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Biden and Modi Engage in Talks on Technology and Democracy, Yet US Media Remains Overlooked – Update 2

U.S. President Joe Biden held closed-door talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for nearly an hour on Friday, shortly after arriving in New Delhi for a G20 summit over the weekend.

As Biden and Modi met at the Prime Minister’s residence, the U.S. press corps was sequestered in a van, out of eyesight of the two leaders – an unusual situation for the reporters and photographers who follow the U.S. President at home and around the world to witness and record his public appearances.

The two leaders issued a joint statement after the talks. It said the two countries had pledged their commitments to cooperate on a range of issues from democratic values to semiconductor supply chains and quantum computing.

The prime minister’s office released a handful of official photographs of the meeting, showing the two leaders seated side by side and chatting amiably.

Biden and Modi last met in person in June when the Indian leader was the guest of a White House state visit. The two men were expected to discuss progress on a number of agreements reached in June, including a deal to allow General Electric to produce jet engines in India to power Indian military aircraft.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined Friday’s meeting, as did White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the White House said in a statement. Indian attendees included external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and security adviser Ajit Doval.

Reporters did not see Biden or Yellen arrive, and were parked in a van outside Modi’s residence, a complex in central New Delhi, for about 10 minutes before being asked to leave.

Sullivan told reporters before the meeting that the talks would show “the breadth of the relationship between our countries.”


Questions about press access on the India trip have been persistent, after the official White House schedule did not show that the usual pool of reporters would be allowed in for the start of the Modi-Biden meeting.

“Look, guys, we are doing everything that we can to make sure that there is access,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the Air Force One flight to India.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech and the press in the United States, while freedom and expression of speech is protected in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Modi, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has faced criticism about shrinking press freedom in India since he took office. The government says India has a vibrant free press.

The American press pool, made up of representatives of major news organizations, accompanies the president on foreign and domestic trips and normally has some access to major events. News organizations reimburse the U.S. government completely for the cost of the trips, and it is extremely rare for them to be barred completely.

Modi, who rarely meets the press or answers journalist’s questions in India, was asked by an American reporter at a joint news conference with Biden at the White House in June about his human rights record.

His allies attacked the reporter afterward, in a targeted online harassment campaign that the White House later called “unacceptable” and “antithetical to the very principles of democracy.”

Though the countries are not formal treaty-bound allies and India has long relished its independence, Washington wants Delhi to be a strategic counterweight to China.

Armed with cash for the World Bank and promises of sustained U.S. engagement, Biden hopes to persuade fast-growing economies in Africa, Latin America and Asia that there is an alternative to China’s Belt and Road project, which has funneled billions of dollars to developing countries but left many deeply in debt.

After the G20, Biden is to visit Vietnam before returning to the United States later on Monday. 

© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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