New Delhi: US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd Austin, Saturday said he had a “conversation” with Indian ministers about the human rights issues in the country during his talks. He added that it was important for partners to have “these kinds of discussions” in a meaningful way.
Austin, who met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, also said that at no point of time in the last year did the US administration feel that India and China were at the threshold of a war.
Asked by an American journalist on whether he raised the issue of “violation of human rights of minorities” during his talk with the Prime Minister, Austin said he did not get an opportunity to do so.
“Having said that, I did have a conversation with other members of the cabinet on this issue. We have to remember that India is our partner, a partner whose partnership we value,” he said, briefing the American journalists travelling with him and a very select group of Indian journalists of which ThePrint was part of. “And I think partners need to be able to have that kind of discussion and certainly we feel comfortable doing it. We can have those discussions in a meaningful way…”
He explained that President Joe Biden had said that human rights and rule of law is important to the US.
“We always lead with our values and as a democracy that is very important,” he said. “Again, India is a democratic country and you treasure your values as well. There are a number of things that we can and will work on together.”
Austin is the first top-level member of the Biden administration to travel to India.
American Senator, Robert Menendez, who is the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had in a letter to Austin urged him to take up concerns on human rights issues during his visit to New Delhi.
‘Need to work together with like-minded countries’
Responding to a query from ThePrint on the tensions between India and China in Ladakh, Austin said that at no time did the US administration think that both countries were on “the threshold of war”.
He said that the correct way of countering any aggression is by working together with like-minded partners.
Austin said that he had “wide range of discussions” with his Indian counterpart Singh on defence-related issues including equipment and more cooperation.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)