Biden caught between allies as Canada accuses India of murder | ET REALITY


A day after pledging to “defend democracy,” President Biden mentioned India and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday during a round of meetings at the United Nations, not to express concerns about repression by either of them, but to praise them for help establish a new economic corridor. . “I think it’s a big problem,” he said.

There are perhaps no two countries that better reflect the difficult and delicate trade-offs of Biden’s foreign policy right now than India and Saudi Arabia. He has made it a priority to court both nations as part of his effort to counter Russia and China, even as India has backed away from its democracy and Saudi Arabia never had one to begin with.

The week’s news illustrated how acute that tension really is. The Indian government was accused of orchestrating the assassination of a political opponent on Canadian soil, leaving Biden caught between one of America’s oldest friends and the new friend he has been cultivating. And news emerged that Biden’s envoys are negotiating a new defense treaty with Saudi Arabia, putting aside its own history of extraterritorial killings.

While Biden did not address any of the issues, the White House on Wednesday responded to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations against India with studied levelheadedness. John F. Kirby, a spokesman for Biden’s National Security Council, stated that the administration was “deeply concerned” by the allegations and said that “the facts should lead investigators where they can and that the perpetrators of this attack must be brought to justice.” before justice.” justice.”

But he emphasized American ties with India. “I can only tell you that our relationship with India remains vitally important not only to the South Asian region but, of course, to the Indo-Pacific,” Kirby told reporters. Then, shortly after the briefing, the council emailed a statement from another spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, saying: “Attacking dissidents in other countries is absolutely unacceptable and we will continue to take action to roll back this practice.”

The killing in Canada raised questions about Biden’s approach to India at a time when he has increasingly prioritized strengthening partnerships over outright defending democracy. He just visited India this month and on the way back he stopped in Hanoi to cement a strategic relationship with Vietnam, a one-party state run by communists, with barely any mention of repression there. His administration just signed a new economic and security agreement with Bahrain, a tightly controlled monarchy. And last week he approved $235 million in military aid to Egypt that had been frozen for two years over human rights issues.

“They talk a lot about the importance of democracy,” Sarah Margon, who was Biden’s original nominee for undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said in an interview Wednesday. “There are important initiatives that have been developed to support democracy. But when it comes down to it, what we are seeing is that supporting and sustaining democracy does not reach the same level as other geopolitical concerns.”

Biden, who has called the “battle between democracy and autocracy” the defining fight of this era, has lately been moving away from that framework. While he used some version of that wording 11 times last year, he has only done it four times this year and not in the last two months. according to a searcha service that records presidential statements.

During his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly On Tuesday, Biden did not use the phrase democracy versus autocracy, as he had in his speech at the world forum a year ago. And instead of presenting the war in Ukraine as a battle for democracy, he spoke of it in terms of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom from foreign domination.

His main reference to democracy in Tuesday’s speech was his condemnation of a series of recent coups in Africa. “We will defend democracy, our best tool to confront the challenges we face around the world,” he said. “And we are working to show how democracy can achieve results that matter to people’s lives.”

Even some of his own advisers have long considered the black-and-white dichotomy too simplistic and diplomatically limiting, particularly at a time when Biden has focused on building alliances to resist aggression from Moscow and Beijing. Indeed, he has come to the conclusion that he needs the help of some actual or would-be autocrats to fight larger and more dangerous autocrats. If that means being nice to India and Saudi Arabia, among others, so be it.

The furor in Canada over the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh community leader, in British Columbia in June seems a disturbing echo of the Saudi-orchestrated murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist living in the United States, in at the United Kingdom consulate in Istanbul in 2018. In both cases, a government considered friendly to the United States was accused of carrying out the murder of a critic on the soil of a NATO ally.

Trudeau blamed “agents of the Indian government” for the shooting and expelled an Indian diplomat described as head of New Delhi’s intelligence agency in Canada. India has called Nijjar, who advocated the creation of a Sikh state outside Indian territory, a wanted terrorist, but has denied Trudeau’s accusation and expelled a Canadian diplomat in response.

In the past, the United States has joined its allies in retaliating against adversaries who plot to assassinate opponents sheltered in their countries. President Donald J. Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats in 2018 after Moscow agents used a nerve agent to try to kill Sergei V. Skripal, a dissident former Russian intelligence officer, on British soil (although Trump later expressed his anger with his assistants for having been talked into doing it).

Unlike Saudi Arabia or Russia, India has long been a thriving democracy with diverse and robust views debated in Parliament and the media. But the space for freedom has narrowed in recent years under the government of Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was once banned from entering the United States because of the massacre of Muslims in the province where he was then prime minister.

Even as Biden invited Modi to a coveted state dinner at the White House in June, the media in India has come under pressure, opposition figures face legal threats and Hindu supremacists have impunity for attacking mosques and harassing to religious minorities. During the Group of 20 meeting that Modi hosted this month, he covered New Delhi with so many hundreds of billboards and posters bearing his own face that they would challenge the cult of personality in any authoritarian state.

The negotiation of a potential mutual defense treaty with Saudi Arabia similar to U.S. military pacts with Japan and South Korea comes amid a broader effort to transform the U.S. relationship with the kingdom. Biden hopes to negotiate a deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants a stronger security commitment from Washington as part of any deal.

Prince Mohammed suggested on Wednesday that progress towards normalization was being made. “Every day we get closer,” he told Fox News. The topic was also a major part of a meeting Biden held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who also offered an optimistic forecast of “a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” as he called it. “This is something that is within our reach,” the Israeli leader told reporters.

The notion of reaching out to Riyadh contradicted Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the murder of Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered, according to the CIA, on the orders of Prince Mohammed, often called MBS, Biden shared a friendly handshake in a brief conversation with Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the recent Group of 20 meeting in New Delhi, abandoning the more distant fist bump the president opted for during his visit to Jeddah a year before.

As with India, Vietnam and other countries with which Biden has sought to strengthen relations, the subtext of the move to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia is China and Russia. The Biden administration not only wants to end generations of conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors but also more firmly anchor the oil-producing kingdom in the US orbit.

Absent from the administration’s deliberations are some key voices representing democratic reform. Thirty-two months after taking office, Biden still does not have a Senate-confirmed deputy secretary of state to oversee democracy promotion since Republicans blocked Margon’s confirmation.

And the president has never named a permanent replacement for Shanthi Kalathil, his White House democracy and human rights coordinator, who resigned in early 2022, leaving vacant a position with the same rank as influential advisers on the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific that have been orchestrating outreach to countries like Saudi Arabia and India.

Tom Malinowski, a former Democratic representative from New Jersey, said there was “admirable realism and clarity” in the vision of democracy versus autocracy that Biden had previously articulated, a vision that seemed undermined by signing a permanent security agreement with a country where all power It is in the hands of an unaccountable royal family.

“The problem with giving a legally binding defense commitment to Saudi Arabia – something we are not even willing to do with Ukraine – is not just that it would erode the moral authority of our position,” he said. “It’s just that MBS is so aggressively siding with the other authoritarian powers: helping Russia economically while hurting American consumers, crushing any democratic opening in the Arab world, and even trying to corrupt American politics.”

Biden and his advisers insist that he remains committed to democracy and human rights even in the countries he wants to work with. “I have raised it with everyone I have met,” he told reporters while he was in Hanoi.

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