President Joe Biden hosted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office Friday morning, in advance of the first in-person Quad meeting with the leaders of Japan and Australia as well.
In the Oval with Modi, Biden hinted he might have relatives in India.
He recalled how on a trip to Mumbai, the Indian press had asked him if he had any relations in the country that has more than 1.3 billion people.
‘And I said, I’m not sure,’ Biden recalled, mentioning he had received a letter once from a Biden in Mumbai, but never followed up. ‘The next morning, I had a press conference going away, and the Indian press said … you have five Bidens in India.’
Biden continued by telling Modi that a George Biden had been a captain for the East India Tea Company.
‘That’s hard for an Irishman to admit,’ Biden joked.
‘I shouldn’t be so casual with you all. I hope you understand the humor here,’ he added, looking at the press.
‘And the end result was, he apparently stayed and married an Indian woman. And I’ve never been able to track it down. So the whole purpose of this meeting is for him to figure out …,’ Biden said trailing off and garnering laughs, including from the Indian PM.
Modi said, through a translator, that he recalled Biden bringing up the Biden surname in India.
‘Well after you mentioned it to me, I hunted for documents and today I have brought along some documents,’ Modi said. ‘Maybe we’ll be able to take this matter forward and maybe those documents could be of use to you.’
Biden then asked, ‘Are we related?’ to which Modi jokingly replied, ‘yes.’
President Joe Biden (right) meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) in the Oval Office on Friday. He’ll host his first Quad meeting today that will also include the leaders of Japan and Australia
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks into the West Wing on Friday for his morning meeting with President Joe Biden. It marks the first time the two leaders meet face-to-face
Biden also said that he predicted as vice president that the U.S.-India relationship would be ‘destined to be stronger, closer and tighter’ by 2020, the year he won the presidential race.
‘And I think it can benefit the whole world,’ the president added.
The Quad is what the White House calls an ‘informal’ partnership between the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.
The White House is expected to announce new vaccine commitments at the afternoon event.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will make his second trip to the White House under Biden, while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will make his first.
Earlier this week, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Biden had a one-on-one meeting with Morrison. Biden will have bilateral meeting with Suga Friday afternoon.
On Thursday night, a senior administration official previewed the meeting.
‘As you may recall, at the outset of the administration, the president indicated that he wanted to take this institution, that’s an informal gathering of the democracies in the Indo-Pacific, and basically lift it both to the leader level and to ensure that we are working together to build better lines of communication and strengthening cooperation and habits of cooperation amongst us,’ a senior administration official told reporters Thursday night, previewing the gathering.
The group is considered one way the U.S. is trying to combat China’s growing global influence.
But the senior administration official made sure to say, ‘it is also the case it is not a regional security organization.’
The official noted that the Biden White House was ‘doubling down on diplomacy,’ as Biden made clear in his first address before the U.N.’s General Assembly on Tuesday in New York.
‘It’s also the case that I think President Biden believes that too oftentimes these kinds of discussions are scripted and he really wants to sit down and have a deeper conversation with all leaders in an environment where they can really share perspectives on what’s important to each of them as they go forward,’ the official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Indian-Americans upon his arrival to Andrews Air Force Base Wednesday night outside of Washington, D.C. This will be his first face-to-face meeting with Biden
President Joe Biden (right) previously hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (left) to the White House in April. Suga was Biden’s first in-person world leader guest
President Joe Biden (right) already had a one-on-one meeting this week with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Morrison is due at the White House Friday afternoon
The Quad was also supposed to be ‘complimentary’ to other groups like ASEAN, comprised of the 10 member states in southeast Asia, the White House official said.
The Quad leaders first meeting was done virtually in March and a commitment was made to deliver a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2022 to Southeast Asia.
Part of this would be accomplished by helping India produce its own vaccines.
‘And we will have detailed update on efforts to meet that goal and specific downpayments later this year,’ the administration offical previewed.
At Friday’s get-together, Biden will also announce a privately funded Quad fellowship program, in which 100 students – 25 from each of the four countries – will be able to pursue a STEM masters or doctorate at a university in the United States.
The meeting marks the first time Biden will be face-to-face with Modi, who embraced former President Donald Trump – hosting him for a ‘Namaste Trump’ event in February 2020, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic produced shutdowns globally.
Modi visited with Vice President Kamala Harris on the White House’s campus on Thursday.
Modi thanked Harris – who’s the first Indian-American vice president – for calling him when the Delta variant of COVID-19 was surging through India.
‘The way you spoke to me so warmly and so naturally, I will always remember that. Thank you so much,’ Modi said through a translator.
Modi arrived in Washington Wednesday night and was greeted by Indian-Americans at Andrews Air Force base.
Suga was Biden’s first in-person world leader guest earlier this year.
A senior administration official revealed that Dr. Jill Biden would be returning from her trip to Michigan to participate in events with Suga, who hosted her at diplomatic functions in July when she traveled to Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the summer Olympics.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) met with Vice President Kamala Harris (right) in advance of the Quad meeting on Thursday
Dr. Jill Biden (left) will participate in portions of the day involving Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (center), who hosted diplomatic events for the first lady along with his wife Mariko (right) when she was in Tokyo in July for the summer Olympics
Long an important ally, Morrison was one of only two world leaders feted by Trump with a state dinner.
More recently, Australia bailed on a submarine deal with France, to join a pact with the Americans and the United Kingdom last week.
The partnership, dubbed AUKUS, upset the French.
Biden had to call French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday to smooth over ruffled feathers, which had included the French pulling their ambassador from D.C.
China has said AUKAS will intensify an arms race in the region.
China has also blasted the Quad, saying that by forming ‘cliques’ the U.S. is leaning into a Cold War mentality.
China also said by elevating the Quad the United States is ‘making troubles out of nothing.’
At UNGA, Biden assured delegates the U.S. was ‘not seeking a new Cold War,’ after the U.N.’s secretary-general warned that the U.S. and China could be heading toward one citing their deteriorating relationship.
‘We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technical exploitation or disinformation, but we’re not seeking – I’ll say it again, we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,’ Biden stated.