The White House made a late-night announcement on Thursday, revealing that despite repeated requests for enhanced press access by the administration, reporters accompanying President Joe Biden to India for the G20 summit this week would not have the opportunity to pose questions to President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting in New Delhi. This development was reported by CNN on Friday.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan explained on Thursday, “This meeting will be taking place at the prime minister’s residence, so, it is unusual in that respect – this is not your typical bilateral visit to India, with meetings taking place in the prime minister’s office and an entire program.” Sullivan added, “This is the host of the G20 hosting a significant number of leaders, doing so in his home, and he set out the protocols he set out.”
Sullivan further mentioned in a subsequent interaction that the administration had indeed advocated for a “pool spray” of the meeting, in line with customary practice when President Biden hosts leaders at the White House. He light-heartedly remarked, “We spend our lives asking for pool sprays and other things” for reporters.
Back in June, during a state visit, Prime Minister Modi consented to participate in a press conference at the White House, following extensive and sensitive negotiations between the two parties. Initially, Indian officials were hesitant in response to the White House’s firm stance on organizing such an event, according to sources familiar with U.S. officials’ perspectives, as reported by CNN.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre assured reporters on Thursday that the administration had made every effort to ensure media access to the president during his trip to India for the summit.
Numerous officials, including Sullivan, White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt, Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer, and Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell, all reached out to their Indian counterparts in an attempt to advocate for increased press access during the visit. Unfortunately, it appears that their efforts did not yield the desired outcome.
Jean-Pierre stated, “We have reached out, we have made the request multiple times and at different pressure points, if you will – the NSC level, comms level, the folks on the ground who are doing a lot of hard work on the ground to make sure that this trip, not just for the president, for all of you, for all of us, is smooth.” She added, “And so, it’s been happening, we’ve been doing the work. I mean I would leave it to – I would leave it to the Indian government to speak for themselves.”
Instead of addressing reporters after the conclusion of the summit in New Delhi, President Biden will hold a news conference in Vietnam. The White House explained this decision as being more logistically convenient for the president to field questions from reporters.
Karine Jean-Pierre explained, “It was just logistically easier to do it – and it wouldn’t change anything, because it would have just been the president doing a solo press conference. So instead of doing it in India, he’s going to be doing it in Vietnam, that doesn’t change anything at all.”
National Security Adviser Sullivan noted that, despite President Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi, there are unlikely to be many formal engagements with other world leaders during the G20 summit. Sullivan stated, “I can’t confirm any (bilateral meetings), and to be honest with you, I think you will not see, because of the way the schedule was structured, a significant number of formal engagements with other leaders.” He added, “I think most of the work that he’s going to do with a number of significant heads of state and government over the course of the 48 hours he’s in Delhi will be more informal, on the margins, not formal sit down bilats, so I don’t have any bilats to announce today.”