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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s Forthcoming Visit to USA and UNGA, September 20, 2013

September 20, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. As you are aware, this would be an interaction relating to the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States.

We have here with us Foreign Secretary Mrs. Sujatha Singh, who will be speaking to you initially. She will make an opening statement following which she will be willing to answer any questions. These questions, as is usual, we will focus on the visit. At the end of it if there is still time, she is willing to take a few questions on other issues. But the primary focus, as usual, will be on the briefing and that is on the Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

On Foreign Secretary’s right is Mr. Vikram Doraiswami who is Joint Secretary (Americas), and he will assist her in case there are any detailed queries that you would like to ask.

With those introductory words I would request Foreign Secretary to make her opening remarks.

Foreign Secretary (Shrimati Sujatha Singh):Good afternoon.

As you are all aware, the Prime Minister is visiting the United States from Thursday, September 26 to Monday, September 30.

The Prime Minister will meet President Obama on September 27 at the White House in Washington DC. The meeting will be followed by a press availability and a working lunch. PM will be accompanied by the External Affairs Minister, who will join his delegation in Washington DC.

On September 27 evening, PM will reach New York. He will address the General Debate in the forenoon of September 28. PM and EAM will use the opportunity afforded by the UNGA Session to have bilateral meetings with some of their counterparts. I understand that you have been briefed by Additional Secretary Navtej Sarna about the programmes involving PM and EAM in the United Nations in New York. Therefore, I will focus my remarks on the bilateral visit to the United States.

This will be PM’s third summit meeting with President Obama, following an exchange of state visits first in Washington DC in 2009, second in New Delhi in 2010. The two leaders have also met frequently on the margins of other multilateral events.

PM’s visit caps a period of heightened exchanges at a high political level. It takes forward a recent momentum in bilateral exchanges of visits, including the visit of Secretary Kerry and Energy Secretary Moniz for the 4th Strategic Dialogue in June, and Vice President Biden’s visit in July, as well as visits by a number of our senior Ministers including our Finance Minister, Commerce Minister, Home Minister and the Human Resources Minister, as well as Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, in the last six months. At the senior official and other levels, there have been over 55 exchanges of visits in the year so far.

This working visit between PM and President Obama is intended to signal that the relationship has reached a stage of maturity. There has been positive progress recorded in a wide array of areas, through existing mechanisms that cover over 33 separate dialogue structures.

We expect that the summit-level meeting will reaffirm political commitment to the ongoing effort on both sides to intensify our strategic partnership. It is an opportunity to underline at a high political level, the strategic vision that brings our countries closer together.

We anticipate that the meeting will focus in particular on reviewing our bilateral cooperation, touching upon the following key pillars:

1.Energy: This includes clean energy, our expanding partnership in hydrocarbons, as well as our effort to develop our partnership in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Both sides will also review progress in implementation of the civil nuclear initiative that is a pillar of our strategic partnership.

2.Security: Continuing to deepen our defence relationship, which already includes joint military exercises, and acquisition of military hardware. We will explore ways of expanding our defence ties beyond a buyer-seller relationship to a joint partnership in design, development and production of defence material. We are also interested in intensifying cooperation between our Home Ministry and the US Department of Homeland Security to enhance capacity building including in policing of large cities, partnerships in security technologies, combating counterfeit currency, and in securing ports, airports and land border terminals.

3.Trade and Economic relations: This is a key pillar of the relationship, with a combined total of US$ 100 billion in goods and services trade. Both sides are working at a senior official level to address issues of concern on each side, in areas ranging from manufacturing, trade, investment, innovation as well as with regard to issues relating to non-immigrant visas for our highly skilled IT and ITES workers.

4.Strategic consultations: We now have wide-ranging consultations with the US on regional and global issues. This includes consultations on East Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia, as well as trilateral dialogues with Afghanistan and Japan. We look to consolidate and build upon such dialogues, including on the Indian Ocean region.

Apart from this, the President and the Prime Minister will also discuss regional and global issues, including the situation in West Asia, South Asia and also our expanding cooperation with the regional institutions in Southeast Asia.

In closing, let me add that a visit such as this is focused not merely on deliverables but also on establishing and reaffirming the strategic benefits that each side derives from this relationship.

I will be happy to take your questions now.

Question:Madam, are we going ahead with the nuclear pact between Westinghouse and NPCIL? If that pact goes through, how will it square with India’s civil nuclear liability legislation?

Foreign Secretary: Discussions are ongoing between NPCIL and WEC, and it is our hope that these discussions will be closed successfully. The fact of the matter is that all contracts with foreign companies are subject to the Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act and Rules. The contracts have to be consistent with Indian law and there is no question of Indian law being violated or diluted. As a government company, NPCIL will follow government stipulations that all contracts it concludes with foreign partners will be consistent with Indian law.

Question:Madam, this is almost the last year of Prime Minister’s ten-year tenure and he is going to meet President Obama. There are three issues that he has been consistently pursuing - nuclear cooperation, FDI in retail, and climate change - he has been telling him many times. Do you think that there will be any conclusive talk between President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this visit?

Foreign Secretary: I think what we must realise is that all this is something that progresses with each meeting that takes place, with each summit that takes place, and all the meetings at official levels also that discuss these issues. You have raised three specific issues: each of them has been progressed in various ways at various points of time.

On the civil nuclear initiative, the Government is committed to taking it forward. We feel that it is essential to expanding India’s energy options and to contribute to our energy security. Nuclear power is an essential element of our overall energy basket, and we are determined to take forward the civil nuclear initiative so that our country is able to benefit from the expansion of nuclear power.

On the issue of climate change, we intend to enhance our dialogue with the US on issues relating to climate change. I can tell you that the Working Group that the EAM and Secretary Kerry agreed to establish in June this year will seek to find ways of working together in a practical manner to meet a shared, overall objective of reducing the impact of climate on human activity while securing space for our developmental and economic objectives.

On FDI in retail, it is part of the ongoing liberalisation of the Indian economy and that is an ongoing task. That is an ongoing objective, and these things take time, as we all know.

Question:Madam, the American nuclear companies have raised certain queries. They have expressed doubts about Indian nuclear liability law. …(Inaudible)… those companies agreeing to India law, India has decided to go ahead with initial works agreement. Do you think the American companies will ultimately agree to Indian law?

Foreign Secretary: I think I have already answered this question to some extent. Any company, whether it is a foreign company or whether it is a domestic company, has to follow procedures that are consistent with Indian law. All contracts have to be consistent with Indian law. There is no question of Indian law being violated or diluted. That is the bottom line.

Question:My question is about the nuclear issue but not about the liability law. It is very symbolic that Dr. Manmohan Singh will go in September to Washington and in October to Moscow. They will discuss nuclear cooperation between our countries. What is the difference between the approach of the Indian side in the activation of nuclear cooperation with old partner Russia and new partner USA? It is not about liability law but in general.

Foreign Secretary: I think you have to see that with whichever country we have cooperation in civil nuclear issues, we are basically trying to achieve the same objective. We are trying to build nuclear power plants that will contribute to our energy security, and doing it in a manner that enhances our energy security.

Question:Madam, I just want to understand, you said both leaders will discuss the concerns concerning the non-immigrant visa for highly skilled manpower. What are some of the concerns, if you can throw some light on that?

Foreign Secretary: I think the concerns are fairly well known that Indian IT companies have a certain business model and that the procedures that are presently being discussed in Congress would make it very difficult for this business model to be continued successfully. So, what we are trying to do basically is to flag our concerns in the manner in which this is going to impact on our highly-skilled non-immigrant workers. We are trying to flag the fact that some aspects of the proposed immigration reform would adversely impact visas for highly-skilled non-immigrant workers.

Question:A meeting is expected between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Nawaz Sharif ...

Official Spokesperson: We are talking of the US now. There are others who have questions.

Question:It is in that context. The US had announced a Rewards for Justice Programme on Hafiz Saeed. But there has really been no action on Hafiz Saeed who definitely seems to be one of the biggest bone of contention between India and Pakistan talks and relations. So, is that an issue that India will be flagging with the US again in some way?

Foreign Secretary: You are talking about a US programme for Hafiz Saeed. I do not see why I need to get into that at all. We have concerns relating to terrorism. We have concerns relating to terrorism which have been very explicitly stated by the Prime Minister, and we flag this to our strategic partners to tell them what our concerns are.

Question:Madam, could you elaborate on the regional security component of the discussions, particularly Afghanistan? What the key elements of those discussions will be and whether Indian …(Inaudible)…NATO troops be discussed?

Foreign Secretary: You are right. 2014 is a very significant year as far as Afghanistan is concerned. When you are looking at the regional security situation, you are looking at a complexity of factors and different scenarios that might unfold. We continue to seek clarity on the upcoming security and political transitions with the partners with whom we are in contact in the run up to 2014 which will see the drawdown of US and other ISAF troops.

Question:Madam, when Mr. Obama came to India he told the Indian Parliament that he would love to see India as a permanent member of the Security Council. Efforts have been going on for more than twenty years now but things are not moving forward. Is the expansion of the Security Council likely to figure in the Prime Minister’s talks with Mr. Obama and other people he is going to meet?

Foreign Secretary: The expansion of the UN Security Council, the permanent membership, continues to remain an important priority for India. The Prime Minister would be taking up this issue with key interlocutors, including at the UN General Assembly.

Question:Madam, I want to bring you back to the regional and global issues. You said there will be a discussion on Afghanistan in particular. There are certain issues where India has raised the concern of talking to the Taliban and their opening office in Doha, while also you have stressed on a proactive role for original players. How do you see the mechanism working with India, Iran and neighbouring country of Afghanistan, post 2014?

Foreign Secretary: The situation in Afghanistan is a fairly complex one. We believe in a process of dialogue in Afghanistan which is Afghan led, Afghan owned, and Afghan controlled. This has been our bottom line. In its process of transition - whether it is the political transition, whether it is the security transition or whether it is economic transition – we believe that the Afghan Government needs to be supported in its efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation. Whoever the players are, as long as they are willing to work within the parameters of the Afghan Constitution, need to be supported. India is doing its part in the reconstruction and economic development of Afghanistan. You are aware that we have a fairly sizeable aid programme that has managed to win hearts and goodwill in Afghanistan, in all people in Afghanistan, and we intend to continue with that and give whatever support that is within our capacity to give.

Question:Madam, the Prime Minister will be meeting President Obama …(Inaudible)… They have a huge subsidy under the US Farm Bill. Will the Prime Minister take up this issue with Obama? Indian farmers are suffering on account of the huge subsidy given in US.

Foreign Secretary: I think that there are specific forums to take these issues forward. At this point of time it is not possible to go into great detail as to what the Prime Minister is going to take up or not take up. But our position is very clear. We have communicated the concerns that we have relating to agriculture and food security at the other fora that we have with the United States. So, the US is well aware of what our position on this is. Whether it will figure in this meeting between the Prime Minister and President Obama, I cannot foresee at this point of time.

Question:Madam, you have mentioned the second point that Prime Minister will discuss about …(Inaudible)… policing in the large cities. Will you explain something on that?

Foreign Secretary: Whenever we talk with strategic partners on various issues of mutual interest, we like to share best practices, we like to explain a little bit about what each of us is doing and whether there is something that we can learn from each other in this process. So at a very general level, I guess that is what we will be looking at.

Question:Madam Secretary, from what you mentioned I understand there will be a discussion on cooperation on border security. Will that touch upon the issue of security on border in the northern parts of India including Ladakh?

Foreign Secretary: When we are talking about border security, we are talking about our check posts on the border. We are talking about the integrated customs check posts; we are talking about mechanisms at the border to facilitate people crossing across the border and improve services there. And this is one of the subgroups for cooperation in the Homeland Security Dialogue. It has nothing to do with the aspects that you mentioned.

Question:Madam, US mein Pradhan Mantriji jab Nawaz Sharif se mulaqaat karenge toh teen muddon par charcha hogi.

Official Spokesperson: Abhi hum Washington mein hain. Is ke baad New York jayenge bilkul. Toh thodi der thehar jayiye aap.

Question:Madam, there have been a number of issues you have covered. There is one other issue that I have seen quite widely reported about and that is refrigeration gases. There is a move to sign an agreement to say that India will phase out the use of certain refrigeration gases which have an impact on the climate. I know there has been some pushback and some interest groups in India are saying that this will tie India into buying patented gases from DuPont and other US companies. I am interested to know what the state of affairs is.

Foreign Secretary: I presume you are talking about HFCs. We are discussing the issue of HFCs with the United States. While discussing it, we will not only be looking at the international understandings on HFCs that we have in the context of the UNFCCC, Rio+20, and G20. But also we will discuss this bilaterally with the US in order to develop a better mutual understanding of each other’s positions. You may be aware that bilateral India-US Task Force on HFCs was established in 2011. And we think it would be useful to convene a meeting of this task force to discuss all relevant issues related to HFCs in the bilateral context.

Question:This sounds like it is a work in process and not something we are going to see signed during the bilateral. Would that be a correct reading of what you just said?

Foreign Secretary: It is a work in progress. We have to see what happens.

Question:Madam, besides the IT professionals visa and this skilled or non-skilled workers visa, will they discuss about the students visa also? Nowadays there is a big problem for students also to get US visa.

Foreign Secretary: There are fora, like I said there are 33 standard dialogues between India and the United States. So, many of these issues which can be very technical in nature would be discussed at one of these groups. We have a consular dialogue and we take up these issues at the consular dialogue, probably not at the Prime Minister’s level.

Question:Will the talks revolve around cyber security issues also? After the NSA’s snooping, the prism and all the concerns across the world we have, will that also be part of the discussions in Washington?

Foreign Secretary: Like I said, there are several dialogues that are ongoing between India and the US. And If you waited for a summit to raise every single issue on which you want to have discussions, they you would be waiting for a very long time. So, it is already being discussed at the appropriate fora.

Question:Madam, will PM meet Mr. Nawaz Sharif? If they meet, what will we talk about? Dawood Ibrahim, etc., etc?

Foreign Secretary: The Prime Minister’s programme is still in the process of being firmed up. So, I cannot really confirm to you whether he will meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or not. On what he will talk about, he has to meet him first. So, let us see.


Foreign Secretary: Dekhiye, baat yeh hai ki jaise Pradhan Mantri kahe the, there are certain harsh realities on the ground. The harsh reality on the ground is that we continue to face acts of terror by groups operating from Pakistan and from territories under Pakistan’s control. There are also many persons indulging in hostile propaganda against India who continue to roam around freely in Pakistan. And despite repeated commitments from the highest levels in Pakistan, and very positive statements like you have said, we see very little actual progress in the efforts to bring those responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks to justice. So, these are certain harsh realities that we have to deal with. So, let us see what happens.

Question:Madam Foreign Secretary, I just wanted to crosscheck this. You mentioned that the Prime Minister’s programme in New York is still not finalised. Apart from the possible meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, you mentioned that he would be engaging in other bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the UNGA. Could you throw some light on who are some of the other leaders he might be meeting?

Foreign Secretary: There are certain bilateral meetings that are in the process of being firmed up. But since his entire programme is still in the process of being firmed up, I cannot confirm to you which are the specific meetings.

Question:Madam, I know you will not be confirming the bilateral meeting but Bangladesh Foreign Minister has announced yesterday that on 28th September there will be a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA. I am not asking about the details of what the Prime Minister would say. But I have another question. Prime Minister probably will inaugurate a 400 kv power transmission line by which India would be supplying power to Bangladesh. It would be a big event for both the countries and Prime Minister would be inaugurating it perhaps. Have we invited anybody from Bangladesh or would Prime Minister be talking to Bangladesh PM on this issue?

Foreign Secretary: First let me agree with you, it is a very big event. We see this as a milestone in our cooperation with Bangladesh and there are certain discussions on as to how to commemorate this. I do not want to go into details right now. They are still being worked out.

Yes, we hope that there will be a meeting between the Prime Minister and Bangladeshi Prime Minister in New York.

Question:Madam, you met the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister earlier this week in Delhi and we were told cryptically that events related to Afghanistan would be discussed on the margins of the UNGA. Could you elaborate on what these events concerning Afghanistan would be?

Foreign Secretary: You know that the relationship between India and Afghanistan is a very close one. Our ties go back centuries. We have close historical, civilisational ties. India is one of the closest friends that Afghanistan has. These meetings are part of an ongoing process where we touch base from time to time to discuss progress on the various projects that we have going between us, and to exchange views on what further needs to be done. So, that has to be seen in that context.

Question:Madam, since you have already said, and Dipu Moni yesterday said, that there will be a bilateral between the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh, could you elaborate on what kind of talks may materialise and what is the agenda between Bangladesh and India? Since Teesta agreement has not been made possible and the land boundary agreement has also not been made possible, is there anything else which can come up in this discussion?

Foreign Secretary: We have such close relations with Bangladesh that our ties span an entire gamut of issues. Despite the fact that neither the Teesta waters nor the land boundary agreement has gone through, you must know that we remain deeply committed to delivering on these agreements. So, there will be plenty to talk about whether it is our cooperation on the economic side, lines of credit, supply of power, any number of issues in keeping with the very close nature of relations between our two countries.

Question:Madam, I just wanted to know whether you could shed some light on Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, whether the issue of Indian purchases of Iranian crude would come up and specifically what level of Indian purchases would be compliant with US sanctions on Iran?

Foreign Secretary: It is very difficult to say what is going to come up and what is not going to come up. They are meeting for a limited period of time and if they are going to discuss every single issue that all of you have asked me whether they will come up or not... I think that on this entire question of purchases of Iranian crude, that is something that we do with Iran. I am not sure that we would want to raise it from our side. If the United States wants to raise it, it is welcome to.

Question:Madam, Secretary (R)’s office has written a note to large parts of the Government – military, even your Joint Secretary (North) – about Ladakh-type intrusions in three places in Bhutan. Since Bhutan is a very friendly country and we also have Indian soldiers there, is there anything the Indian Government is doing about it? There has not been one report but several reports.

Foreign Secretary: Shrinjoy, I am coming back to headquarters after six years overseas and I am really surprised to be faced with a question about what Secretary (R) may or may not have written to ...

Question:A copy is with me, if you want to see.

Foreign Secretary: I do not want to see the copy because even if you showed me the copy I would not comment on internal communications between Ministries or organisations in Government of India. You should not be having that copy as a matter fact, especially if it is classified.

Question:Can I ask another question?

Foreign Secretary: No.

Official Spokesperson: You have used up your chance.

Question:Madam, recently there were news items that Iranian Oil Minister has asked Indian Ambassador that they would not be accepting entire payments in rupees, and also on the fact that they are not willing to sign the production-sharing contracts with the Indian companies, also on their stand on not selling cheap gas to India. Then we also had this tanker issue with Iran. Are we seeing a hardening stance from Iran? And what is happening on the imports side? Are we planning to maintain at the last year’s level or cut them?

Foreign Secretary: We have a longstanding energy partnership with Iran which we greatly value, and it has proved to be very reliable as well. In recent months we have evolved a system of payment for crude oil imported from Iran that envisages payment of some parts of imports in Indian Rupees. That is the factual position as of date.

Question:India has started paying the entire amount in Rupees to save on the foreign exchange and the Oil Minister had also written to the Prime Minister saying that it will help in saving foreign exchange in their dialogue.

Foreign Secretary: As of now the situation is that we pay part of it in Rupees and the rest has to be decided on as to how it is to be paid because there are difficulties relating to the payment. So, let us leave it at that.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction. Thank you.


New Delhi

September 20, 2013


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