US Secretary of Defence General Lloyd Austin on Saturday said he had a conversation with Indian ministers about the human rights of minorities in the country as it was important for partners to have “those kinds of discussions”.
Asked if he had spoken with Prime Minister Narendra Modi about “violations of human rights especially against Muslim minorities in the northeast”, General Austin said, “I did not have an opportunity to talk with him about 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. And I think partners need to be able to have those kinds of discussions. And certainly we feel comfortable in doing that. And you can have those discussions in a very meaningful way and make progress,” he added.
Earlier, responding to a question about whether he shared concerns flagged by Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about “the deteriorating situation of democracy in India”, General Austin human rights and rule of law was important to the US.
“You’ve heard President [Joe] Biden say that human rights and rule of law is important to the United States of America. We always lead with our values. As a democracy that’s pretty important to us. India is a democratic country and you treasure your values as well. There are a number of things that we can and we will work on together,” he said.
General Austin is making the first visit by a top member of US President Joe Biden’s administration to India as part of efforts to forge an alliance of countries seeking to push back against China’s assertiveness in the region.
He met PM Modi on his arrival in New Delhi on Friday and held talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday. He leaves on Sunday.