OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON (SHRI NAVTEJ SARNA): Good evening everybody. It is a great pleasure welcoming Foreign Secretary accompanied by Joint Secretary (Americas) Dr. Jaishankar for this briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. We will have a list of questions after that.
FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Good afternoon. As you are aware, the Prime Minister would be visiting the United States of America from the 18th to the 20th of July. This will be a state visit with full honours. Prime Minister will be staying at the Blair House and given a ceremonial welcome at the White House. President Bush will be hosting a formal dinner for him and Secretary Rice will host a lunch in his honour. The Vice President of the United States, the Defence Secretary, the Treasury Secretary, the Heads of the Senate Caucus, will also be calling on the Prime Minister. Prime Minister has also been invited to address the Joint Session of the Congress which is, of course, a very signal honour. The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Frisk will be hosting a meeting for the Prime Minister to meet other members of the Senate. Prime Minister will also meet members of the House International Relations Committee, and also have a lunch with the India Caucus.
As you know, this visit is taking place against the background of some significant progress that has been made in the bilateral relations between India and the US. Over the past several months we have established a number of new mechanisms of cooperation. We have undertaken new initiatives; developed and taken forward some of the ongoing initiatives; and have expanded our dialogue really across the board, of course, encompassing both bilateral as well as regional and international issues. So, in a sense, we have really a very broad agenda in our developing relations with the United States of America. What this visit would really be doing is reaffirming at the highest level the transformation which is taking place in India-US relations.
As you know, a number of notable developments have taken place recently. You are aware of the fact that we have established the Economic Dialogue between the two countries which is headed by the Deputy-Chairman of the Planning Commission on our side and by the Economic Advisor to the While House Alan Hubbard on the US side. Very important, we have also set up the India-US Energy Panel which is looking at a whole range of energy-related issues, issues which are very important to energy security both of the United States as well as of India. One of the aspects that we would be looking at within this energy dialogue is also the question of civilian nuclear energy cooperation.
We have also concluded an open-skies agreement between the two countries. This is likely to really lead to a major expansion in air services between the two countries. The investment climate in India has improved attracting greater attention from US investors. This follows, for example, the passing of the Patent’s Act as also the liberalization in several sectors of the economy including banking and insurance, and also the abrogation of Press Note-18.
In recognition of the fact that the economic relationship between the two countries is likely to be one of the most dynamic aspects of our relations in the coming years and it is a relationship which would be very much private sector driven, we have agreed to set up a CEO’s Forum. This CEO’s Forum would have as its members several of India’s top business leaders. There are also a similar number of business leaders from the US side who have been also selected by the White House itself. The idea is that these business leaders meeting at a time when India-US relations in all spheres but particularly on the business side are looking up, we will really be able to energise the business relationship. The first meeting of this CEO’s Forum will be taking place during Prime Minister’s visit to Washington itself.
I would like to focus our attention on certain important aspects of the relationship because, I think it is necessary to understand what is the kind of relationship which is developing between the two countries. I think it is important to understand here that what we are really looking at is a genuine partnership between India and the US. In each of the initiatives that we are looking at, India is also bringing something to the table. This is important to understand. If there is a greater focus today on India in the United States, it is not because India is weak but it is because India is strong. That is why people are looking today at India because today we are being recognized as a country which has an array of capabilities and has the potential to emerge as a very very important power in the future. And that is why there is a desire for engagement, there is a desire for partnership. Not only in the United States of America - but if you look at our relationship with China with which we have recently established a strategic partnership, if you look at our relationship with Europe with which we also have a strategic partnership and we are currently looking at a Joint Action Plan that we are going to be announcing during the next Summit, if you look at our relationship with Russia - across the board there is a new level of engagement, there is a new level of activity virtually in all our relationships with major countries and major regions of the world. Therefore, we go into this new relationship with the United States of America in the same spirit of confidence and in the sense that this is going to be a partnership which brings benefits to both India as well as to the United States of America.
We attach a great deal of importance to this visit because the path of development India has chosen, the United States of America undoubtedly has a great deal to offer whether it is in terms of high technology, whether it is in terms of being a source of major investment capital, also in terms of the service sector of India which is developing, the knowledge sector, and if we are looking at a world tomorrow which is going to be more knowledge based, then we are very well placed to take advantage of this and to emerge in the front ranks. And there, a closer relationship with the United States of America is undoubtedly going to be an asset for India.
So, there will be a number of initiatives that we have been working on. These initiatives will come together, will converge together during the visit. We expect that there will be a substantial outcome.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: … Indo-US relations will have in any impact on Sino-Indian relations?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I just mentioned that we do not look at the development of our relations with the United States of America as somehow detracting from our relations with other countries. We believe that we are able to upgrade our relations with all our major partners and this is not something which should impact adversely on any relationship. If you are looking at India-US relations and juxtapose it with, say, US-China relations, I think you need to keep this in perspective, I think the current level of trade between India and the US is about maybe 25 billion dollars. If you look at the trade volume between China and the US, I think it is almost close to 150 billion US dollars. So, you look at the range that we are talking about here. If you are looking at, say, investment relationship between India and the US and China and the US, again there is a difference of almost perhaps a factor of ten. Even when we are talking about relationship in high technology, despite the fact that there are restrictions on US exports of high technology items to China, I think the current level of high tech exports from the US to China is something like a half a billion dollars, more than 500 million dollars, while for India it is less than a 100 million dollars. So, I think we need to keep these relationships in perspective. We have a long way to go before we even reach the level of relationship which exists currently between China and the US. So, China does not have any sense that it’s developing its relationship with the United States of America across the board will somehow or the other detract from its relationship with other countries. Why should India?
QUESTION: What about the sanctions which are still there and the pipeline question? Will our present cooperation impact in any way on the Russia-Indian cooperation which also involves joint partnership and joint marketing?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As far as US restrictions against India are concerned, we have conveyed to the United States of America that if the United States of America looks at India as a partner, then obviously it cannot also treat India as a target for its restrictive regimes. Therefore, if there has to be a fundamental change in the relationship between India and the US, then obviously this relationship must also undergo a change. I think the United States of America is very aware of this and some of the restrictive regimes have been relaxed. We hope that it will come towards a logical conclusion.
As far as the pipeline issue is concerned, I presume you are referring to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, I think again this is something on which our viewpoint has very publicly been made known. Our External Affairs Minister himself had stated that we have a very special relationship with Iran. These relationships are civilizational in nature. They are very important to India. Iran is a very major source of energy for India, has been so in the past, will probably remain so in the future. Iran has also given importance for India because it is currently our access route to Central Asia through Afghanistan because we do not have access to Pakistan. So there are various reasons why the relationship with Iran is important. Energy supplies for India are important. Therefore, whatever decision we take concerning this pipeline will be based on our interest.
You mentioned the defence question. I think there is a certain misunderstanding about the framework agreement signed between India and the US. This is precisely what it is, it is a framework agreement. It is not as if it is an agreement for establishing a military alliance between India and the US. What it sets out is parameters within which India and the United States of America can potentially cooperate with one another if it is in their interest to do so. I do not think that anybody can take any exception to that. So, I do not see how this can really impact adversely on the very substantial defence relationship which we have with Russia and also the defence relationship we have with several other countries. I do not think there needs to be any apprehension in this regard.
QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Secretary, you might have seen the comments coming out of New York of Shirin Tahir Khalili on G4 Resolution and from whatever I have read, the US has apparently asked for opposition to the G4 Resolution. So, are you disappointed that the US has taken such a position and will this in any way affect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit tomorrow?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: No, I do not think that we are disappointed or that this would in any sense impact adversely on the visit because the US position has been well known for some time. The United States of America has taken a position against the procedure that has been adopted. I have had occasion to explain before that in terms of the basic principles underlying the G4 Draft Resolution, these are very different from what the US has been saying. After all, what does the G4 Draft Resolution ask for? It asks for an expansion of the Security Council both in the permanent category as well as in the non-permanent category. The US position acknowledges that. We say that there should be greater representation of developing countries in the Security Council. This is what the United States of America is saying as well. So, there may be some differences between ourselves and matters of detail as to numbers or the procedure, but I think in terms of the principles that are incorporate in the G4 Draft Resolution, I think there is not much of a difference. If the United States of America has decided to oppose the Draft Resolution, there is not much that we can do about it. But, I think whether or not we go ahead with this Resolution will again be based on the assessment that we together with our partnerships, the G4 partners, make along with our consultations which are currently taking place with our African brothers and sisters, let us see whether we can take this forward or not.
QUESTION: The Communist Party of India, the Left parties have a serious reservation about what India and how India … particularly about this visit they have issued a press release also. How serious do you think it is? If it comes out that this visit is a historical visit or a path-breaking visit, they will have a serious objection. As you know, this Government depends on the Left parties for a majority in the Parliament.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I cannot go into the political nuances involved here. All I can say is that India is a non-aligned country, India has been a non-aligned country and will continue to be a non-aligned country. I think it is nobody’s case that India should not strive to have the best relations possible with all the countries in the world. The United States of America is an important country in the world. The United States of America is an important trade partner for India. It is an important source of technology for India. So, in terms of India’s interest and in terms of promoting India’s interests I do not think that any one can really object to an effort being made for upgrading our relationship with the United States of America just as we are upgrading our relationship with China, we are upgrading our relationship with Russia, we are upgrading our relationship with European Union. In fact, the fact that India is really the object of engagement from a number of different powers in the world is something that we should celebrate. We should try to utilize this opportunity of really maximizing the opportunities that are available to us for achieving the objective of making India a developed country and bringing the benefits of development to our people. So, I do not think that in terms of what we are trying to achieve with the United States of America, there is really any cause for concern or there should be any cause for doubt in the minds of the people.
QUESTION: … Prime Minister... (Inaudible)… could you verify a statement Mr. Pranab Mukherjee has made that …
FOREIGN SECRETARY: The last part of your question, I think I have already answered by saying that the framework for defence cooperation with the US precisely just that, it is a framework for defence cooperation. As far as the centre piece of the visit is concerned, I think right in the beginning I mentioned the fact that we have a very broad agenda for this visit. We have a very broad agenda of our relationship with the United States of America. So, I do not think that it would be appropriate to hang this visit on just one peg or one or two pegs. I think it is necessary to look at the totality of the relationship. As I mentioned to you, there are number of initiatives which will converge together at the time of the visit. We are looking at, for example, an initiative on cooperation on HIV/AIDS. We are looking at, on the economic side I mentioned to you the CEO’s Forum. We are looking at a new initiative on agricultural research and extension. So, there are a number of initiatives that are being looked at and all these are going to be on the agenda of the visit. So, it is a broad agenda. It is not something which is limited to merely the consideration of UN Security Council membership or any other single issue.
QUESTION: I think democracy and this dialogue on democracy is high on the agenda of the Prime Minister’s visit. What …(Inaudible)… specific initiatives …
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As you know, a very important affinity between the two countries is really our attachment to democratic values. We believe that it is possible for India and the United States of America to really work together for strengthening the institutions of democracy. In countries which are in transition, countries which need such kind of assistance or support, it is possible for us to work together in that respect. This is being put in the context of an initiative which was taken by the United States of America last year which India has supported - but it is being operationalised now - this is the UN Democracy Fund. This Fund has now been set up under the United Nations. we will be contributing to it along with several other countries. The idea is to utilize this Fund for capacity building. What do we mean by capacity building? For example, India as you know assisted several countries for Constitution-making. We have sent out our Constitutional experts for helping countries write their Constitutions. We have a very very elaborate Election Commission which handles elections on a very very large scale. This is a resource which a number of countries are interested in. We have a very strong institution in the Human Rights Commission. This is another capacity which people are interested in. So, there are a number of what I would call the nuts and bolts of democracy which we can really assist countries with, particularly countries in transition. So, the Democracy Fund which has been set up under the United Nations is precisely for giving this kind of assistance, this kind of support particularly to countries which are in transition or post-conflict countries. This is where also, therefore, India and the US can work together.
QUESTION: Could Iraq be one such country which you could assist in capacity building?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Let me recall that with Iraq, we have already stated in the past that we would be prepared to extend support, for example, for Constitution-making. We have said that we would be ready to extend support to Iraq by bringing some of their personnel here for training through our Election Commission. These elements are already there in terms of what this Democracy Fund could achieve.
QUESTION: Would that be in conjunction with the United States?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: It is not just limited to the United States but it could be, of course, with the United States as well because the United States is also a contributor to this Fund.
QUESTION: Would it happen under the UN umbrella?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: It is under the UN umbrella.
QUESTION: … (Inaudible)… Civilian nuclear-energy cooperation with the US…
FOREIGN SECRETARY: You should look at this particular issue as a process. If you compare the situation today with a situation one year ago I think you will find that there is a major change which has already taken place. What is that change? That change is, in the context of a global energy situation that is becoming increasingly more challenging, a global energy situation which is likely to become a constraint on our development, we are today looking at the possibility of cooperation with major partners on civilian nuclear energy cooperation. We already have an energy panel with the European Union where also civilian nuclear cooperation is a subject for discussion. We now have a similar India-US energy panel in which also civilian nuclear cooperation is a subject for discussion. This is something which is a very major change in the international environment. So, actually if you look at the past and if you look at what we currently have been able to achieve, it is a very major transformation. Now, what will be our effort? Our effort will be to take this further. So, something which is at the level of a dialogue, we would like it to be taken to the level of action. However, this is not an event. You must understand this as a process which will, in the coming weeks, in the coming months, we will try to nudge it in the direction of actual cooperation. Naturally, there will be changes required in the way the world looks at India. But already, I would submit, there is an important change in the way the world is looking at India.
QUESTION: …Inaudible…deliverable in civilian nuclear-energy…
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, concrete deliverable is in the sense that something which is already conceded that is, that India and the United States of America can cooperate together in civilian nuclear energy, is something which we look at for an affirmation at the highest political level. I think this would be very important in terms of what we want to do after this.
QUESTION: Legitimacy of American approach to India is questioned on two counts. One you have already dealt with is the existing sanctions which should go.
… Second is the selective approach which the US has always had in tackling terrorism globally. This visit is coming in the backdrop of two important terrorist incidents – one in Ayodhya and another in London. At what level and with what emphasis are you going to raise this question because it is increasingly becoming a major issue of dispute in the domestic politics in India?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I would hope that this is not a matter of dispute in the domestic politics of India because I think there is a recognition across the board in this country that terrorism is a very major challenge and that we need to stand together and fight this menace. Beyond this, it has always been India’s view as a long-term victim of terrorism that there can be no segmentation in the fight against terrorism. That is, if you want to fight terrorism at one place, you must be ready to fight terrorism everywhere. So, success in the global struggle against terrorism demands that we do not adopt a segmented approach.
I think we are going with a rather strong hand to Washington precisely for the reasons that you mentioned that just when the G8 were having their Summit in Gleneagles, that was the time when terrorist attacks took place in London, came just a few days after a major terrorist incident in Ayodhya. I think the Prime Minister was able to put across in a very effective manner precisely the point that there can be no segmentation in this struggle against terrorism. I think terrorism will be very high on the agenda. I think the point that we will be making is that unless we stand together, unless we have the same kind of cooperation amongst countries who are victims of terrorism, as there appears to be the case amongst the terrorists themselves, how do we expect to win this battle? So, this is something which will be an important subject for discussion. I think this Government is very focused on dealing with the issue of terrorism.
QUESTION: Is the US-India relationship also improving because of the Indo-Pak peace process?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think the peace process between India and Pakistan has its own logic. I do not think that India is engaging in a peace process with Pakistan because the United States of America wants it or because any other country wants it. There are very strong reasons why it is good for India and Pakistan to be engaged in a peace process. But let it also be clearly understood, as we have said again and again, that this peace process can only be taken forward if there is public opinion support behind this. And public opinion support behind this is linked to precisely what happens to cross-border terrorism. Our ability to carry our own people with us in this peace process will be undermined if there continues to be the kind of terrorist incidents we have seen take place in Ayodhya. So, I think if the international community has a role to play in this, it has a role to play in this by precisely addressing the issue of terrorism.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when your US counterpart Nicholas Burns came to Delhi last month, there were reportedly discussions on the Indian candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Will this subject come up for discussion during the visit of the Prime Minister? Do you expect the United States to open its cards during the talks with the Prime Minister?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Number one, India and the US are engaged in a dialogue over the entire range of United Nations reform. It is not just focused on the single issue of Security Council reform. So there are a number of other very important issues where we are not only in a dialogue with the United States of America but we are also working together with the United States of America.
On the issue of Security Council membership, I think you are aware of what Mr. Burns said. I think he set out a number of criteria which he said would be important in terms of deciding who should be a new aspirant for UN Security Council membership. By the way these happen to be precisely the criteria which ourselves have put forward way back in 1994 as to why we think we should be a member of the Security Council. Now, whether the United States of America will take the step during the visit to declare its support for India or whether it will hold back, I am afraid this is not a question that I can answer. This is a political decision which has to be taken by the US leadership.
QUESTION: You said just now that if attacks like the one in Ayodhya continue, the peace process will suffer. Are you indirectly saying that Pakistan is behind it? What are you saying?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I am not saying anything about this or that specific incident. But I think I would draw your attention to the fact that time and again this Government has said that there is an infrastructure of terrorism across the border which has not been dismantled, that there are training camps across the border which have not been dismantled, that attempts at infiltration continue from across the line of control and the border, and that this will of course impact the peace process.
QUESTION: In the wake of this visit, what is the position of India on PSI?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: We have said that unless India is in the core group of countries and is familiar with what kind of procedures are being drawn up for this kind of initiative, it would be difficult for us to say yes or no. That is because for us it is very important to know that whatever this initiative is coming up with is in accord with the international law, is in accord with maritime law. So, this is something which is very important to us. What is the context within which we are talking about such a Proliferation Security Initiative? So once we have clarity in terms of the various provisions of this initiative, and when we are in a position to also contribute to the drawing up of those measures; it is still an open question.