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Briefing by Foreign Secretary on the visit of President Obama

New Delhi

MEA Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): A very good afternoon to you and lovely to see you in such numbers. Welcome to XP Division and the Media Hall.

You are aware that we are awaiting the visit of President Barack Obama of the United States of America who is coming to Mumbai on the 6th of November. Foreign Secretary Shrimati Nirupama Rao is here to brief you about the visit. Let me also introduce Mr. Javed Ashraf sitting to the right of the Foreign Secretary. He is our Joint Secretary (Americas). Foreign Secretary would be making an opening statement and thereafter she would be most happy to take a few questions.

May I now invite Foreign Secretary for her opening remarks?

Foreign Secretary (Shrimati Nirupama Rao):

A very good afternoon to all of you! President Barack Obama will visit India from 6-9 November 2010 on the invitation of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. As you are aware our Prime Minister visited USA in November 2009 and was given the honour of the first State visit of the Obama Administration. President Obama’s visit will reciprocate that visit and lend continuity to the bilateral engagement and high-level dialogue. The last Presidential visit to India from USA was that of President George Bush in 2006.

President Obama will be accompanied by the First Lady Michelle Obama, and a high-level delegation which is likely to include his National Security Adviser Tom Donillon; Mr Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury; Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce; Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture; Dr Rajiv Shah Administrator of USAID, and others. A large business delegation and media delegation are also accompanying the President.

President Obama will reach Mumbai in the forenoon of 6 November. He will begin his program by paying homage to the victims of the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai, visit Mani Bhavan to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi - his admiration for Gandhiji is well known - and attend a Business Summit organized by the US India Business Council in association with FICCI and CII. On 7th November he will address a ‘Town Hall’ meeting and associated events at the St Xavier’s College, and celebrate Diwali at a Primary School.

He will leave Mumbai and reach Delhi in the afternoon of 7th November. His program includes a brief visit to Humayun’s tomb. He will be the guest of honour at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister and Mrs Gursharan Kaur.

The official component of President Obama’s visit is on 8th November beginning with the ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by a visit to Raj Ghat. President Obama and Prime Minister will meet in the forenoon and discuss bilateral, regional and global developments of mutual concern. They will also discuss how to expand the strategic framework of India-US relations on the basis of our shared values and interests.

Prime Minister will be assisted by the Ministers of Finance, External Affairs, Defence, Home, Agriculture, Human Resource Development, Commerce and Industry, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, National Security Adviser, myself and our Ambassador to the USA.

On conclusion of the Summit level meeting, they will preside over the meeting of the India-US CEO Forum.

Thereafter the two leaders will address a Joint Press Conference. In the afternoon, the Hon’ble Vice-President, Leader of Opposition and Chairperson UPA Smt. Sonia Gandhi will call on President Obama. That evening President Obama will address Members of both Houses of our Parliament, in the Central Hall. His official program concludes with a meeting with Hon’ble President, and a State Dinner for him and the First Lady at Rashtrapati Bhavan. President Obama leaves Delhi in the forenoon of 9 November 2010 for Indonesia.

The US Administration under President Obama has expressed its commitment to strengthen Indo-US bilateral relations further, building upon the existing level of cooperation in various areas of bilateral and global engagement. Both Prime Minister and President Obama share the belief that this will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

A very warm welcome awaits President Obama. The visit comes at a time when India-US relations have matured significantly. The intensity and frequency of dialogue is unprecedented. In addition to their meeting in November 2009 in Washington DC, Prime Minister and President Obama have met five times in the course of the last 18 months, most recently at the Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 in Washington and the G20 Summit in June in Toronto. This is President Obama’s first visit to India.

The India-US relationship is founded on shared values, increasingly convergent interests, enormous opportunities for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and a shared commitment to work together to address regional and global issues.

Since Prime Minister’s State visit to Washington in November 2009, cooperation has become broad-based and continues to grow and expand across sectors. Our Strategic Dialogue in June 2009 chaired by EAM and Secretary Clinton, the first of its kind between the two countries, with high-level inter-Ministerial participation on both sides was itself a landmark. Our strategic dialogue, including through institutional mechanisms, has expanded to cover all regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. Our defence cooperation, including defence trade, continues to grow.

The two governments have signed a Counter-terrorism Cooperation Initiative and a Framework for Cooperation in Trade and Investment; launched an India-US Financial and Economic Partnership; signed an MoU on Agriculture and Food Security Cooperation; continued to expand counter-terrorism cooperation, including on the investigations into the Mumbai terror attack; and, announced our intention to cooperate in the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership, which India is establishing.

We have also completed the remaining steps for the implementation of their Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, including conclusion of the reprocessing arrangements and procedures and completion of Part 810 assurances. India has also enacted a Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act and has signed the CSC. We welcome the commencement of the commercial negotiations between the Indian operators and the US companies, and look forward to an early realisation of our shared goal of a robust India-US cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.

The two governments have worked purposefully to expand cooperation in trade and investment, science and technology, clean energy, health, higher education, agriculture etc which are national development priorities for India.

Bilateral commerce and economic relations have flourished. Trade has also diversified and encompasses a wide range of products, services and technology. Bilateral trade in goods and in the services sector is largely balanced. The economic partnership between the two countries will be one important area of focus. There are a lot of synergies between the two countries. The economic relationship is growing well in both directions.

The US is the third largest source of foreign direct investments in India. Cumulative FDI inflows from the US from April 2000 amount to $8.86 billion constituting nearly 8 percent of total FDI into India.

According to US officials, India is the fastest growing source of foreign direct investment in the US. This investment from India is creating, saving or supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the US. India’s defence acquisitions and major purchases in the energy and aviation sectors, for example, are contributing in a substantive manner to the US economy.

We have recently signed a Framework for Cooperation in Trade and Investment; and launched an India-US Financial and Economic Partnership to further boost our bilateral economic partnership.

The relationship also derives strength from the 2.7 million Indian-origin community in USA and the vibrant people-to-people linkages between the two countries.

President Obama’s visit will reflect this essential continuity in our relationship. It will be an opportunity to once again underscore that our shared values of democracy, openness, pluralism and fundamental freedoms form the bedrock of our strategic partnership. It will be an opportunity to consolidate our relationship. We will see concrete and significant steps in a wide range of areas that will expand the long term strategic framework of the relationship in a way that we can create a productive partnership for the mutual benefit of our two countries and, equally important, give substantive content and shape to our global strategic partnership.

Our Prime Minister looks forward to continuing his extremely productive dialogue with President Obama on a range of issues, including the global economic situation; the threat of terrorism; the challenges in our neighbourhood; and our shared goals of sustained security, stability and prosperity in Asia.

We look forward to this visit as an important milestone in elevating our global strategic partnership to a new level.

Question: Madam, yesterday President Barack Obama gave an interview to PTI wherein he talked about some complexities in supporting India’s case for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Are you disappointed that as a friend of India and a strategic partner of India, while the US have endorsed Japan’s case for a permanent seat it has not done so for India, and maybe when the President was coming to India, this was the right time to do so?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think we can structure a relationship on the basis of drawing hasty conclusions of the nature you referred to. The issues that you mentioned are by nature very complex. They are the subject of ongoing and continuing discussion with the United States. We have used the opportunity of the official discussions, and the meetings, the strategic dialogue that we had recently, to talk about these issues in a very candid, in a very open and transparent way. I think the United States is increasingly aware of the great potential for India’s contribution to global affairs, to global peace and security, and to global development. And that really is the crux of the matter, the fact that the United States recognises this potential.

Question: India has expressed serious concerns as far as the talks with the Taliban are concerned of the Afghan Government, especially the role of Pakistan in terms of a mediator. Though US calls us a strategic and natural ally, we do not see that translating into action vis-a-vis their approach on Pakistan. So, what would New Delhi’s message and expectations be on the issue from Washington?

Foreign Secretary: Again I think a very stark conclusion. As far as the situation in Afghanistan is concerned, India and the United States have maintained constant contact. The subject of the situation in Afghanistan is something that we discuss very closely with the United States. There have been a number of interlocutors who have come to Delhi. We have been in Washington. And certainly the situation in the region has figured very prominently. Both India and the United States share similar goals as far as stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan is concerned. We are categorically against terrorism. We are categorically against religious extremism. We are for Afghan democracy; we are for Afghan pluralism; we are for Afghan development. I think that is really the focus that we and the United States have brought to bear on these discussions.

Question: The other issue Mr. Obama yesterday described in the interview as very difficult and complicated was on the issue of dual use technologies to India. Are we to understand that there will not then be any major announcement on that front? Are those talks still going down to the wire? Have you lowered your expectations on that front as well?

Foreign Secretary: Here again I am not going to jump to hasty conclusions. Yes, I think the President is correct when he refers to these issues as being complex. Obviously, these are issues which have existed between India and the United States for some time now. But what is different, and I would like to stress and underscore this difference, is that with the growth and the growing maturity of the strategic partnership, both Governments have been of the view, are of the view that these controls, these obstacles that have existed in the way of dual use technology trade between the two countries need to be reviewed, need to be looked at anew with the intention of seeing how we can reduce these obstacles, and ultimately eliminate them altogether. So, that is the focus at the moment.

Question: Will the Prime Minister raise specifically Warren Anderson’s extradition?

Foreign Secretary: I cannot say that at the moment. There is a textured and a fairly rich agenda for the talks. But I cannot say whether this will be raised.

Question: Will the issue of Cold Start be discussed in this meeting?

Foreign Secretary: No, it will not be discussed. There is no reason why it should figure in the talks.

Question: India has passed all the necessary legislation to pave the way for foreign nuclear companies to make investments in India. But the American companies do not seem terribly excited. They still think that the liability might be very high and all that. What does India propose to do to clear their doubts and how hopeful are you of American companies investing in Indian nuclear plants?

Foreign Secretary: First of all let me say we are very hopeful about American companies participating in our nuclear energy sector. Our Department of Atomic Energy and the NPCIL remain in touch with the US companies concerned. The idea is to provide a level-playing field for all foreign companies who are keen on participating in this sector. This is a sector of great importance for us in the context of the development of clean energy resources for India. So, obviously we give a lot of importance to it.

Question: The United States describes India as a strong partner in bolstering global non-proliferation regime. Are we expecting support from President Obama on India’s desire to join elite nuclear clubs like the NSG, Australia Group and other such groupings?

Foreign Secretary: When I spoke about the dual use technology regime and the removal of obstacles in that context, the issues that you referred to also form a part of this discussion.

Question: What is our expectation?

Foreign Secretary: I would not like to predict the outcomes of this. But let me say that the discussions that we have held so far between the two sides have covered considerable ground and we are reasonably optimistic about the outcomes.

Question: Madam, this is regarding the 26/11 attack. I am again going to refer to the PTI interview of President Obama in which he says Pakistan has a special responsibility to see to it that the perpetrators are brought to book. Is that going to be one of the issues that would be discussed?

Foreign Secretary: In my opening remarks I referred to the fact that discussions relating to counter-terrorism and the cooperation that India and the United States can strengthen in this area have been very much a part of the discussion that we have had over the last few months. Obviously the issue of counter-terrorism would figure in the agenda of the discussions during the President’s visit.

Question: Officers of both the countries were finalising a deal on C17 Globemaster aircraft. Is this deal likely to be announced during the visit?

Foreign Secretary: I cannot say. I will not be able to give you an answer on that. Yes, this is a subject of discussion in the context of our defence purchases from the United States. We have made considerable progress in completing the various procedures that are connected with such purchases. But the final outcome I will not be able to give you at this moment.

Question: Madam, you just talked about the Indian investment in the US and said that we are creating tens of thousands of jobs and they are supporting the US economy. In the light of what you have said, are we going to discuss the issue of outsourcing because there is a ban in some of the States in the US which has been imposed by Obama so far as outsourcing is concerned? Are you going to take up this issue and what are the expectations?

Foreign Secretary: The issue of outsourcing and the recent developments connected with the hike in visa fees will obviously figure very much in the discussions held with the business community that President Obama will have in Mumbai. For instance, there is a Business Summit that is going to take place, there would be discussion with some of the CEOs and entrepreneurs. So, it is obviously going to figure very much in the discourse during the visit. As far as the economic cooperation component of our relationship is concerned, you must understand that this relationship has become so big in so many areas and the issue of the outsourcing is one issue in this relationship. But overall I would say that the prognosis for our economic relationship is very bright given the extent of US investment in the Indian economy, the fact that there is outward investment from India into the US economy which is creating jobs, which is something we would like to convey to President Obama and his delegation while they are here, to give them the picture as we see it from our side. The recent studies that FICCI and others have conducted have clearly shown that thousands of jobs have been created by our green field investments, by our acquisitions in the United States. That is something we would like definitely to stress.

Question: Madam, what are our expectations in the space and the agriculture sectors?

Foreign Secretary: On the space sector, we have been talking about a commercial space launch agreement between the two sides, and the two Governments have been looking at the text of a possible agreement in this area. So, we hope that there will be a satisfactory conclusion of such an agreement during the visit although one cannot guarantee this. On agriculture and food security, as I mentioned, during the course of this year we signed an MoU in agriculture and food security. Very possibly during this visit we hope to conclude an MoU on weather forecasting and crop forecasting which will really take its reference from the MoU on agricultural cooperation that we have signed.

Question: I want to follow up on the nuclear energy question from earlier. The US companies have been looking for India to do something to mitigate the law that was passed. They feel that the liability law is not actually compliant with the CSC India had signed. And so they are looking either for a regulation in the interim or some sort of long-term promise to amend that law. Can you say whether or not you have indicated that India can take such a measure?

Foreign Secretary: I just want to emphasise once again that firstly we look forward to the participation of US companies in the civil nuclear energy sector in India. We are now at a stage where commercial negotiations could begin between Indian operators and the US companies. We have invited the US companies in order that we can explain the provisions of the civil liability law to them so that we can address any concerns that they may have and also begin discussions on the next steps for implementation of our civil nuclear power projects. And I am pleased that a commercial delegation from the United States is likely to visit India very shortly in this connection. That is as much as I can say.

Question: Mrs. Rao, America has recently released over two billion dollars to Pakistan in aid. Would you be raising the question of Pak-based groups targeting Indian interests in Afghanistan? There have been so many reports about Pakistani intelligence agencies even sheltering senior Al Qaeda leaders. Afghan Taliban is also working for them. So, would you be raising this issue and specifically what are the various aspects that you would be talking to the US?

Foreign Secretary: We will obviously talk about the situation in the region. One of the major threats we face is the threat from terrorism, terrorism directed at us from across our borders, and also the problem of terrorism in Afghanistan which has directly targeted Indian interests there. So, in the context of the concerns that we have about the operation of terrorist elements, and that would include all the major global terrorist organisations that operate in our region, we will obviously be talking about our concerns.

Question: Madam, a few days ago the Home Secretary, Mr. Pillai, talked about the Americans refusing to give India access on the Headley issue. A day ago the National Security Advisor said completely the opposite. He said there was unprecedented access. Why is the Government speaking in different voices? Can you tell us what exactly is the situation on this?

Foreign Secretary: I do not the Government is speaking in different voices. I think you are trying to segment these various statements, if I may say. Do not take them out of context please because the bottom line is that there has been unprecedented cooperation. And there has been an excellent and a very responsive attitude from the American side on the investigation into the Mumbai terror attacks, and we have not been denied access to any information. That is the situation as it exists. There is no contradiction, in my view, between any of these statements.

Question: Madam, what is your response or rather our assessment of Democrats’ loss yesterday in the election? How do you think it will impact Indo-US relations in the tenure of President Obama, because now he will be a relatively weaker President?

Foreign Secretary: Obviously I would not comment on the internal affairs of the United States. But let me add that the subject of India-US relations is a subject of bipartisan consensus within the United States. So, we look forward to working with the new members of Congress. Many of them are well-known old friends of India who have been associated with the India Caucus in the Congress, many of whom have visited India, they know the India-US relationship very well. So, we are looking forward to working with them.

Question: You would have seen reports of the Chinese sprawl or presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with army troops building bridges. This report was taken seriously by the Indian Government as well as it expressed concern officially. Will this feature in your talks with the United States given that we have a high-level Chinese delegation visit in just barely a month after President Obama’s visit?

Foreign Secretary: India’s interests in the region go beyond South Asia, and I have said this before. They stretch into the Southeast Asian region, into East Asia. Obviously our relations with China are very important. Obviously when we meet friends and partners including the United States, we discuss the situation in the region, and that would include our relations with our major partners and our neighbours. So, in that context, yes, we will be talking about the situation in the region. But let me emphasise that both believe, for the United States as much as it is for India, dialogue with China, an open, transparent dialogue that seeks to engage China across the board on a number of areas - whether they are security-related, strategic concern related, issues of trade and economic cooperation and investment, people-to-people contact - all these really form the subject of the relationships that both India and the United States seem to build with China today.

Question: Madam, thoda sa aap elaborate karein ki jo agreements honge ve kaun kaun se fields me honge aur kitne agreements honge. MoUs ke baare mein thoda sa detail batayein.

Foreign Secretary: Normally we do not talk about the agreements that we are going sign or conclude before the visit is over. So, I would prefer not to go into those details. But let me say that they will include development-related subjects. I just mentioned about agriculture and space. I would add health. I would add clean energy. These are some of the areas, areas that really impact on lives of people at the grassroots. We are talking about agreements like that.

Question: Madam, I think we have heard from the National Security Advisor that the visit of Mr. Obama, especially on the terrorism issue, is a wakeup call for both the countries to counter terrorism measures to take. But I would like to know a little elaboration on what is the mechanism. Are you having any kind of an action to be taken place because and specially in regards to not only Afghanistan or Pakistan which is your great concern, it is also about Afghanistan where America would be pulling out at least the combat troops from next year onwards. So, what would be the fall out on India’s internal security and anti counter measures of India along with the US satisfaction?

Foreign Secretary: That is a very long question I am afraid. I said to you that counter-terrorism cooperation is one of the pillars of the strategic dialogue between the two sides. We have signed an MoU, a counter-terrorism initiative MoU between the two sides. Now what we intend to do is to draw up a plan of action that will concretise specific areas of cooperation whether it is information sharing, whether it is in the area of forensics, whether it is in the area of coastal security, megacity policing - these are all areas in which we hope to strengthen cooperation.

Question: What are the prospects for the defence agreements during the President’s visit?

Foreign Secretary: I do not have anything to say on that at the moment.

Question: Madam, can you elaborate on the health and the education sectors? Are there any agreements on that?

Foreign Secretary: On health there is a plan to set up a regional disease detection centre which will involve global participation, especially with the United States. We will have collaboration with the National Institute of Health in Washington apart from the Centre for Disease Control.

Question: And in education are you going to sign any agreements?

Foreign Secretary: We are planning an education summit in 2011. So, both Governments under the Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative have been discussing an education summit.

Question: Despite the problem of the liability law, when you look forward to robust cooperation in civil nuclear trade, what are the reasons for optimism?

Foreign Secretary: As they say, ‘watch this space’.

Question: Is there any proposal for Indo-US partnership in open government or any such proposal for democratisation of information?

Foreign Secretary: Internationally, multilaterally India and the United States have been doing enough together to strengthen that aspect of their partnership that concerns the issues relating to democracy, governance, leadership. And we have been working together in the United Nations also on initiatives that strengthen the systems, of structures of democracy worldwide. So, when I speak of shared values and shared approaches, this is particularly relevant when it comes to the strengthening of our democratic values. Working together particularly in the field of development, how democracy promotes economic development, that is how we have started using our expertise and our experience in such areas as e-governance and e-technology for governmental purposes, for developmental purposes, and also under the access to open information as in the RTI. That is also an area where we share common approaches and values.

I wanted to add, when I spoke of the engagements that President Obama has in Delhi, let me once again refer to the fact that he will meet with various dignitaries. I spoke of his meeting with the Hon. Vice-President, and the Leader of the Opposition. And Shrimati Sonia Gandhi will be calling on President Obama. That is also a very important meeting that will take place. All this will happen before he addresses the Joint Session of Parliament on the 8th of November.

MEA Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much