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Afghan crisis, Covid, Indo-Pacific to be focus of Quad summit in US on Sep 24; PM to attend

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New Delhi, Sep 14: Developments in Afghanistan, the Covid pandemic and ways to expand cooperation for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific are set to be the central focus of the first in-person summit of the Quad in Washington next week that will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the four-nation grouping.

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In his first visit to the US since President Joe Biden took office, the prime minister will participate in the summit on September 24 in Washington and address the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York the next day, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said while announcing the trip.

In Washington, Modi is expected to hold separate bilateral talks with President Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The Modi-Biden bilateral meeting is expected to take place at the White House on September 23. Both leaders have spoken virtually on multiple occasions after Biden became president in January.

The last time Modi visited the US was in September 2019 when he and then US president Donald Trump addressed the Howdy-Modi event in Houston.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be participating, along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan and President Joseph R Biden of USA, in the Leaders'' Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework in Washington DC, USA, on September 24," the MEA said in a statement.

It said the leaders will review the progress made since their first virtual summit on March 12 and discuss regional issues of shared interest.

"As part of their ongoing efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, they will review the Quad Vaccine initiative which was announced in March this year," the MEA said.

This will be Modi''s first foreign visit in nearly six months and his second since the outbreak of the pandemic. In March, Modi travelled to Bangladesh to attend events organised to mark the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of the war of liberation of that country.

The US is hosting the in-person summit of the leaders of Quad to boost practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as well as to send a strong signal about Washington''s commitment to the grouping.

People familiar with the preparations for the summit said the situation in Afghanistan following the return of the Taliban to power will be deliberated extensively at the summit.

The Quad leaders are expected to deliberate extensively on expanding cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of rising Chinese military muscle-flexing in the region, they said.

Afghanistan has been grappling with increasing poverty and hunger and has seen widespread violations of human rights, particularly of women, under the new dispensation, triggering massive global concerns.

The MEA said the leaders will also exchange views on contemporary global issues such as critical and emerging technologies, connectivity and infrastructure, cyber security, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, climate change and education.

"The summit would provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue and interactions among the Leaders, anchored in their shared vision of ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," it said.

In March, Biden hosted the first-ever summit of the Quad leaders in virtual format. It vowed to strive for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion, sending an apparent message to China.

After concluding his engagements in Washington, Modi will travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly on September 25.

"The prime minister is scheduled to address the General Debate of the High-Level Segment of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 25 in New York," the MEA said.

"The theme for this year''s General Debate is ''Building Resilience through hope to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalise the United Nations''," it said.

India and the US have held a series of meetings as part of preparations for Modi''s visit to the US.

US Secretary of state Antony Blinken paid a two-day visit to India in July. Before that, US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin had paid a three-day visit to New Delhi in March.

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