Joint Press briefing by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shivshankar Menon and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Mr. Nicholas Burns
December 7, 2006
OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON (Mr. NAVTEJ SARNA): Good evening to you ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this joint press interaction. We have here with us Foreign Secretary Mr. Shivshankar Menon and Under Secretary for Political Affairs of the United States Mr. Nicholas Burns. I will first request Foreign Secretary to say a few words followed by Mr. Burns. Then we will take a few questions.
FOREIGN SECRETARY (Mr. SHIVSHANKAR MENON): Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy to be here with Under Secretary of State Burns.
We have had a very productive day today. We have had a series of talks right through the day where we reviewed the development of our bilateral relations between India and the US. We also discussed regional issues. In the afternoon, he held discussions with PM’s Special Envoy Shyam Saran on the civil nuclear agreement that we have between India and the US.
The atmosphere throughout was very positive, very constructive, very forward looking. During the bilateral review we naturally reviewed the state of implementation of the 18th July (2005) and 2nd March (2006) Joint Statements. The last year or so has seen an unprecedented engagement both in terms of depth, in terms of levels, in terms of the wide range of subjects which we have covered between the US and India. So, our job was really quite easy. We noted the progress in all the areas, in trade, in the economy, in energy, in agriculture, IPR issues, space, high-tech, defence, global issues, it really was quite a wide ranging discussion. We are working now on initiatives in each and every one of these fields. We also discussed expanding the horizon of cooperation and look forward to the next year and we hope to continue these discussions today and tomorrow while Under Secretary Burns is here with us here in India.
We also covered regional and international issues where we discussed questions relating to South Asia, to West Asia, and also decided to step up our cooperation in counter-terrorism, an area where we have a clear common interest. In the afternoon when Mr. Shyam Saran was there he discussed the implementation of the nuclear understandings that we have arrived at between India and the US. Of course, we are awaiting the outcome of the Congressional deliberations. We do not have the text yet of the Bill but Mr. Burns is good enough to give us an idea, a sense of what is happening in Washington.
Overall, at the end of the day I would say that India-US relations are in a process of transformation. The nuclear cooperation is just one part of this overall transformation in the relationship which we are very satisfied and we are looking forward to continuing this. Our conversations today with Under Secretary Burns give us confidence that this will continue. I would now invite him to say a few words to you and then we will both take questions.
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS (MR. NICHOLAS BURNS): Foreign Secretary, thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be back in Delhi and in India, and it is a pleasure to be with you and to accept your invitation to participate in this strategic dialogue. Foreign Secretary and I are new partners and we have had an excellent day, a day of very friendly, very productive discussions on our bilateral relationship. We began to talk about the wider region and some global issues which we will continue to discuss this evening and again tomorrow.
But I would characterize this period as a period of, a time of great accomplishment in US-India relations, a time of some success and I think some optimism about the future of this relationship. It has been a year and half since Prime Minister Singh came to Washington for that historic meeting on July 18, 2005 with President Bush and the two leaders established an ambitious framework for this relationship. The Foreign Secretary and I are trying to help our two Governments fulfill that vision, and I think in large part we are doing it.
You know that we have just had the largest ever US trade delegation to India just in the last week. We have had our Agriculture Secretary here, to talk about an initiative very important to both our countries, but particularly to the Indian Prime Minister, to see if United States and India can combine again on a second Green Revolution as we did forty to fifty years ago on the first.
We have also had a delegation just recently led by our Under Secretary of Defence to see if we can chart better and greater military cooperation between our two Governments. All of this speaks to a relationship that is, as the Foreign Secretary says, under significant and positive transformation from the American point of view. We are very pleased about all this cooperation.
We also tried to look ahead today to 2007 and 2007 is going to be a very active year in the US-India relationship. We want to see and to conclude of course all the implementing steps in the civil nuclear accord. We want to fulfill the mandate of Prime Minister Singh and President Bush from March 2, 2006. This extraordinary number of joint ventures from agriculture to education, to space cooperation and space launch, to trade, to the CEO forum, all of the different measures that are transforming this relationship into, for the United States, one of our most important global partnerships - strategic partnerships.
As the Foreign Secretary said, we need to look at areas where we can do more together. Certainly, counter-terrorism is an area where India and the United States face very similar threats where unfortunately and tragically Indian citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks, and the same is true for my country. We want to be a good friend and supporter of India in this round and we wanted to chart a new era of cooperation on counter-terrorism.
We also, of course, are partners for peace and for stability. I look forward to talking to the Foreign Secretary this evening and tomorrow about what we can do together to bring peace and help to bring peace to Sri Lanka, and stability to Bangladesh, and peace in Nepal. Certainly the United States will always encourage and always support steps by India and Pakistan to bring that relationship to one of closer cooperation. So, it has been a very good day.
I would like to say a word about the civil nuclear accord. This has occupied a lot of our time over the last year and a half. It is a pleasure to talk to the Foreign Secretary and a pleasure to see Shyam Saran again and to speak to him. As the Foreign Secretary said, our Congress has been meeting over the last two weeks to put the two Bills that have been passed by historically large margins in the House by over 380 votes in the Senate, 85 to 12, to put them together into one final Bill, what we call a Conference Bill, that we hope and expect will be voted upon in the next thirty six hours or so. That Bill will then be sent to President Bush, and I am sure that he will be very pleased to sign that Bill into law.
Since we have not seen the text of the Bill, the Congress has not yet sent it to our Administration, I could not comment on the details because we have not seen them. But I would say this. Based on my own interaction with Members of Congress and their staff over the last two weeks, I anticipate a very successful and supportive Bill. I think the Bill that will emerge will support the agreements of July 18, 2005 and March 2006. It will be, in my judgment, well within the parameters of the agreement that we made between our two leaders in March 2006 and again in July 2005. It will be a Bill that will allow us to look towards 2007 and to complete all the necessary steps - the bilateral civil nuclear accord, the 123 agreement, of course, the provisions that India must undertake with the IAEA, etc., - so that we can put into place we hope as quickly as possible in the coming year a full agreement and actually have the United States and our companies here assisting India to develop its civil nuclear sphere.
It will be a tremendous achievement for both countries, I would say historic. From an American point of view it is particularly significant because it is a very strong bipartisan agreement, by the President’s party, the Republican Party, and by the Democratic Party and its leaders in the Congress.
While we have not seen the final Bill, I am very optimistic. It is going to put it in a very good place and we look forward to seeing it and then discussing it with the Indian Government and having our Congress move ahead.
QUESTION: I have a question for Ambassador Burns. Ambassador Burns, even though you have not seen the final draft of the Bill, can you tell us something on the Iran that reference that may be binding upon India. Mr. Menon, Sir, do you think there is a very wide-ranging relationship between India and the US … The nuclear deal is an attempt to bring it off the ground? Would you say that it symbolizes a shift, it makes India and US a very special partnership and a very special friendship and, in a sense, similar to what India and the Soviet Union had before the Cold War?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: You are right. Since I have not and no one else in our Administration has seen the final Bill, I simply cannot comment. I would not know.
QUESTION: Could you try?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: No, I think that would be a great mistake to try to imagine what the Congress is going to say in this issue because it is up to the Congress say that. But I will say this. We greatly respect the fact that India and the United States and all other countries around the world have to react to the challenges posed by Iran in the case of the nuclear programme. I would say that India and the United States have been in the mainstream of international opinion. When the IAEA Board of Governors met on February 4th of this year and voted to repudiate the Iranian nuclear programme, Brazil, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Japan, Australia, all the European countries, Russia and China, all of us sent the same message. And, so, I think India and the United States have been part of this global effort to say to Iranians, ‘We want to work with you.’ We the United States believe that Iran has a right to civil nuclear power. In fact President Bush said as early as a year ago that he will support President Putin’s initiative to supply civil nuclear power to Iran but Iran turned that down. I think all of us are just saying that we do not want to see a nuclear weapons power emerge in Iran. And so, India from my perspective is in the mainstream of that global opinion that unites Russia, China, Egypt, India, United States, lots of different countries. And I think India has to have a very responsible policy towards Iran. So, I do not expect any major surprises from the legislation that is going to emerge.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Thanks for your question about the relationship, how to characterize it, how does it compare with other things. I think when I said that the nature of our relationship now is really unprecedented, with the sort of engagement we have. I think what I was trying to say is that please do not compare it with either what we have done before - because we have never done this before, India and the US - or with other relationships for one very simple reason. The world has changed, we have changed. None of us is what we were twenty years ago, thirty years ago. And we are now capable of doing things which we were not capable of doing then. And that is true of us all in the world. So, please, that is why I used the word unprecedented. But my hope is that we can carry on this process of transforming the relationship and I am very optimistic for the future of the relationship that as our capabilities grow, our common interests grow, and we learn to work with each other as we have shown over the last year and a half, on civil nuclear energy, as we go through this process, I think the prospects just keep opening up.
QUESTION: You have just said that the final legislation will be well within the parameters of the July 18 agreement. President Bush had assured that India will get uninterrupted fuel supply and that includes from strategic reserves. Will these commitments be kept?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Thank you. Your question gives me the opportunity to thank the Congress of the United States. I think the Congress has acted in a very supportive way of the Administration. We thank Members of the Democratic and Republican parties for their efforts and we anticipate a very supportive Bill. The United States intends to meet all the commitments that we made to the Indian Government on July 18, 2005 and on March 2, 2006 and that includes the commitments that we made on fuel assurances because that was an important part of the agreement, particularly the March 2nd agreement. We believe this Bill will be within the parameters, as I said, of the two agreements. Therefore, we will welcome the Bill, I am sure the United States Government, and we will also go ahead and implement all the obligations that we incurred as we agreed to these Bills. And then we need to get on to, I think frankly to an easier stage. The most difficult part of this process, in my view, as the person who negotiated this with the United States, has been the last 18 months. We have some very tough issues to deal with. We were in uncharted waters because, of course, there had never been a deal quite like this. We felt strategically it was right to recognize everything that India had done to be a responsible steward of its nuclear technology, and it was right to welcome India again to the mainstream of the nonproliferation community, and it is right to break down the barriers of the last three decades that have kept India on the outside.
What I think the Congress of the United States will be doing, and this is a very decisive moment, is to pass legislation that will essentially agree to welcome India into the nonproliferation community, to allow the barriers to come down, to see a type of cooperation we have not been able to have since the 1970s. So, it is going to be a historic time. As we look towards 2007, I think the completion of the 123 agreement is really a codification of the major and difficult decisions we have already made. Of course, it is a long process towards the finish line, but it is not going to be, in my judgment, as difficult as the last 18 months. So, it is the time I think for us to be thankful for the work that we have done and to congratulate ourselves that we have come a long, long way. We think it is in the best interest of the United States and we also hope that it is in the best interest of India and that you see it that way as well.
QUESTION: I have a question to Mr. Menon. In Parliament today the External Affairs Minister has said that the Indo-US nuclear understanding is based on its own merits and it cannot be linked either to North Korea’s nuclear test or Iran’s nuclear policy. Given that Iran is very much a part of the two Bills, including the Senate version, if this is India’s position what can we do to de-link ourselves from the legislation in the versions that we have already seen?
My question to Mr. Burns is, India voted in a certain way in September last year and in February. Supposing we had abstained or voted against the established position of the United States, would we be considered irresponsible as far as staying away from the international mainstream of counter-proliferation efforts?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: You obviously know more than I do about this Bill. I have not seen it. So, I would rather not comment on something that is hypothetical. But our basic approach is quite clear. What is being done here and what we have both agreed to do here, on the basis on which we have spoken to NSG, for instance, is that we are doing a stand alone arrangement recognizing India’s unique position (and) the responsible role that we played in nuclear affairs, and our need for civil nuclear energy cooperation with the rest of the world. But it is a special arrangement that we have worked out and it is on that basis that we are moving forward. How it is linked to one provision or the other of the Bill, how those provisions work themselves out, all that for us is hypothetical until we see the Bill. So, I am not going to comment on that.
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I am afraid that I am going to avoid answering a hypothetical question. It is not in my interest to answer a hypothetical question but I will say this. Everyone understands that India is a great country, and a sovereign country and nobody in our system, whether it is in the executive part of our Government or legislative, would ever want to infringe upon India’s right to make its own sovereign decisions. That is a fundamental tenet of international politics, and particularly, of this relationship of trust and respect that we have developed over the last several years. And so, in every respect you are going to see an American Administration and an American Congress I believe very respectful of India’s sovereignty and India’s independence.
I would also say this, it just bears repeating a point I made earlier, it is important that Iran is being sent one message on its nuclear weapons programme from China, Russia and the other countries of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council including my own, and countries like India. I think that degree of unanimity on that particular question is important to Iran. We seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons. I would not read too much into what the Administration is saying, what others may say because I think we should accentuate the positive that all of us have stood together with a message of peace and a message of diplomacy. That is a positive message which we hope the Iranians will react to.
QUESTION: Ambassador Burns, you have been very confident that the final legislation will be within the parameters of the July accord. But there has been a lot of opposition to the Bill here in India. No matter what the final legislation, there will be loud cries; there will be cries of sell out perhaps in some sections. Are you not scared that given the amount of time and effort that has been invested in this nuclear deal that if it is not well received in India, then it could impact the whole relationship?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think the US-India relationship is very strong and I have great confidence that we are going to carry that forward in the future. I think it is interesting if you go back and look at some of the reactions in the United States as well as in India to both the July 18 announcement but particularly the March 2 agreement. No sooner had we left Hyderabad House that there was a chorus of voices in the United States and our nonproliferation community condemning the American Administration for what we have done. There were a lot of people, including in the Indian press, predicting in March of this year that we would not have the kind of success we have had in the American Congress. I think we broke new ground. We took a thirty-year policy of keeping India on the outside, of preventing India from participating in normal international commerce and trade, and nuclear technology and we changed it - our two Governments, particularly our two leaders. And sometimes change is difficult for people to accept. But you have seen in the United States, the Democrats, Republicans, the leadership of both Houses of the Congress come together to support this. I have been pleased to see a large measure of support in India’s as well for this. Now, of course, any initiative like this that is so historic, that changes policy in such a revolutionary way is going to encounter some criticism. We expect that in a democratic society though we are confident in the United States, we have done the right thing here and that it is going to make sure, it is going ensure that this relationship between India and the United States prospers in the future.
QUESTION: Ambassador Burns, my question was what is the kind of feedback that you from NSG countries, in particular China?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, you are right to suggest that at the end of this process, the Nuclear Suppliers Group is going to have to agree by consensus, meaning everyone, to make the same type of changes in NSG practice that the United States Congress is just about to make today or tomorrow in the United States’ law. We spent the better part of the last year talking to our partners, including the Chinese Government and others, about this arrangement and we are, of course, enthusiastic supporters of the Nuclear Suppliers Group taking a positive initiative to support India. I think the great majority of countries in the NSG have already come out to support India. There are some who have not and there are some who have asked questions and who have been moderately critical. But I am confident that at the end of the day when this is presented to the Nuclear Suppliers Group it will pass by consensus and we will see the international community, in essence if you will, follow the lead of the United States, that our President has taken in suggesting that it is time that India be given its right and it is time that India be allowed to participate with all of our companies to develop its civil nuclear power sector. This is the right thing for the world as well as for our two countries.
QUESTION: My question is to Mr. Burns. There were a couple of concerns in the Indian strategic establishment over the Bill. I will just name two. One is the feared nuclear apartheid. The second is that of end use certification. What is your sense of these Indian concerns being met? My question to Mr. Menon is that the BJP went ballistic today accusing the Prime Minister of demeaning conduct in pursuing the nuclear deal with the US. The BJP also said they took exception to the Prime Minister entering into conversation with important American Senator.
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Sir, I apologize, I did not quite get your second question to me..
QUESTION: End use certification and feared nuclear apartheid….
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, let me just say, I am kind of surprised that anybody would use the term ‘nuclear apartheid’. India, it is true, has been kept out of the system for thirty-five years. India has not been given its rights. What President Bush and Prime Minister have done is essentially work for the liberation of India and to allow India’s scientific and technological community to be able to work on an equal basis with their brethren in the United States and in Europe, and in Russia and China. So, we look at this as the liberation Act of 2006 and 2007 for India’s civil nuclear power effort.
And the arguments we have made around the world is, how do you keep the country that will soon be the largest country in the world by population, India, out when that country has been responsible, when it has not traded its nuclear technology on the world market or black market, when there are environmental and energy benefits to this that will accrue to the Indian people as well as to the whole world. We saw this as an issue of great strategic importance, of strategic liberation. As I said before, sometimes people when they react to change do so in a conventional way. This is undoubtedly the right step to take for the whole world and I think you are going to see a very large majority in support in our own country but also around the world.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I am not sure what statement you are talking about but if your characterization of it is accurate about the Prime Minister’s behaviour being described as somehow ‘demeaning’, it seems to me that it shows the complete misunderstanding of a democratic way of working. Here is an issue between India and the US which we have been working on, now for 18 months, which is in our common interest. If somebody talks to you about it, you tell him what you think, I think that is perfectly normal to have conversations between us. That is what we did all day. We talked about the issues that we want to move forward and that is the normal democratic way of working. So, I cannot see how these things are demeaning. I do not see protocol or anything coming into it if we discuss these things among ourselves. This is what two friendly countries do, and leaders in these countries will do this. This is normal. But quite frankly, I have not seen exactly what you are talking about.
QUESTION: My question to Mr. Burns is what is the Administration’s view on the likely provisions of the Bill on spent fuel end use by India? To Mr. Menon, what is India’s position on fall back safeguards?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: You know where the Foreign Secretary and I are, in a particular position. Neither of us has seen the text of the Bill, the common Bill, the conference Bill. It is emerging and so to answer detailed questions about the spent fuel end use is really impossible. It would not be very wise for me to try to guess as to what would be in there. But I will say this.
QUESTION: What is the Administration’s view?
US UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: You are asking me to comment on the Administration’s view on a piece of legislation that I have not seen. And perhaps tomorrow, I will be here in India tomorrow, if I see one of you in the streets you can ask me that question and if I have seen the Bill I will give you the answer. But let me just say this. What this Bill is going to do is going to operationalise the intent that President Bush and Prime Minister Singh and is that is to open up the flow of capital and technology to help India develop its civil nuclear sphere so that a greater part of your energy production can come from that. It is clean energy, it is cheaper energy, and it is energy that is going to benefit your particularly agricultural population. That is what it is going to do. The rest is detail. So, that is why we are in favour of what we have been doing for the past 18 months.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think your question to me was, what is India’s position on fallback safeguards? Our position is that which was expressed by the Prime Minister in the Parliament on the 17th of August 2006. The rest is hypothetical.