Biden to Modi: Buying more Russian oil is not in India’s interest

WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it was not in India’s interest to buy more oil from Russia and that it could hamper the US response to the war in Ukraine, US officials said.

By launching an hour-long video call, U.S. officials described as “warm” and “sincere,” Biden and Modi both publicly expressed growing alarm over the devastation inside Ukraine, particularly in Bucha, where many civilians have been killed.

Biden stopped making a “concrete inquiry” to Modi on Monday, an official said, noting that India has concerns about deepening ties between Russia and China.

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But he told Modi that India’s position in the world would not be improved by relying on Russian energy sources, US officials said.

“The president made it very clear that it is not in their interest to increase it,” said White House spokesman Jen Psaki.

India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, went back at a press conference later Monday on a question about India’s energy purchases from Russia, saying the focus should be on Europe, not India. “Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in one afternoon.”

Broad negotiations between the world’s two largest democracies took place as the United States sought more help from India to condemn and put economic pressure on Russia for an invasion that Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

“Recently, the news of the killings of innocent civilians in the city of Bucha was very worrying,” Modi said during a brief section of the meeting, which was open to journalists. “We condemned it immediately and have called for an independent inquiry.”

Modi also said that in recent talks with Russia he had suggested that President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hold direct talks.

The South Asian nation has tried to balance its ties with Russia and the West, but unlike other members of the Quad countries – the United States, Japan and Australia – it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.

Biden recently said that only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia.

Attracted by hefty rebates following Western sanctions against Russian entities, India has been buying at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the invasion in late February. That compared to about 16 million barrels for the whole of last year, data collected by Reuters shows.

Psaki did not reveal whether India had pledged energy imports, but said Washington is ready to help the country diversify its energy sources.

Noting Modi’s statements about the war on Monday, Psaki said, “part of our goal now is to build on that and encourage them to do more. And that’s why it’s important to have leader-to-leader talks.”

A US official added that “we have not asked India to do anything special.” The official said that “India will make its own judgments” after “a very honest conversation.”

Talks in Washington on Monday took place between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and their Indian counterparts Jaishankar, and Indian Secretary of Defense Rajnath Singh.

Blinken said that India’s ties with Russia developed over decades at a time when the United States was not able to partner with India, but that times had changed since then.

“Today, we are able and willing to be an optional partner with India across virtually all areas,” Blinken said in a joint press release after the negotiations.

India’s need for modernization in the field of defense was a key issue that the two sides have discussed in detail, the ministers said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the two countries had signed a bilateral agreement to support information sharing and cooperation in space.

Biden told Modi that he was looking forward to seeing him in Japan for a Quad meeting “around May 24,” and the two leaders also discussed a number of other issues, officials said.

(This story was re-archived to correct the word in the quote in section 18 to “the kingdom”)

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Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Idrees Ali, Daphne Psaledakis, Nandita Bose, Kanishka Singh, Doina Chiacu, and Andrea Shalal; Edited by Doina Chiacu, Alistair Bell and Howard Goller

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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