He said the Quad remains a “somewhat undefined entity” and it was premature to talk about expanding it

New Delhi: US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun on Tuesday suggested formalisation of Quadrilateral or Quad to deal with prevailing global challenges but underlined that it was premature to talk about expanding the Quad at this stage. He also emphasised that Indo-US ties are much bigger than one political party.

The remarks were made by Biegun following his trip to India last week and ahead of 2+2 Ministerial meet on October 26-27. The comments are also significant as Australia returned to the Malabar exercise after over a decade and after Quad Ministerial meet in Tokyo earlier this month

“It is our view that in the passage of time, the Quad should become more regularised and, at some point, formalised as well, as we really begin to understand what the parameters of this cooperation are and how we can regularise it,” Biegun noted.

Such regularisation, he said, will bolster cooperation within the Quad and with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, especially if there is a framework for dealing with crises, irrespective of whether they are natural disasters or economic and security issues.

“What you want to do is have a certain modality of cooperation, interoperability and understanding [of] the respective strengths that each partner can bring in facing any number of global challenges,” Beigun said.

Biegun said the Quad remains a “somewhat undefined entity” and it was premature to talk about expanding it. However, there is a “natural affinity” among numerous nations in the Indo-Pacific and an opportunity for close engagement with partners in South Asia such as Bangladesh, he added.

“We’re not necessarily advocating for Quad-plus but rather a continuation and regularisation of the Quad with an eventual goal of understanding how it could be best formalised and then also welcoming cooperation with any country in the Indo-Pacific that’s committed to defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

The top US diplomat admitted that the US currently has “no designed policy for Quad expansion” and isn’t “advocating for Quad-plus” though it has mutual defence agreements with partners in the Indo-Pacific region such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

He also said the outcome of the US presidential election is unlikely to impact the overall relationship with India because presidents from both the Republican and Democratic parties have worked to improve relations with New Delhi. “The real opening began with president [Bill] Clinton, it accelerated under president [George] Bush, it continued under president [Barack] Obama and its accelerating again with President [Donald] Trump,” he said.

The values of the two biggest democracies steer them in a similar direction and there are natural convergences of interests since both countries face many of the same challenges globally, he said. “There are many sinews that tie us together and it makes me confident that this relationship is much bigger than any one political party,” he added.