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President Biden is rolling out the red carpet for India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


The American leader is welcoming the Indian one to Washington with a state visit, an honor usually reserved for the closest allies of the United States. The warm welcome comes despite accusations that Modi has stifled dissent and cracked down on a free press at home.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. So why is the White House courting India so heavily?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, India is the world's most populous country, and the U.S. sees it as an indispensable partner in countering the influence of China. I will say it is no secret that this White House sees China as the single biggest foreign policy threat of the current era. And a senior administration official told me that while the relationship between India and the U.S. is deep on a whole bunch of fronts, China is an undeniable factor. And I will say this view is not limited to the White House. Modi will also be addressing a joint meeting of Congress today. I spoke with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He's a ranking member on the House committee that's focusing on China threats.

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: That relationship with India is incredibly important in stabilizing the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region and enabling us to basically lower the possibility of conflict.

KHALID: And look, A, I mean, India is not collaborating with the U.S. on China as a favor to Americans. India has had its own long-standing rivalry with its neighbor.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, so it sounds as if the U.S. and India have common interests on national security but don't necessarily see eye to eye on everything.

KHALID: Definitely. And this visit exposes the tension inherent in Biden's foreign policy vision between values and geopolitical priorities. Biden came into office talking about how his foreign policy was going to center human rights and democracy. And India, frankly, makes that conversation tricky. I was speaking with Irfan Nooruddin. He's with the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and he pointed out that while India is indeed the world's largest democracy with vibrant elections, a large part of what makes a liberal democracy function is currently being undermined.

IRFAN NOORUDDIN: The accusations of backsliding, religious bigotry, attacks on the press, attacks on civil society make this a particularly awkward moment in which to celebrate the two democratic countries coming together to contest China.

KHALID: You know, earlier I mentioned that senior Biden official I spoke with. Well, they, you know, told me that they do discuss these sensitive issues of religious freedom and human rights. But it's delicate. The official told me the Indians feel uncomfortable if they think the Americans are lecturing them in public. That being said, more than 70 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter urging the Biden administration to bring up human rights and democratic values during this visit.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So then, is the United States just willing to kind of look the other way on these things because of China?

KHALID: Well, I will say experts put it slightly differently. They'd say China is the accelerant in this relationship, but India is on its own a growing power. And Modi and Biden are planning to announce a plan today, in fact, to build fighter jets in India, fighter jet engines. And, you know, I will say this is just one of a long list of announcements for deeper cooperation on issues ranging from visas to space exploration. Biden has described the U.S.-India relationship as the defining partnership of this century, and so there's a sense that he's willing to perhaps, you know, set aside differences to really play a long game with India.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, thanks for checking in.

KHALID: My pleasure.


MARTÍNEZ: The round-the-clock search for a missing submersible is running out of time.

ELLIOTT: The five people aboard went missing in the North Atlantic while diving near the wreck of the Titanic. The international search-and-rescue effort is being organized through a unified command center at the U.S. Coast Guard base in Boston.

MARTÍNEZ: Walter Wuthmann is with member station WBUR following the search. He joins us now. Walter, any hopeful news overnight?

WALTER WUTHMANN, BYLINE: No news overnight, unfortunately. So rescue teams continued their search all through the night, but they still haven't found anything. The big development was in the search yesterday when Coast Guard officials said they detected, quote, "underwater noises" in the search area. Canadian military surveillance planes apparently heard these noises Tuesday and then again yesterday. A marine scientist brought in to consult described those noises as banging sounds. But officials are really cautioning people from drawing too much from that. Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick said they haven't determined the source of the noise and that it's not necessarily proof of life.


JAMIE FREDERICK: I can't tell you what the noises are, but what I can tell you is - and I think this is the most important point - we're searching where the noises are, and that's all we can do at this point.

WUTHMANN: Coast Guard officials said they're using remote-operated underwater vehicles to try to pinpoint the origin of the noise, but so far, they just haven't found anything.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, we keep hearing the ocean's a noisy place. How big, though, is the scale of this search right now?

WUTHMANN: Yeah, it's a massive operation. There are multiple planes conducting searches from the Coast Guard, Air National Guard and Canadian Armed Forces, sometimes for 14 hours at a time. And more private research and industry vessels with remote-operated vehicles have joined every day. A French ship with a remote-operated vehicle that can dive down 20,000 feet is now in the area, too. That vehicle should be capable of reaching the seafloor around the wreck.

MARTÍNEZ: Here's the thing, though. The submersible - if it is still, in fact, intact, how much oxygen might still be left because it's been a while now?

WUTHMANN: Right. The clock is really winding down here. At the beginning of the search Sunday, officials estimated that submersible maybe had 96 hours of reserve oxygen. Yesterday, that number was down to 20 hours. So this morning they may be running out. But Coast Guard Captain Frederick said that oxygen supply is not the only factor here.


FREDERICK: So we talked about the oxygen number. I think you're all tracking the oxygen number. I think there's an important point with that, though. The oxygen - that's just one piece of data, right? There are a lot of pieces of data that we need to consider.

WUTHMANN: For example, if you talk to people who've worked on submarines, they say that carbon dioxide accumulation from breathing can actually even be more concerning than oxygen supply. Subs use carbon dioxide scrubbers to absorb that toxic air, and those scrubbers require power. So if Titan lost power, that's really bad news.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, now, at some point, does this search-and-rescue mission become just a recovery mission at some point?

WUTHMANN: If the submersible isn't located soon, then yes. And Coast Guard officials are understandably, really reluctant to talk about when that mission might change. Captain Jamie Frederick says they plan to exhaust every option.


FREDERICK: We are smack dab in the middle of search and rescue, and we'll continue to put every available asset that we have in an effort to find the Titan and the crew members.

WUTHMANN: So the rescue teams - they still have hope, but clearly time is running out.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Walter Wuthmann of member station WBUR in Boston. Walter, thanks.

WUTHMANN: Thanks so much.


MARTÍNEZ: Residents in East Palestine, Ohio, could finally get some answers about the disaster that upended their town in February.

ELLIOTT: The National Transportation Safety Board today begins hearings to investigate just what caused the fiery train derailment, as well as the decision a few days later to vent and burn hazardous chemicals from the wreckage. Some residents are still displaced as the cleanup continues.

MARTÍNEZ: Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front attended a meeting held by the NTSB last night at East Palestine High School. Julie, who was there? What did people have to say?

JULIE GRANT: Yeah, this was a meeting for the community. I counted about 70 or 80 people in the auditorium seats. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said at the investigative hearings, their goal will be to figure out what happened and why, so they can issue safety recommendations. Homendy told residents they cannot testify at the hearings because those are meant to get specific questions answered. Since the incident, there have been many public meetings, and some people have been frustrated with environmental regulators, local and state leaders. But at this meeting, many seemed genuinely thankful to the NTSB, like Laurie Harmon, who remembered seeing Jennifer Homendy speak shortly after the derailment.


LAURIE HARMON: Everything that was being showed on TV, Facebook, whatever - it was not sincere. The day that I watched you on TV, I actually felt like there's actually an entity that is with us, with us. Do you understand what I'm saying? Does everybody understand what I'm saying? Finally, I feel like one entity out of all of them, who was you, and what you said that day touched me very deeply.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Julie, what will the NTSB be looking at during these hearings?

GRANT: Well, these will build off a preliminary report to the agency released in February. That report found that as the train approached East Palestine, the temperature on one wheel bearing got as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit above the outdoor temperature. That rising temperature had been detected earlier on the route by Norfolk Southern's hot bearing detectors, but investigators found that the company did not require action until the temperature reached at least 170 degrees. So the hearings this week will look at hot box systems, train wheel bearings, the preparation of emergency responders, and at that decision to vent and burn chemicals in the tank cars. And among those testifying will be affected federal agencies, unions, Norfolk Southern and two other companies involved in the incident.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, coming back to the people of East Palestine, is there anything that the NTSB can do for them?

GRANT: Yeah, that was the biggest question for some people. Someone asked if the hearings would be an exercise in futility. Homendy said the agency will issue safety recommendations, and then it would be up to the Department of Transportation to make new rules, and especially Congress to mandate changes in railroad safety standards.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front. Julie, thanks for the information.

GRANT: Well, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.