip to the US, is the first Indian Cabinet minister to visit the country since Joe Biden became US President on January 20.

Jaishankar and Blinken also focused on Indo-US vaccine partnership aimed at expanding access and ensuring supply.

Indian Minister appreciated strong solidarity expressed by US at this time.

Today's talks have further solidified our strategic partnership and enlarged our agenda of cooperation, said Jaishankar.

It may be mentioned that both India and the US have been advocating for a rules-based international order and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

The Quad grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia have already vowed to expand their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific amidst China's aggressive actions in the region.

The US has been favouring Quad as a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.

Wuhan Lab's Work Linked To Chinese Military: Pompeo

WASHINGTON, May 30: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was engaged in military activity alongside its civilian research -- amid renewed scrutiny of the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic emerged from the secretive lab.

"What I can say for sure is this: we know that they were engaged in efforts connected to the People's Liberation Army inside of that laboratory, so military activity being performed alongside what they claimed was just good old civilian research," Pompeo said, as per Fox News.

He further mentioned: "They refuse to tell us what it was, they refuse to describe the nature of either of those, they refused to allow access to the World Health Organization when it tried to get in there."

China is coming under increasing pressure over probe into the origins of the COVID-19, even as scientists are demanding more clarity to go into the roots of the global pandemic.

Sky News Australia host Andrew Bolt on May 26 spoke to Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, Director of Endocrinology at Flinders Medical Centre, who said that the world's scientific community had been "tricked by China", reported New York Times Post.

Andrew Bolt said on his show The Bolt Report: "Finally a lot of experts are now saying well actually it does now look like this virus maybe did escape from that Chinese lab and China is feeling the heat."

Professor Petrovsky told him that although some Chinese scientists have suggested that COVID-19 originated from pangolins, this is unlikely to be the case, reported New York Times Post.

WHO team investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China found no evidence that the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab.

However, the team was closely monitored by Chinese authorities during its investigation, and one of its members told UK news agency news that China refused to hand over key data from the initial outbreak, reported New York Times Post.

This week, the Biden administration pushed China for a further probe into a possible leak from the Wuhan lab. However, China state media rejected the idea that COVID-19 had originated there and said that it is "a conspiracy created by US intelligence agencies", reported New York Times Post.

US move to upgrade diplomatic ties with Taiwan

WASHINGTON, May 30: US lawmakers have introduced a 'Taiwan Diplomatic Review Act' to rename Taiwan's representative office in the United States and provide diplomatic visas to Taiwanese diplomats to bolster ties between Washington and Taipei, amid the latter's conflict with Beijing.

In a statement on Friday, Democratic Representative Brad Sherman and Republican Representative Steve Chabot from the US House of Representatives said that they had jointly proposed the act, reported Focus Taiwan.

Sherman and Chabot said that the US policy refers Taiwan as 'Taiwan' and not 'Taipei' or 'Chinese Taipei', the Coordination Council for North American Affairs (CCNAA) was renamed "Taiwan Council for US Affairs" (TCUSA) in 2019.

"Following this longstanding policy, the Taiwan Diplomatic Review Act directs the Secretary of State to enter into negotiations with the Taiwan Council for US Affairs to rename the Council's office in Washington, DC, the Taiwan Representative Office in the United States," the congressmen said in the statement.

At present, Taiwan's representative office in the US is called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO).

"This bill simply says that it is time for the State Department, and Congress, to take action to elevate our relationship with Taiwan. We should also be taking action to encourage more robust engagement between the US and Taiwanese officials," said Sherman.

The Representatives also said that the Act includes the Taiwan Envoy Act, which was introduced by the two congressmen in the last US Congress to require Senate confirmation of any individual appointed to serve as the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Focus Taiwan reported.

"By changing TECRO's name to the Taiwan Representative Office and making the Director of the AIT Senate confirmable, we will reaffirm the US commitment to robust relations with Taiwan," they further said.

They also highlighted that currently, Taiwanese officials and diplomats do not receive diplomatic visas from the US, which does not accurately represent their purpose in the US, as official representatives from Taiwan.

In such a case, the proposed Act will create a new visa category that applies to Taiwanese officials only, further bolstering ties between the two countries.

"As a founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, I have consistently worked to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Taiwan," said Chabot in the statement.

The Republican Representative said he believed that the Taiwan Diplomatic Review Act will "ensure that Taiwan's representatives here are accorded the dignity they deserve and to strengthen congressional oversight over Taiwan policy", reported Focus Taiwan.

This comes amid Taiwan's ongoing conflict with China, claims Taiwan as its own territory and regards the US Navy's presence in the area as a show of support for the island's democratic government.

China has repeatedly accused the US of threatening the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

2 Dead In Mass Shooting Outside Concert In Florida, 20 Injured

MIAMI, May 30: Two people were killed and at least 20 injured Sunday when three shooters fired indiscriminately into a crowd outside a concert in Miami, Florida, local police said.

Gunfire erupted during the early hours outside a billiards hall in a row of businesses near Miami Gardens, northwest of the coastal city's downtown.

People crowded the venue, which was "hosting a scheduled event and several patrons were standing outside," Miami-Dade Police Department said in a statement.

When a Nissan Pathfinder SUV approached the scene, it added, "three subjects exited the vehicle and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd."

The trio then got back in the car and fled the scene.

When authorities arrived, they found two people dead, according to the statement. At least 20 people were hospitalized, with at least one in critical condition.

In a tweet, the department's director, Alfredo "Freddy" Ramirez III, condemned the "targeted and cowardly act of gun violence."

"These are cold-blooded murderers that shot indiscriminately into a crowd, and we will seek justice," he said.

Police were seeking help from the community to identify and arrest the shooters.

Florida remains marked by the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which a gunman killed 49 people and wounded at least 68 others.

Gun-related homicides have surged across the United States over the past year.

On Wednesday, a public transit worker shot dead nine people at a California rail yard before turning his gun on himself as police arrived.

A search this week of the shooter's home -- which was set ablaze shortly before the attack -- turned up 12 guns, some 22,000 rounds of ammunition and suspected Molotov cocktails.

The coronavirus pandemic provided a pause in this deadly workplace violence, but the reopening of many companies has brought a return of shootings.

Mass shootings have occurred in recent months at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, an office building in California, a grocery store in Colorado and at several spas in Atlanta.

The United States has a long and painful history of deadly gun violence, with a steady daily toll of shootings as well as high-profile mass killings that have targeted schools, workplaces and shopping centers.

President Joe Biden last month branded US gun violence an "epidemic" and an "international embarrassment."

There were more than 43,000 gun-related deaths in the United States last year, including suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In 2017, 458 people died in workplace shootings, according to the latest official statistics, but only 77 of these fatalities were committed by workers. The others were done by burglars, relatives of employees or disgruntled customers.

Jaishankar, Austin agree to further boost defence partnership

Earlier, Jaishankar had a warm meeting with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. The two leaders discussed further developing strategic and defence partnership between the two countries and exchanged views on 'contemporary security challenges'.

There was a comprehensive conversation about further developing the strategic and defence partnership between the two countries.

Exchanged views on contemporary security challenges. Expressed appreciation of the US military role in responding to the Covid situation, said Jaishankar.

Indian Minister also expressed appreciation of the US military role in responding to the COVID-19 situation in India.

The US military has been transporting essential medical equipment and supplies to India to help the country combat the second surge of COVID-19 cases.

In the months of April and May, three US military planes have ferried assistance in the form of elements to manufacture vaccines, personal protective equipment, rapid diagnostic kits, oxygen cylinders and regulators, and tranches of anti-viral remdesivir to India.

Jaishankar, Sullivan review Indo-Pacific, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, May 28: US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (NSA) and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met on Thursday 'to review the strong partnership between the world's largest democracies', the White House said.

'Pleased to meet NSA Jake Sullivan. Wide-ranging discussions including on Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan. Conveyed appreciation for US solidarity in addressing the Covid challenge. India-US vaccine partnership can make a real difference,' Jaishankar said in a tweet after the meeting.

'Our people-to-people ties, and our values are the foundation of the US-India partnership and will help us end the pandemic, lead on climate, and support a free and open Indo-Pacific,' Sullivan wrote on Twitter after the meeting.

The US government and Americans across the country have delivered over USD 500 million in COVID-19 relief to India. 'We will beat this pandemic together,' Sullivan tweeted.

During the meeting, Sullivan and Jaishankar welcomed the cooperation in recent weeks that resulted in deliveries of over USD 500 million in COVID-19 relief supplies from the US federal and state governments, US companies and private citizens across America for the people of India, said Emily Horne, Spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House.

'They discussed a range of regional and global issues, and agreed that the United States and India should continue working closely together to address common challenges throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

'They agreed that people-to-people ties and shared values are the foundation of the US-India strategic partnership that is helping to end the pandemic, supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific, and providing global leadership on climate change,' she said.

Jaishankar is part of India's first cabinet-level visit to Washington since Joe Biden took over as the US president. The external affairs minister is scheduled to meet Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Friday.

Jaishankar also had meetings with the American business leadership hosted by the US India Business Council and the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum.

China continues to undermine Hong Kong's democratic institutions: Blinken

WASHINGTON, May 27: The Chinese government continues to undermine the democratic institutions of Hong Kong and denies the residents the rights that China itself has guaranteed, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday after the city's Legislative Council approved the controversial bill to reform the electoral system.

Blinken said that new measures that alter the composition of the electoral system, severely constrain people in Hong Kong from meaningfully participating in their own governance.

"Decreasing Hong Kong residents' electoral representation will not foster long-term political and social stability for Hong Kong. This legislation defies the Basic Law's clear acknowledgment that the ultimate objective is the election of all members of the LegCo by universal suffrage," the US Secretary of State said in a statement.

The State Secretary also asked China and the Hong Kong authorities to allow the voices of all Hong Kongers to be heard. "We also call on these authorities to release and drop charges against all individuals charged under the National Security Law and other laws merely for standing for election or for expressing dissenting views," he said.

"The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed to the people in Hong Kong by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law," he added.

The reforms passed on Thursday, allow the city's national security department to carry out background checks to ensure candidates for public office are "patriotic". Besides this, the Legislative Council will also be expanded to 90 seats from 70 through this law.

This comes after China's National People's Congress (NPC) in March had passed the resolution, paving the way for the biggest shake-up to the city's electoral system since its return to China in 1997.

Indian-origin Sikh man among 9 killed in rail yard shooting in California

LOS ANGELES, May 27: A 36-year-old Indian-origin Sikh man was among eight people killed in the horrific rail yard shooting in San Jose in the US state of California, according to media reports on Thursday.

Taptejdeep Singh was the first victim to be publicly identified by his family, The Mercury News reported.

Singh, born in India and raised in Union City, California, has left behind his wife, three-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, and a grieving Sikh community in the San Francisco Bay Area, which described him as a 'helpful and caring' man.

Co-workers at the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) hailed Singh as a hero, saying he left the safety of an office room, where some colleagues were hiding, to help others escape the line of fire.

Samuel Cassidy, 57, a maintenance worker of the VTA, San Jose, on Wednesday gunned down eight of his co-workers and critically injured another in a one of the deadliest shootings in California state this year.

As police arrived at the scene, the killer died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

The gunman who opened fire on coworkers bypassed certain people and so appeared to select those he shot, a witness said.

'He ... was targeting certain people. He walked by other people,' Kirk Bertolet, a worker at the Santa Clara Valley VTA in San Jose, told CNN affiliate KGO on Wednesday night.

'He let other people live as he gunned down other people,' Bertolet said.

The gunman, armed with two semi-automatic handguns, shot coworkers in two buildings around the time of a morning shift change before taking his own life in front of responding law enforcement officers, authorities said.

At least eight of the nine killed were VTA employees, and investigators are trying to determine the motive, officials said.

Singh was a light rail operator at the VTA for nine years. He worked at a separate building from where most of the other victims were found, giving the impression that Cassidy had selected his victims. Singh was fatally shot in the stairwell of a VTA building, the report said.

Singh's brother-in-law, P.J. Bath, another light rail operator at the VTA, confirmed that the shooter and Singh were in different buildings initially but said nothing on the victims being pre-decided by the killer.

'He just happened to be in the way, I guess. He was always helpful to everyone and caring,' Bath said 'We are in very deep grief,” Singh's uncle Sakhwant Dhillon told the San Jose-based newspaper.

'He told people, 'be careful, hide.' He was running around the building to save others' lives. He was a good person. He helped everybody,' Dhillon said.

Singh's brother Bagga Singh said he was told that his brother had saved a lady when he 'rushed down the stairway,” where he was eventually shot.

Singh may be considered a hero, but 'he should have saved his life, too. We lost a good person,” Bagga said.

Emotional scenes were seen at the Red Cross Center in the city where families of the victims gathered after the incident was reported.

Singh's family, including his father, hugged and cried.

The other victims of the shooting were identified as Paul Delacruz Megia (42), Adrian Balleza (29), Jose Dejesus Hernandez (35), Timothy Michael Romo (49), Michael Joseph Rudometkin (40), Abdolvahab Alaghmandan (63), and Lars Kepler Lane (63). The eighth person who was killed was identified as Alex Ward Fritch (49).

Minutes after the incident, a fire was reported at Cassidy's home, about 13 kilometres from the VTA office.

The fire was extinguished in an hour-long operation. Police said a separate investigation is going on in the fire.

President Joe Biden reacted to the latest shooting incident by urging Congress to 'take immediate action' on gun legislation.

'Enough,' he said on Wednesday. 'Once again, I urge Congress to take immediate action and heed the call of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners, to help end this epidemic of gun violence in America.' The shooting is the latest example of America's gun violence scourge. It is the 232nd mass shooting this year in the country, according to a tally by the Gun Violence Archive.

Biden Orders Intelligence Report On Covid Origins Within 90 Days

WASHINGTON, May 26: President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered US intelligence agencies to report to him in the next three months on whether the Covid-19 virus first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident.

Agencies should "redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days," Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

According to Biden, agencies are currently split over the two possible sources for the virus that swept the planet over the past year, killing more than 3.4 million people -- a figure experts say is undoubtedly an underestimate.

Biden's order signals an escalation in mounting controversy over how the virus first emerged -- through animal contact at a market in Wuhan, China, or through release of the coronavirus from a highly secure research laboratory in the same city.

The answer has immense implications both for China, which says it is not responsible for the pandemic, and for US politics, where the lab theory has been used by Republicans to attack Beijing.

Biden said that in March he asked for a report on the origins of the virus, including "whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident."

"As of today, the US intelligence community has 'coalesced around two likely scenarios' but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question," he said.

Two-state ‘only answer’ to Israel-Palestine conflict: Biden

WASHINGTON, May 22: US President Joe Biden has said a two-state solution was the “only answer” to the Israel-Palestine conflict emphatically reiterating decades-old US policy that had enjoyed an indifferent to no backing from his predecessor, Donald Trump.

On Friday, Biden also made it clear that “there will be no peace” in the region if Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish nation was not acknowledged and accepted.

President Biden was speaking at a joint news briefing with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a day after Israel and Hamas declared an unconditional ceasefire ending an 11-day conflict, which the United States had helped to resolve through “quiet, relentless diplomacy”.

US efforts included upwards of 80 phone calls made by its officials to their counterparts in the region, and six between Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During the 11-day conflict, President Biden had come under increasing pressure from within his party, especially progressives who were critical of Israel, to do more.

“There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel. Period. No shift, not at all,” Biden said in response to a question if there was a shift in Democratic party, against Israel. “The shift is that we still need a two-state solution. It is the only answer. The only answer,” he added.

“My party still supports Israel,” Biden said, adding, “Let’s get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”

US commitment to a two-state solution - Israel and Palestine to co-exists as two separate countries - had waned considerably under Trump, who had moved the US even closer to Israel by changing several decades old policies, such as recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump had said in 2017. And in 2020, he unveiled a peace plan that proposed a “realistic two-state solution”, which made Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides, the “undivided” capital of Israel.

Jaishankar To Visit US Next Week To Seal Deals On Covid-19 Vaccine Supplies

NEW DELHI, May 22: The Modi government is sending External Affairs Minister (EAM) Dr S Jaishankar to the United States next week in order to hold meetings with senior officials and Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to seal deals for supplies of the same.

Jaishankar’s visit will be aimed to persuade the USA to deliver as many vaccines as possible to India and neighbouring countries, which could include the likes of Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Srilanka.

The EAM will be meeting the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with other senior cabinet members of US President Joe Biden’s administration to hold discussions on this matter.

Moreover, he will also take part in two interactions with business forums on economic and Covid-related cooperation between India and America.

“We have, of course, noted the recent announcement by the US government of its intention to make some vaccines available to some other countries,” official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, had said on Thursday.

He added, “I would like to emphasise that all vaccines that may be procured from abroad would need to be as per our regulatory guidelines. I understand that the US has also indicated that any vaccines it sends abroad would be after obtaining FDA (Food and Drug Administration) clearance for product quality.”

Earlier this week, President Biden had declared that the US will be delivering a total of 80 million doses of AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccines to countries in need of the same by the end of June.

India is slated to be one of the beneficiaries of this initiative whereas the US Embassy’s Charge D’Affaires Daniel B Smith has also said that the western country is considering jointly producing the J&J Covid-19 vaccines in India.

Pelosi calls for U.S. and world leaders to boycott China's 2022 Olympics

WASHINGTON, May 18: U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, criticizing China for human rights abuses and saying global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Pelosi's remarks were "full of lies" and that human rights were developing vigorously in China.

U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about an Olympic boycott or venue change, and have lashed out at American corporations, arguing their silence about what the State Department has deemed a genocide of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China was abetting the Chinese government.

Pelosi, a Democrat, told a bipartisan congressional hearing on the issue that heads of state around the world should shun the Games, scheduled for February.

"What I propose - and join those who are proposing - is a diplomatic boycott," Pelosi said, in which "lead countries of the world withhold their attendance at the Olympics."

"Let's not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China," she added.

"For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing - while you're sitting there in your seat - really begs the question, what moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world?" she said.

An independent United Nations panel said in 2018 it had received credible reports that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims had been held in camps in China's Xinjiang region. Beijing describes them as vocational training centers to stamp out extremism, and strongly rejects accusations of abuse and genocide.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing that Pelosi's remarks were "full of lies and false information," and the United States was afraid visiting countries would see China's "vigorous development of human rights".

In Washington, Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu earlier said that U.S. attempts to interfere in China's domestic affairs over the Olympics were doomed to fail.

"I wonder what makes some U.S. politicians think they actually have the so-called moral authority? On human rights issues, they are in no position, either historically or currently, to make wanton groundless criticism against China," Liu said.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith, who led the hearing, said corporate sponsors should be called to testify before Congress and be "held to account".

"Big business wants to make lots of money, and it doesn't seem to matter what cruelty - even genocide - that the host nation commits," Smith said.

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern added the Games should be postponed to give the International Olympic Committee (IOC) time to "relocate to a country whose government is not committing atrocities."

"If we can postpone an Olympics by a year for a pandemic, we can surely postpone the Olympics for a year for a genocide," McGovern said, referring to the decision by Japan and the IOC to delay the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo due to COVID-19.

Demands for some form of boycott of the Beijing Games are growing.

Last month, Republican Senator Mitt Romney introduced an amendment to broader legislation to counter China that would implement a U.S. diplomatic boycott.

And a coalition of human rights activists on Tuesday called for athletes to boycott the Games and put pressure on the IOC.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has said it hopes to develop a joint approach with allies to participation in Beijing's Olympics, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly said the issue has not yet been broached in discussions.

Asked about Pelosi's comments, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters the administration's position on the 2022 Olympics had not changed.

Biden, a Democrat, has said China is America's strategic competitor, and has vowed to not let the country surpass the United States as a world leader on his watch.

Proponents of Americans competing in Beijing's Olympics say it would be unfair to punish athletes, and the Games would provide a platform for the United States, which has one of the highest Winter Olympic medal counts, to show its vitality on the global stage.

Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a written statement the committee was concerned about the "oppression of the Uyghur population," but barring U.S. athletes from the Games was "certainly not the answer."

"Past Olympic boycotts have failed to achieve political ends," she said.

US to restrict travel from India starting May 4

WASHINGTON, May 1: The United States will restrict travel from India starting May 4, the White House said on April 30, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden's administration made the determination on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden signed a proclamation barring entry to most foreigners who have been in India in the past 14 days, with exceptions for legal permanent residents, spouses and close family members of U.S. citizens, and some others. He cited the spread of the virus and its variants.

“The CDC advises, based on work by public health and scientific experts, that these variants have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines,” Biden said in the proclamation.

He said the CDC has concluded that “proactive measures” are needed to protect public health from travelers from India.

Biden spoke Monday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the growing health crisis and pledged to immediately send assistance. This week, the U.S. began delivering therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for India to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to be on the ground soon to help Indian health officials move to slow the spread of the virus.

Vice President Kamila Harris, who is of Indian descent, called the situation in India a “great tragedy” and said she hadn’t spoken to any of her relatives still living there since the news of the travel ban was made public. She emphasized America’s “longstanding, decades-long relationship” with the country in speaking about the U.S. aid to help alleviate some of the crisis there.

“We have a responsibility as the United States, and particularly with people we have partnered with over the years, to step up when people are in a time of need,” she said.

The White House waited on the CDC recommendation before moving to restrict travel, noting that the U.S. already requires negative tests and quarantines for all international travelers. Other restrictions are in place on travel from China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa, which are or have been hotspots for the coronavirus.

There was no immediate comment on the new limits from the State Department, which on Thursday reissued a warning to Americans against traveling to India and said those already in the country should consider leaving by commercial means. That warning was accompanied by a notice that the department was telling the families of all U.S. government employees at its embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in India that they could leave the country at government expense.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in India have not been immune from the pandemic and a handful of local staff have perished from the virus. Several dozen other local and U.S. staffers have been sickened by COVID-19, according to officials who were not authorized to discuss personal matters publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The State Department has declined to comment on the number of staff affected, citing security and privacy concerns.

But even as the U.S. boosts pandemic assistance to India and allows some of its diplomatic families to come home, other aspects of the relationship continue unhampered.

Just minutes after the White House released the new travel restrictions, the State Department said it had approved more than $2.4 billion in arms sales to India, which the U.S. believes will be a critical counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The sale includes six Boeing P-8I patrol aircraft and related technology to be used for surveillance. The department said the deal “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region.”

US exempts categories of students, academics, journalists from India travel ban

WASHINGTON, May 1: Certain categories of students, academics, journalists and individuals have been exempted from the India travel ban announced by President Joe Biden, the US State Department said.

The exemptions were issued by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, hours after Biden issued a proclamation restricting travel from India beginning May 4 because of the 'extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the country'.

According to the State Department, the travel ban exemption is in line with a similar exemption that the US has granted to some categories of travellers from Brazil, China, Iran and or South Africa.

“In keeping with the Department of State’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States, Secretary Blinken decided today to apply the same set of National Interest Exceptions to India that he had previously applied to all other regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the State Department said.

Students seeking to commence studies in the fall, academics, journalists and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by a geographic COVID-19 restriction may qualify for the exception, it said.

This includes qualified applicants who have been present in India, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa, it added.

The pandemic continues to limit the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process, it said. As always, visa applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information about visa appointment availability, the State Department said.

“As the global situation evolves, the Department continues to seek ways to process more visa applications, in line with science-based guidance from health authorities and with the health and safety of staff and applicants as our priority,” it said.

In a national interest exemption issued by the State Department on April 26, which it said is good for India too, students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic programme commencing August 1 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual exemption to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.

Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate.

Those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel, it said.

The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travellers seeking to enter the US for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response and national security.

These travellers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States’ national interest should also review the website of the nearest US embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them, it said.

In another memorandum on April 8, the Secretary of State had determined that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and air crew travelling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the geographic COVID presidential proclamations.

These proclamations restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa.






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