Washington: Leaders of the Quad, including US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday agreed to stand up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism which will enable the strategic alliance to meet future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific and provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

Putting to rest all speculation about India and the United States not being on the same page on the issue of the Ukrainian crisis, Prime Minister Modi and American President Biden were joined by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in issuing a joint statement on the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict.

The Quad leaders discussed the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications, said a joint readout of the Quad leader’s call issued by the White House here.

The first virtual meeting of the Quad leaders, which was closed for the press, is significant because the new grouping of these four countries, which was primarily meant for the Indo-Pacific region, talked about and commented about a raging crisis in Europe.

According to the readout, the four leaders agreed to stand up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism which will enable the Quad to meet future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific and provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the crisis in Ukraine.

The virtual meeting, being held in the backdrop of the major conflict in Europe, also puts to rest all speculation that Quad might not remain united in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis after Russia launched an all out military aggression against its neighbour.

India is the only country among this group of four big players in Quad which has abstained from the repeated United Nations votes on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The Biden Administration has shown its understanding of India’s position and one of its officials on Wednesday told lawmakers that India’s position on Russia has now evolved.

According to the readout, the four leaders convened the meeting to reaffirm their “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states is respected and countries are free from military, economic, and political coercion.”

In November 2017, the US, Australia, India and Japan gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence, amidst China’s growing military presence in the strategic region.

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. Beijing is also involved in a maritime dispute with Japan over the East China Sea.

The four leaders reaffirmed their dedication to the Quad as a mechanism to promote regional stability and prosperity.

In their continuing pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Quad Leaders agreed to meet in person in Tokyo in the coming months, said the readout.

During the meeting, Modi underlined that the Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

He called for concrete and practical forms of cooperation within the Quad, in areas like Humanitarian and Disaster Relief, debt sustainability, supply chains, clean energy, connectivity, and capacity-building.

Developments in Ukraine were discussed in the meeting, including its humanitarian implications. The Prime Minister emphasized the need to return to a path of dialogue and diplomacy, said a readout of the meeting issued by the office of the prime minister.

The leaders also discussed other topical issues, including developments in ASEAN, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific Islands. The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of adhering to the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The leaders agreed to stay in touch and to work towards an ambitious agenda for the forthcoming Leaders’ Summit in Japan, it said.

The very fact that both Biden and Modi shared the Quad platform to discuss the issue of Ukraine, at the end of which a joint readout was issued, is reflective of the fact that the two countries can sit and talk on issues like this.

The joint statement in itself is a message. The meeting also puts to rest questions like what happens to the Indo-Pacific and Quad in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis.

All the four leaders spoke at least three times during the meeting, which was closed for the press. The United States holding a meeting of Quad leaders at the head of state level in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis indicates their commitment to Quad.

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju visits Slovakiaā€™s border with Ukraine

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