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US envoy Eric Garcetti on Friday said the Quad is really a reflection of the “shared interests” of having a peaceful, democratic, just, open and accountable Indo-Pacific while underlining that its member country India is in many ways “in the driver’s seat” of the grouping.

In response to a question on whether an Indian national, facing charge for a murder-for-hire plot to kill a Khalistani separatist on American soil, will affect Indo-US ties, he said, “The pace of our relationship only continues to accelerate amidst this.”

“It’s the first stress test of our new relationship which has deepened, and so far, I think both countries are passing it, but plenty of miles to go. Life would be much easier for us not to have contested democracies, where people disagree. That is the point of a democracy that we have to defend,” the US envoy said.

“The relationship continues, I think with more strength than we have ever witnessed before. But, we won’t back away from principles that are important to this relationship,” he added.

The panel discussion on “A ‘Pacific’ Convergence of Interests with India” largely centred around the functioning of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue grouping, commonly described as Quad, during the¬†India Today Conclave 2024.

The Quad comprises India, the US, Japan and Australia and it has unveiled a series of initiatives in the last few years with a broad aim to ensure peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. China believes the coalition is aimed at containing it.

The US Ambassador to India shared the dais with British High Commissioner Alex Ellis, Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, and Nirupama Rao, former foreign secretary of India.

“We have always said the Quad isn’t a military alliance of four of us. We have strong bilateral relations, each aspect of the Quad, each country. They do work in strategic and military space, they do work in economic spaces, they do work in people-to-people and cultural and educational spaces,” he said.

“But, the Quad is really a reflection of values and of geography and the shared interests that we have to have a peaceful, democratic, just, open, accountable Indo-Pacific,” the US envoy asserted.

And that happens in so many ways with Quad, whether it is looking at ecological and climate issues, whether it is the emergency seen during the pandemic, when the grouping really “became a force for assisting each other,” he said.

“But, India is in many ways in the driver’s seat of the Quad. And, I think that is exciting for India,” he said.

The US envoy said he has described that India “loves geometric diplomacy” — triangles, squares, quadrilaterals.

“The multilaterals you can get last, in places like the UN right now, which are important, convenient spaces… But, they are just divided as the world. Bilateral is really helpful but there is a limit to bilateralism sometimes,” he said.

“So, I think there is really a shared, sort of principles. During discussions I had with National Security Advisor (Ajit) Doval, he said, ‘it’s not just strategy, it is not just affinity’. We do think alike, our hearts do feel alike. But, it is really about ideology in this moment when there is extremism, whether it is religious extremism, whether it is dictatorship versus democracies,” he said.

During the interaction, Garcetti underlined that “we can get hung up on the ideas, that the narcissism of small differences, the few areas, where we are looking, maybe at democratic values, sometimes differently, divide us. But, the reality is we are very deeply united.” The American envoy was also asked about India on Friday strongly rejecting criticism against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) by the US.

The US on Thursday said it is concerned about the notification of CAA in India and is closely monitoring its implementation.

“In America, we feel very strongly about …that sensitive borders need to be secured. We are a nation of immigrant citizens, we have been enriched by our diversity.

Secondly, we understand India’s security needs as well. We are well aware of this. But, the principles of religious freedom and of equality under the law is a cornerstone of democracy.

“And, that is why we look a these things, it will be easier not to look at our friends. We invite you to do the same with our imperfect democracy, it is not a one-way street. But, you cannot give up on principles, no matter how close you are with friends…,” he said.

Australian High Commissioner Green, also responded to a question on AUKUS — the trilateral security agreement among Australia, the UK and the US — and why India was “hesitant to join a military bloc”.

So, it is really for India to decide where it fits into these partnerships, Green said.

“For us, the Quad tries to deal with a region which is increasingly contested, where democracy is under threat, where countries are increasingly unable to pursue their sovereignty in the way they want, that they get forced into choices they would not prefer, and economic coercion is a feature,” he said.

On the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ellis said, “It’s a war that should not have started.. It’s appalling that it happened and it is appalling that is going on, with terrible human cost”.