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'A friend should not be weakened: Sitharaman asks US to understand India's challenges

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New Delhi, Apr 23: "If the US wants a friend in India it should understand that the friend should not be weakened," said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Delhi's "calibrated position" on matters like Russia.

Nirmala Sitharaman

Interacting with a group of Indian reporters here, she said the bilateral relationship between India and the US has moved forward and deepened and saw more and more windows of opportunities opening post the Ukrainian war.

During her visit, she also held a host of bilateral meetings and participated in many multilateral meetings. She interacted with several top officials of the Biden administration.

"There is an understanding that India's relationship with the United States has actually moved forward. It's gotten deeper. There is no one questioning that," she said in response to a question on the bilateral relationship.

"But there is also an understanding, not just the legacy dependence for defence equipment on Russia...that India has legacy issues as much as relationships over several decades. And if anything, I can say with a bit of confidence there is a positive understanding. It is not a negative understanding," she said.

"I see more and more windows of opportunities opening, rather than (US) keeping an arm's distance saying you've calibrated your position on Russia doesn't seem like you are getting closer to us. No," she said.

The remarks came amid growing disquiet in Western capitals over India's refusal to directly condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine and its decision to procure discounted Russian oil.

The US also wants India to stop relying on Russia, its largest defence supplier, for its defence needs.

She said India's relationship with the US is improving each day.

"This recognition that there is a friend, but that friend's geographical location is to be understood. And a friend cannot be weakened for any reason. Geographical appreciation of where we are located...northern borders being under tension even despite Covid, the western border constantly at odds and sometimes even the equipment given to meet the terrorist issues in Afghanistan being diverted to hit at us these developments nobody can have an alternative," said the finance minister.

It is not as if India has a choice to relocate itself, she said. India certainly wants a friendship with the United States. "But if the US also wants a friend, the friend can be a weak friend, the friend should not be weakened. We are taking decisions, we are taking calls, we are taking a calibrated position because we need to be strong where we are given the geographical locational realities," Sitharaman said.

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