China, Afghanistan Top Blinken Agenda on India, Kuwait Trip

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to India and Kuwait next week for talks on China, the coronavirus and Afghanistan, the State Department said Friday.

The trip comes as the Biden administration seeks to shore up U.S. leadership in vaccinating the world against COVID-19, tries to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness, and moves to evacuate vulnerable people from Afghanistan before the U.S. military withdrawal is complete.

The State Department said Blinken will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday before traveling to Kuwait City the next day.

India is a key part of U.S. efforts to counter China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the agenda in Delhi would include "COVID-19 response efforts, Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis."

Blinken will be seeking India's support in stabilizing Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal is completed at the end of August, according to Dean Thompson, the top U.S. diplomat for South and Central Asia.

"We expect that all the countries in the region have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan going forward and so, we will certainly be looking at talking with our Indian partners about how we can work together to realize that goal," he told reporters.

Blinken also will be looking to set up a meeting of the leaders of the so-called Quad -- a group that includes Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a virtual Quad summit earlier this year focused on the coronavirus pandemic and threats posed by China but is hoping to arrange an in-person meeting by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Kuwait, along with Qatar, is one of several countries being eyed as possible hosts for thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States and want to be relocated to the U.S. before the complete withdrawal of American troops.

The Biden administration hopes to evacuate about 4,000 Afghans who served as translators and in other support roles for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and their families to American military bases in third countries while their visas are processed.

That's on top of roughly 2,500 Afghans who have already completed security vetting and will be housed at the Fort Lee Army base in Virginia pending final approval of their visas starting next week.