Senior US administration officials outlined a series of steps to aid India’s fight after Biden phoned PM Modi to express sympathy and support after nearly three days of silence on the dire situation in India. “India was there for us, and we will be there for them,” Biden said in a tweet minutes after the phone call. Officials said the US was also deploying a CDC strike team to India to help the country’s efforts.
The US, however, will not be directly supplying its unused stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccine — at least for now. White House officials said India had not asked for the vaccine and added that the FDA was yet to complete its safety review. Once that process is complete, about 10 million vaccines will become available for foreign supply (since the US will not be using AstraZeneca) and a further 50 million vaccines will be available by June-July.
Today, I spoke with Prime Minister @narendramodi and pledged America’s full support to provide emergency assistance… https://t.co/ijdTPoNKct
— President Biden (@POTUS) 1619461178000
White House National Security Council officials also declined to answer questions on the Indian request for a waiver of intellectual property and patent rights in relation to the fight against Covid, while confirming Modi had raised the matter in his phone conversation with Biden. They bumped the issue across to the US trade representative’s office.
Shortly after his call with Biden, Modi had tweeted: “Had a fruitful conversation with @POTUS @JoeBiden today. We discussed the evolving Covid situation in both countries in detail. I thanked President Biden for the support being provided by the US to India.”
Slammed across the social, political, and business spectrum for perceived indifference to India, the Biden-Harris dispensation had jolted into action on Sunday. Similar to his Monday post, Biden on Sunday had tweeted: “Just as India sent assistance to the US as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.” He had conspicuously invoked New Delhi’s help in providing therapeutics to the US during America’s Covid crisis after his administration was trolled for ingratitude.
Moments after Biden’s Sunday tweet, vice-president Kamala Harris had posted: “The US is working closely with the Indian government to rapidly deploy additional support and supplies during an alarming Covid-19 outbreak. As we provide assistance, we pray for the people of India-—including its courageous healthcare workers.” Harris too attracted criticism over her silence, particularly in light of her own part-Indian heritage.
The full court press from Washington, which some pundits saw as damage control after the administration came under fire from critics on all sides for its slow response, included expressions of support from defence secretary Lloyd Austin, the senior most cabinet official in the Biden administration to visit India, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, and a host of Democrats.
Austin said he was deeply concerned about the Covid-19 outbreak in India, and directed the Pentagon to “use every resources at our disposal, within our authority, to support US inter-agency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need.” Sherman said she had been in touch with Indian officials, including foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla and India’s ambassador to the US Taranjit Sandhu.
The Biden administration ponderous response invited withering assessment. “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else,” former Indian envoy Vishnu Prakash remarked, paraphrasing Winston Churchill while noting the episode has cast a shadow on Biden-Harris administration’s earnestness.
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