US President Joe Biden has named Indian American Richard Verma, who is also a former ambassador to India, to a White House body that advises the president on the effectiveness of the country's sprawling intelligence community.
Biden also named retired Admiral James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld as chair of the body - President's Intelligence Advisory Board, - and Janet Napolitano, a former secretary of the department of homeland security (a cabinet position) and Gilman G. Louie as members, like Verma.
The White House said the advisory board serves as an independent element within the executive office of the and that it exists exclusively to assist the president by providing him with an "independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the Intelligence Community is meeting the nation's intelligence needs and the vigor and insight with which the community plans for the future".
Verma is currently with Mastercard as its general counsel and head of global public policy. He was sent to India as ambassador by President Barack Obama in 2014 - he was the first Indian American to be named US ambassador to India. He had earlier served in the state department as assistant secretary of state and National Security Advisor to the Senate Majority Leader.
Verma was an active member of Biden's 2020 presidential campaign and led the team's outreach to the Indian American community.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William J. Burns announced the appointment of Nand Mulchandani to serve as the US spy agency's first-ever Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
With more than 25 years' experience working in Silicon Valley as well as the Department of Defense (DoD), Mulchandani brings substantial private sector, startup, and government expertise to CIA, CIA said in a statement.
As the CTO, Mulchandani will ensure the Agency is leveraging cutting-edge innovations and scanning the horizon for tomorrow's innovations to further CIA's mission. "Since my confirmation, I have prioritised focusing on technology and the new CTO position is a very important part of that effort. I am delighted Nand has joined our team and will bring his extensive experience to this crucial new role," said Burns.
Prior to joining CIA, Mulchandani most recently served as the CTO and Acting Director of DoD's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. He also co-founded and was CEO of several successful startups? Oblix (acquired by Oracle), Determina (acquired by VMWare), OpenDNS (acquired by Cisco), and ScaleXtreme (acquired by Citrix).
He has a degree in Computer Science and Math from Cornell, a Master of Science degree in Management from Stanford, and a Master in Public Administration degree from Harvard.
"I am honoured to join CIA in this role and look forward to working with the Agency's incredible team of technologists and domain experts who already deliver world-class intelligence and capabilities to help build a comprehensive technology strategy that delivers exciting capabilities working closely with industry and partners," said Mulchandani.
Members of America's influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus have urged US President Joe Biden to champion vaccine collaboration with India to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter dated March 10 to Biden, Texas delegation members and other members (Hispanic areas), requested the administration to lead distribution of low-cost vaccines to low-income nations with low vaccination rates to save millions of lives and bring an end to the worldwide pandemic.
The lawmakers urged the President to use the two vaccines which are a result of India-US collaborations for the global good and to end vaccine inequity through Corbevax and Covovax.
While the CORBEVAX vaccine is patent-free, another vaccine, developed by American biotechnology company Novavax, is in production in India and its export is planned to the COVAX facility.
“We think the United States has the opportunity to champion these vaccines created by American expertise for countries where vaccine inequality is taking its toll on some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people,” the lawmakers wrote.
“To this end, the US can partner with like-minded countries to ensure an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We request the White House to consider the use of these vaccines in partnership with countries across the globe, in a manner similar to the QUAD vaccine initiative and ensure an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” they said.
The letter was signed by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who is Vice Chair, House Armed Services Committee and Democratic Women's Caucus; Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, House Judiciary and House Financial Services Committees; Congresswoman Vicente Gonzalez, House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Congresswoman Jimmy Gomez, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and House Committee on Ways and Means.
This letter is in addition to the letters written by the Powerful Congressional Black Caucus which commended the government of India in its efforts to help Africa and Caribbean.
The letter signed by the Chair of the Caucus - Congresswoman Joyce Beatty also identified India as a major partner to end vaccine inequity in the developing world.
Other signatories to the letter were Congressman Michael San Nicolas, Juan Vargas, Jim Costa, Darren Soto, Ro Khanna and Linda Sanchez.
For more than a year, India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu and India's diplomatic missions have focused on engagement with US Congress, administration, think-tanks and industry on promoting India-US vaccine collaborations.
Congressional outreach has resulted in over 100 members of the House of Representatives supporting India's proposal for a TRIPS waiver at the WTO for COVID-19 vaccines.
Notably, there was also specific outreach to important Caucuses on this issue: Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Caucus on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Earlier, a letter from the Chairs of the three Caucus was also sent to President Biden, urging him to partner with countries to end vaccine inequity.
A vaccine roundtable was organised last month by the embassy with participation of billionaire American business magnate Bill Gates, WHO's Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan and Dr Peter Hotez among others.
The case for India-US vaccine collaborations to be used in third countries was also argued in a recent Houston Chronicle OpEd penned by Ambassador Sandhu.
The lawmakers wrote that the CORBEVAX vaccine was recently granted an emergency use authorisation from India's drug regulation agency.
Indian vaccine manufacturer Biological E Limited is now making 100 million doses per month and has already sold 300 million doses to the Indian government, the letter said.
“India is a shining example of the immense international potential CORBEVAX holds for low- and middle- income countries.
“We continue to ask the federal government and G7 nations for assistance to co-develop this recombinant protein vaccine with new partners in low-resource countries and we continue to ask the federal government and G7 nations for assistance to co-develop this recombinant protein vaccine with new partners in low-resource countries and should CORBEVAX file domestically,” the lawmakers said.
They also urged the Food and Drug Administration to consider reviewing the vaccine for emergency use authorisation.
“Waiting to support the use of this vaccine on an international scale would jeopardise millions of lives, and we urge the administration to back the use of CORBEVAX globally,” the lawmakers added.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said stranded Indian students who were evacuated from the besieged Ukrainian city of Sumy are returning to India on Friday.
Taking to Twitter, Jaishankar said the evacuation of the students from Sumy "was particularly challenging".
"Operation Ganga, undertaken at the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has delivered due to both leadership and commitment.
"We are thankful to all those who facilitated its objectives. Our particular gratitude to the authorities in Ukraine and Russia as well as the Red Cross for the evacuation assistance," the Minister said.
The neighbouring countries of Ukraine -- Romania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Moldova -- "gave us exceptional support" during the evacuation, Jaishankar said, conveying his "sincerest thanks" to the nations.
"We are grateful to NGOs, individual volunteers, corporates, our airlines and the Indian Air Force who worked so tirelessly in this exercise."
Referring to the "contributions of his four ministerial colleagues, Jyotiraditya M. Scindia, Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, and General (Retd.) V.K. Singh", Jaishankar said that their "presence on the ground made a big difference".
The Minister also lauded the "efforts of the Indian Embassy in Ukraine and Team MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) for their dedicated efforts in a difficult conflict situation".
On Tuesday, the Indian students from Sumy were evacuated and transported to Poltava via a humanitarian corridor. The following day, they were sent to Lviv and from there they crossed into Poland on Wednesday and Thursday.
They will arrive in India aboard three flights, including the Indian Air Force's C-17 Globemaster.
Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine, has come under heavy shelling and bombing by Russia which began its military invasion of Kiev on February 24.
Nearly 700 hundred Indian students were stuck in the city amidst the Russian attacks.
On Tuesday, Russia and Ukraine announced a ceasefire and provided a humanitarian corridor.
The previous day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine and requested them to provide a safe passage to evacuate the remaining Indian nationals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to his Netherlands counterpart Mark Rutte and discussed the ongoing situation in the war-torn country of Ukraine, the Ministry of External Affairs said here on Wednesday.
The two leaders discussed the ongoing situation in Ukraine and shared their concerns over the continuing humanitarian situation there. "PM Modi reiterated India's consistent appeal for cessation of hostilities and a return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy and also welcomed the ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine, and hoped for an early resolution," the statement read.
Modi informed Rutte about the progress in evacuation of Indian citizens from conflict areas, and India's assistance in the form of urgent relief supplies, including medicines for the affected populations.
He also recalled his virtual summit with Prime Minister Rutte in April, 2021 and expressed his desire to receive him in India at an early date, it stated.
Since the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine, Prime Minister Modi has spoken to the presidents of both countries and urged them to go for negotiation for an amicable solution.
A day after Russia began 'military actions' against Ukraine, PM Modi on February 25, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for immediate cessation of violence against each other, as per the statement.
He also called for concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and asserted that differences between Russia and NATO can only be resolved through "honest and sincere" dialogue.
The Prime Minister also spoke with Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and urged him to solve the issue through negotiation.
On March 7, while speaking to the Presidents of the two warring countries, Prime Minister Modi suggested a direct conversation between the two leaders for restoring peace in the region.
"He (Modi)suggested that a direct conversation between President Putin and President Zelenskyy may greatly assist the ongoing peace efforts," the government statement said.
Sri Lanka's Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa will visit India this month, the Indian High Commission here has announced, amidst an unprecedented financial crisis in the island nation.
This announcement came after Rajapaksa spoke over the telephone with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday.
A tweet from the High Commission said that India had assured Sri Lanka "support in all possible ways”.
Rajapaksa's visit has been on hold since late February.
Sri Lanka was to seal a one-billion-dollar loan from India during the Rajapaksa visit. The local media reports said India had set tough conditions for the loan including probing Sri Lanka over its plan to overcome the current economic crisis.
Sri Lanka has suffered shortages of almost all essentials due to import difficulties caused by the forex crisis.
India granted Sri Lanka a much-wanted economic relief package in January.
In January, Jaishankar and Rajapaksa had a virtual meeting and they discussed projects and investment plans by India that would strengthen the economy of Sri Lanka.
In a statement on the meeting, the Ministry of External Affairs had said Jaishankar conveyed that India had always stood with Sri Lanka, and will continue to support Sri Lanka in all possible ways for overcoming the economic and other challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank here announced on Monday that it will lift the rupees 200 peg on the dollar allowing it to be transacted up to 230 to the dollar.
The bank said the move was aimed at achieving stability in inflation, the external sector, financial markets and rural economic activity.
Commenting on the bank's decision, well-known economist and central banker WA Wijewardena said more flexibility was required.
“The appropriate rate would be the one which reduces the premium in black market rate to rupees 2,” he tweeted.
The Indian Embassy in Ukraine on Sunday asked its stranded nationals in the war-torn country to fill up a registration form containing their location and several other important information that might help in their evacuation.
"Embassy of India, Kiev, requests all Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine, and are yet to depart from their respective addresses and want to be evacuated urgently to fill up this form," the Embassy said.
The stranded nationals will be required to share their Email, Name, Passport Number, Age, Gender, Location (Region in Ukraine), Address of Present Stay, Contact Number in Ukraine, Contact Number in India and Additional number of Indians staying with them.
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had during a media briefing on Saturday informed that a large number of Indians, actually almost all of them, except for the two places Sumy and Kharkiv area, have now left Ukraine. Later it was learnt that every Indian national was evacuated from the Kharkiv region as well.
Bagchi had said that now the main focus is on the Sumy region.
Meanwhile, India's Ambassador to Ukraine Partha Satpathy said that Indian nationals, especially students, have displayed extreme maturity and fortitude amidst these turbulent times. He said in the case of Kharkiv, despite it being an active war zone with heavy shelling, the embassy has maintained 'consistent and constant' efforts to activate every citizen.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine started in the early hours of February 24 after Russian forces launched a major assault on Ukraine, firing missiles on cities and military installations and posing a serious threat to the Indian citizens residing there. Since then, India has been rigorously evacuating its citizens from the war-torn region.
As per the latest reports, intense fighting continues between Russia and Ukraine at several points as the war entered 11th day on Sunday.
Russia has informed the UN Security Council that Russian buses are ready at crossing points to go to the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Sumy to evacuate Indian students and other foreign nationals who are stranded there, amidst the raging conflict in the East European country.
The 15-nation Council held an emergency session on Friday, called by Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, following Russia's attack on Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.
During the meeting, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that the Russian military is doing everything to ensure the peaceful evacuation of foreign nationals stranded in Ukraine.
He alleged that Ukraine nationalists were keeping over 3,700 Indian citizens “by force” in Kharkiv and Sumy cities of eastern Ukraine.
“Terrorists do not let civilians leave cities. This impacts not only Ukrainians but foreigners as well. The number of foreign citizens whom Ukrainian nationals are keeping by force is shocking. Kharkiv – 3,189 nationals of India, up to 2,700 nationals of Vietnam, 202 nationals of China. Sumy – 576 nationals of India, 101 nationals of Ghana, 121 nationals of China,” Nebenzia told the Council.
“In the Belgorod region of Russia, 130 comfortable buses have been waiting (and standing ready) since 6.00 am today at the crossing points ‘Nekhoteevka' and ‘Sudja' ready to go to Kharkiv and Sumy to evacuate the Indian students and other foreign nationals,” he said.
The Russian envoy said that the checkpoints are equipped to provide temporary accommodation, space for rest, and hot food. There are also mobile medical stations with a stock of medications.
"Everyone evacuated will then be taken to Belgorod, and from there transported to their homeland by air,” he said.
In New Delhi, responding to reports of Indian students being held hostage in Ukraine, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said India has not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding Indian students.
"We have not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding any student. We have requested support of the Ukrainian authorities in arranging special trains for taking out students from Kharkiv and neighbouring areas to the western part of the country," Bagchi said.
India has been coordinating effectively with the countries in the region including Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova. A large number of Indian nationals have been evacuated from Ukraine in the last few days, he noted.
"We appreciate the help extended by the Ukrainian authorities to make this possible. We thank Ukraine's western neighbours in receiving Indian nationals and for accommodating them while they waited for flights to take them back home,” Bagchi added.
Meanwhile, during the Council meeting, India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti said while the UN Security Council discusses the nuclear dimension of an unfolding conflict, it must acknowledge that there is a “pressing humanitarian crisis confronting us in Ukraine, where safety and security of innocent civilians including several thousand Indian nationals, in particular, students are at stake.”
In the first Indian casualty in the war in Ukraine, a 21-year-old fourth-year medical student at the Kharkiv National Medical University Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagoudar from Karnataka was killed in shelling in Kharkiv city on Tuesday morning.
Ukraine's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Russian envoy Nebenzia to “please make an appeal to the armed forces (of Russia) to ensure a safe corridor to allow foreign students leave the areas of concern. Stop spreading the lies! You know very well what is going on there if you are indeed in contact with your capital.”
Nebenzia told the Council that it is not Russian troops that pose a threat to the people of Ukraine, but Ukrainian nationalists.
“They keep the population of some big cities as hostages, they carry out acts of sabotage and provocations…and then afterwards they attempt to blame Russia for that,” he said.
Nebenzia accused Western nations of giving protection and patronage to “radicals and extremists” in Ukraine.
In an apparent reference to those nations in the Council that have abstained or not voted against UN resolutions condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine Ambassador Kyslytsya said “and still shamefully there are a handful of those around us or among us rather, who do nothing. Act now or it might be too late not only for Ukraine but for all of you.”
India abstained twice in the UN Security Council on resolutions on Russia's aggression against Ukraine. The 193-member UN General Assembly this week overwhelmingly voted to condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine and demanded that Moscow “completely and unconditionally” withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine. India abstained on the resolution, which received 141 votes in favour, five against and a total of 35 abstentions.
Vaccinated air travellers from all Indian cities and from Penang in Malaysia and Bali in Indonesia will be able to enter Singapore without having to undergo any mandatory quarantine from March 16, a senior minister announced on Friday.
Transport Minister S Iswaran said Singapore plans to press on with the safe reopening of its borders and reclaim its position as a global business and aviation hub.
The Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) for India will be extended beyond Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai to include all cities in India, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said.
Likewise, vaccinated air travellers will be able to enter Singapore from more cities in Malaysia and Indonesia without having to serve quarantine. The VTL extension to cities in these countries is from March 16 this year.
The VTL for Malaysia will extend beyond Kuala Lumpur to include Penang, starting with four daily flights each way, while the VTL for Indonesia will extend beyond Jakarta to include Bali, starting with two daily flights.
"Happy to announce that we will take further steps to expand our VTLs, as part of our plans to press on with the safe reopening of our borders and reclaim Singapore's position as a global business and aviation hub," minister Iswaran said in a Facebook post.
"Airlines that plan to operate from these points under the VTL may submit their plans for designated flights to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for approval,” the Channel News Asia quoted CAAS as saying.
Travellers from Vietnam and Greece are also being allowed to enter Singapore under the VTL on or after March 16.
Since September 8 last year, Singapore has established VTLs with 30 countries and regions.
As of Thursday, CAAS has issued 348,518 vaccinated travel passes to travellers from these countries and regions to enter Singapore between September 8, 2021, and Mar 16.
A total of 456,215 VTL travellers have entered Singapore. CAAS said the extension of the VTLs will help facilitate travel and "densify" Singapore air hub's connectivity with "key markets".
The Indian government has taken some steps to restore normalcy in Kashmir, a senior US diplomat has told American lawmakers, while asserting that the Joe Biden administration is keeping a close eye on the security situation, including terrorist threats in the region.
The Indian Parliament had revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, bifurcating the state into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.
“We do see the Indian government taking some steps to restore normalcy. Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) had an outreach to a range of Kashmiri Indian politicians,” Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism during a hearing on India US relationship on Wednesday.
Of late there have been numerous visits by several Cabinet ministers to Kashmir. Mobile phone connections have also been restored, he said, while noting that the US is keeping a close eye on the security situation, including terrorist threats.
Cross-border insurgency has really gone down over two years, Lu said, adding that he has been in meetings with Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa in Pakistan in which they have taken credit for closing off their border for militant groups.
“India continues to report infiltration by militants into Jammu and Kashmir, although rates of infiltration have reduced markedly over the past two years. Since the 2019 Pulwama attack which killed 40 Indian security officials and under pressure from the international community, Pakistan has taken positive steps to address cross-border terrorism,” he said.
Kashmir remains a thorny issue in Indo-Pak ties. Pakistan has maintained that the international community's intervention is needed to solve this contentious issue.
India has always said that Jammu and Kashmir is a bilateral issue. India has also asserted that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country.
The US continues to encourage Pakistan to prosecute leaders of terror outfits, Lu said.
“There are challenges to the human rights situation in Kashmir, he noted. “We have not seen the holding of Legislative Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. We have not seen free movement of journalists. We have seen the detention in fact of some prominent journalists in the Kashmir Valley,” he said.
“We believe all Kashmiris deserve the right to live in dignity, enjoy the protections afforded to them by the Indian Constitution. We look forward to continuing to encourage India to fulfil those commitments,” Lu added.
The Indian embassy in Polish capital Warsaw on Wednesday advised Indians stuck in Lviv and Ternopil and other places in western Ukraine to travel at the earliest to the Budomierz border check-point for a relatively quick entry into Poland.
In an advisory, the embassy asked the Indians to consider avoiding the Shehyni-Medyka border crossing which has been witnessing very long queues and massive gatherings of people.
India has launched an evacuation mission under which its nationals from Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia are being brought back home after their exit from Ukraine through its land border crossings.
"Indians presently in Lviv and Ternopil and other places in western Ukraine may travel at the earliest to Budomierz border check-point for a relatively quick entry into Poland," the embassy said.
"Alternatively, they are advised to travel south to transit via Hungary or Romania. They may avoid Shehyni-Medyka border crossing which continues to be congested," it said.
It said the embassy has deployed officials in Medyka and Budomierz border check-points who will receive all evacuees and facilitate their travel to India.
"Those who enter Poland from any other border crossing where Indian officials are not deployed may kindly travel directly to Hotel Prezydencki, ul. Podwislocze 48 in Rzeszow where all arrangements have been made for their stay and from where Operation Ganga flights to India are being operated regularly," it said.
The embassy said the transportation charges will be paid at the hotel by the embassy, in case Indian students do not have funds for it.
At a media briefing on Tuesday night, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said 26 flights have been scheduled to bring Indian citizens over the next three days.
He said apart from Bucharest and Budapest, airports in Poland and the Slovak Republic will also be used to operate the flights.
"I had mentioned that we had an estimated 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine at the time that we issued our first advisory," he said.
"This is the general number of people who are Indian nationals in Ukraine and from that number 12,000, approximately have since left Ukraine, which is 60 per cent of the total number of our citizens in Ukraine," Shringla said.
He further added: "Of the remaining 40 per cent, roughly half remain in the conflict zone in the Kharkiv-Sumy area and other half have either reached the western borders of Ukraine or are heading towards the western borders of Ukraine. In other words, they are generally out of the conflict areas, out of harm's way."
The Indian embassy in Ukraine issued a series of advisories earlier last month requesting people to consider leaving the country after its tensions with Russia increased.