Briefing by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran on the visit of President
February 28, 2006
FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Thank you very much for coming this afternoon on what I know is an extremely busy day for all of you and a very special day. But I thought before the President of United States comes to visit India perhaps it might be worthwhile for me to share with you what we have in store for the visit.
This is the first (visit) of President Bush to India. This is only the fifth visit by a US President to India. There is a great deal of anticipation regarding this visit. Of course, a very warm welcome awaits President Bush and for good reason because here is a President who has been personally very supportive in advancing India-US ties and particularly giving a certain strategic dimension to India-US relations.
President Bush will be accompanied by Mrs. Laura Bush. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also be a member of the delegation, (as also) Chief of Staff Andrew Card, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, and the US Trade Representative Rob Portman. What we have on the agenda are delegation-level talks with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will be hosting a luncheon in honour of both President and Mrs. Bush. There will also be a banquet by the President, the traditional banquet, at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. There will be, of course, meetings with the Chairman of the UPA, Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and also with the Leader of the Opposition Mr. L.K. Advani.
President Bush and Prime Minister will also be receiving the much-awaited report from the Indian and American CEOs. If you recall, when Prime Minister had visited Washington last year in July, the two leaders had set up a CEOs forum with ten of the top industry and business leaders on the US side and ten similar top leaders of Indian business and industry on our side. This Forum has been meeting and also they have been working on a common report to the two leaders on how the economic and trade relationship between India and the US could be taken forward, in particular focusing attention on the investment aspect, particularly for example the areas of interest to us like investment in infrastructure and certainly in high technology areas. So, there will be a presentation of this report to the two leaders.
Prior to that there will be also separately a meeting between the National Economic Advisor to the US President, Allan Hubbard and Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia who is the Deputy-Chairman of our Planning Commission and also the US Trade Representative. The Trade Representative, of course, will be having also a separate meeting with the Minister for Commerce and Industry. So, this will provide during the visit an occasion for the economic dialogue, the India-US Economic Dialogue, to also have a meeting and also the US Trade Representative and our Minister for Commerce and Industry to have a meeting in a sense to add to the CEOs Forum report, in terms of our economic trade and investment objectives. So, there will be a very strong economic and trade content to this visit.
In the itinerary that the President has there will be a visit to Hyderabad. It will be a brief visit but it will be a visit which will have both substantive as well as some symbolic significance. The visit to Hyderabad will include a visit to the N.G. Ranga Agricultural University. As you know, we have been working with the United States on a very ambitious Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture whose objective is nothing short of kicking off a second Green Revolution in India, a phase of modernization, a phase of upgradation, a phase of commercialization of Indian agriculture.
Here in Hyderabad there will be an occasion to the President to look at what India has achieved in the field of agriculture in the past several years. It has been a very impressive story of success, a success which we can now build upon to bring about a second Green Revolution in the country. I think he would have a chance also to interact with Indian farmers. There will also be an occasion to interact with some of the self-help groups, especially of women who have been involved in many self-help activities, at the N.G. Ranga University. So, that is one part of the Hyderabad agenda.
Then there will be an occasion for the President to interact with young entrepreneurs at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. As you know, Hyderabad has now been developing into a multi-industry kind of center of excellence of high technology. This would be an occasion for the President to interact with some of the industry leaders in this metropolis.
When the President comes back from Hyderabad to Delhi, he will be addressing a representative gathering at Purana Quila at a function which is being hosted by the Indian apex organizations, business organizations. Essentially what the President is looking at is an address which will be his sort of main message to the people of India from the United States. So, this is in nutshell what the content of the visit would be.
As you know, this visit comes after the landmark visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Washington last year in July. You are aware of the July 18 Joint Statement which was a very substantive agenda for India-US relations. Some aspects of that agenda have already been implemented and some are still a work in progress. Essentially the vision that was put forward for India-US relations was one of strategic partnership based on a convergence of interests in several areas as also shared values of democracy, recognition that our two countries’ need to work together to jointly address some very important global issues which are of mutual concern. These, of course, include certain strategic and security issues but they also include areas like energy, agriculture, science and technology, environment, health, counter terrorism, trade and commerce, space-related activities as well as high technology. So, a very extensive and a rather substantial agenda had been put forward for India-US relations.
During President Bush’s visit to India there will be occasion to review how far we have gone in terms of fulfilling some of the elements of the agenda. As I said, we have actually made progress in several areas. Since July 18, 2005 the two countries have been engaged in a rather intensive dialogue across the board to give substance to, and to give content to some of the ideas which were expressed in the Joint Statement. Civil Nuclear Energy is, of course, the area which has occupied a great deal of attention of our media as well as the US media. I can only report that we have managed to make considerable progress. We still have some distance to go. This is a complicated issue; a complex issue. Our effort has been not to leave unfinished business which could create difficulties for us later on. So we need a certain degree of clarity on our mutual commitments. We need to make sure that there are no ambiguities which may create difficulties for us in the future. So, as I said, we still have a short distance to cover. If necessary we will continue the negotiations beyond the forthcoming visit.
We also had the mandate given to the CEOs forum that they should produce a document with very concrete recommendations, I understand that this report does have those concrete recommendations, which would be very useful to both our Governments in terms of our economic relationship. On the broader issue of economic cooperation, again there has been a great deal of work. Working Groups on some of the specific areas of cooperation have met. There has been video conferencing between the concerned departments in India and the United States. I am very happy to report that we can expect some important announcements as far as the energy initiative is concerned.
You would recall that in the Indo-US Energy Dialogue there is a Steering Committee which is headed by David Garman, Under Secretary in the Energy Department in the US by the Foreign Secretary in India and we have met twice. We met in December 2005 in Washington and then recently David Garman was here in New Delhi in February and we went over a number of areas where India and US could cooperate. For example, in working together on zero emission, coal-based thermal power plants. That is an area of great interest to us. We have talked how we could cooperate together in certain non-conventional energy sources. We have already been having in the past some cooperation between the two countries and things like bio fuels. We have been talking about the hydrogen fuel economy. These are areas which are of great promise for the future.
You would recall in this connection that the Joint Statement had also spoken about India’s participation in the International Thermo-Nuclear Experimental Research project. We are very happy to that that has become a reality. India is now a full participant in the ITER project. On the energy side we have in fact a very broad menu. There will be some important announcements, as I mentioned to you.
In terms of the agriculture knowledge initiative, again there has been a lot of interaction between the Indian side and the American side. Here also we have a very substantial menu relating to virtually every important aspect of agriculture, things like water management, introduction of new technologies into agriculture, very important area of post harvest management, and also of agricultural processing. Agricultural processing is a particularly important area for India because there is considerable amount of wastage. This is one area which cannot only bring great value addition to agriculture but also has great potential for employment creation. So, we are really looking at cooperation in areas which would have a very direct impact on a sector of India’s economy which still gives occupation to a very large part of our population. This is one of the areas which will be a key area for cooperation, long-term cooperation, between the two countries.
Then we have the high technology. The High Technology Cooperation Group met in November-December 2005. We have action plans on nano-technology, biotechnology, defence technology, as well as on IT. These work plans which have been developed will be implemented during the year. As a result of our efforts, licensing for high technology products has become much more liberal as well as predictable. A fairly important segment of the American high technology exports to India have been now freed from licensing requirements. Approval rates have climbed from about 80 per cent in the past to more than 90 per cent now. The licence processing time has also significantly dropped from about 44-45 days which used to be the average before to about 34 days now. So, there is a trend towards a more liberal high technology trade.
Here also we expect that there would be announcement for further liberalization of high technology licences during the visit. Science and Technology agreement was signed, as you know, between our Minister of State for Science and Technology, the Secretary of State of the US in September 2005, this was a direct follow-up to the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh to Washington. Both sides have regarded science and technology as really a critical area for cooperation between us. We are looking at broadening the framework of science and technology cooperation between the two sides, and provide greater and more predictable funding so that the two sides can undertake joint projects on a much more predictable and a longer-term basis. This is something which is also ready for announcement during the visit.
On space, we have significant progress. There has been cooperation on space launch, the inclusion of US payloads on India’s Chandrayan mission, the Moon Mission. These have been talked about in great detail and I think we are very near to making announcements in the space area.
Amongst other areas we have global issues such as clean development partnership. We have cooperation on pandemics like HIV-AIDS and Avian Flu. Avian Flu is something which is a very current challenge and we are certainly looking forward to working together with the US on this very important area as well as how do we build upon our previous experience in dealing with natural disasters and build up a framework of cooperation for responding to natural disasters. This is something which would also figure in the list of outcomes for the visit.
As you can see, there is a very substantial agenda for the visit. A very natural sort of taking forward of the initiatives which once announced in July last year and also building upon that base looking at a much broader relationship in virtually all the important areas which were identified then, as I said, a very significant dimension being the economic, trade and investment relationship.
We have no doubt that this would be a very successful visit and a visit which will really mark a further maturation and a further development of our strategic partnership with the US.
Thank you very much. I would be ready to take your questions.
QUESTION: Sir, last week in an interview with Indian journalists in Washington, President Bush said in response to a question on Kashmir dispute that it should be settled between India, Pakistan and “citizens of Kashmir”. Do you have any comment on that?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Our position is very clear. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir, insofar as it relates to the relationship between the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India, and the Government of India, that is being is already addressed in the dialogue that is taking place. The Prime Minister recently had a roundtable on Jammu and Kashmir. As far as the issue between India and Pakistan is concerned, that issue too is being addressed. We have a Composite Dialogue taking place in which the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is being addressed. So, if this matter is raised in the talks between our Prime Minister and President Bush, this is the position which will be explained to him.
QUESTION: He has called them citizens of Kashmir.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Citizens of Kashmir are citizens of India.
QUESTION: It is quite apparent that US is very keen on India dropping out of the proposed India-Iran gas pipeline project. You have said that we should expect some very important announcements during the visit. Should we expect some announcement which is going to balance the loss of energy that we are going to have in case India drops out of India-Iran gas pipeline project?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: India has no intention of dropping out of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.
QUESTION: A question on the nuke deal. The Prime Minister told Parliament yesterday that the fast breeder reactors will not be a part of separation plan. But he did not actually indicate whether the Americans have accepted this. Have they accepted our position or does it continue to be a stumbling block?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As I said, we have not concluded the negotiations yet with the United States of America. We still have some distance to go. So, what the Prime Minister spelt out in his statement was the Indian position.
QUESTION: Has there been any kind of response to the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday from Washington?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: The response has been that we need to continue to negotiate and we need to tie up various loose ends before we can announce that we have a deal. As I mentioned to you, while we have come fairly close but we still are not there yet.
QUESTION: Of late there have been three case of visa denial to Indian scientists. I was just wondering that has the Ministry of External Affairs taken up the issue of the kind of treatment that has been meted out to an Indian scientist by the US Consulate in Chennai?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: The American Ambassador has spoken to, I think, at least one of the scientists and, if I am not mistaken, has also approved the visa to him. We have, as a matter of course, taken up with the United States of America the need to have a very liberal and creditable visa policy with regard to exchange of scientists between the two countries because without such a visa regime it is difficult to see how we can promote our scientific and technical exchanges.
QUESTION: Before coming to India Mr. Nicholas Burns last week said that 90 per cent of the deal has been concluded. How do you describe it now - Ninety-five per cent, ninety-six per cent?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not like to get into the percentages or a numbers game. The fact is that until we have all the loose ends tied up, unless we have a deal, we do not have a deal.
QUESTION: The American Ambassador yesterday again expressed confidence that we will be able to clinch this deal before Bush comes to India. Similar, is a message from Washington also. What are the sticking points twenty-four hours before he comes here, and forty-eight hour before the two leaders talk?
FOREIGN SECREARY: Let me begin by saying that there is a very keen interest not only on the part of India but also a very keen interest on the part of the United States of America to have this deal as early as possible. That is because this is an agreement which has very far-reaching benefits for both countries, not just for India. Therefore, there is a very strong commitment to try and get this agreement through quickly. But, at the same time, there is a recognition that this is a very complex issue. There are many complicated elements to this agreement. It is not at all surprising that in sitting down and negotiating on each one of these elements we find that it is complex. So, we have to continue to work hard, continue to see how we can bridge some of the remaining gaps. What are these gaps? These gaps are on a number of technical issues which relates to, for example, the nature of the separation to be carried out, the nature of the safeguards that would be applied. There are these kind of issues which we need to still find closure on.
QUESTION: I just wanted to know about two particular issues. Keeping in view that US is not ready to consider India a nuclear power, and is not ready to let India enter into the Security Council as a permanent member, and at the same time compelling India to bring its fast breeder reactors under the safeguards, what is India going to do if the nuclear agreement is not signed?
Secondly, yesterday evening Mr. El Baradei has given his final report on Iranian nuclear activities. He has certified that all the activities in Iran have been considered peaceful and there has not been single evidence to show that Iran is intending to produce nuclear weapons or that technology. Keeping that view, what would India be doing if there is a voting on the 6tth March?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Let me take your last question first. How India will vote if a certain Resolution comes up before the IAEA on the 6th of March will be determined by the contents of the Resolution which is brought up for vote. I do not think it is worthwhile for us to speculate on how India will vote without India knowing what the contents of the Resolution are. So, let us wait and see. There will be an occasion for the Board of Governors to debate and to consider the report which is being put forward by the Director General, and then the Board will take a decision. When the time comes, and if and when there is a draft Resolution, we will, as always, judge it on its merits.
With respect to what will we do if the India-US Civil Nuclear Energy Agreement is not concluded, as I explained to you, there are very many other aspects of cooperation between India and the United States. Therefore, while we would certainly like to see the Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement also concluded, if for whatever reason they cannot be concluded before the visit, we will, I presume, continue to negotiate on them and then move ahead with the other areas of cooperation on which there is no difference of opinion or no doubts in our minds.
QUESTION: You have been …(inaudible)…negotiations. How do you personally feel that there is not an announcement that you can make …(inaudible) … simply evidence that the two sides are doing very hard bargaining?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think you would not need evidence. It is true that we are doing very hard bargaining. And it is the nature of the subject which requires very hard bargaining between the two sides. It is, as I said, at the risk of repeating myself, a very complex issue. So, it was always obvious that it would be difficult for both sides. We are making a lot of effort. Let me say we have made a considerable amount of progress as well. But we are not there yet. We need to still put in some hard work.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister in his statement yesterday admitted that the US is yet to translate its commitment into reality about the supply of fuel to Tarapur Nuclear Thermal Power Plant. What are the chances of the US meeting this commitment in the forthcoming visit? Is an announcement on that topic expected?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not think so because I think what the US has said is that as soon as US laws are adjusted, it would become possible to make the supply of fuel to Tarapur.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Prime Minister’s statement said … (inaudible)… assurances …
FOREIGN SECRETARY: The Joint Statement if you recall, after setting out the commitments that the US will adjust its laws and it will work together with friends and allies in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to bring about a change, then said in the meantime the US will… Our interpretation of ‘in the meantime’ was until the above has been achieved there would be an effort made to supply fuel to Tarapur. There is a difference of opinion on that interpretation. What the US says is that it would be not possible for them to make that exception without bringing about a change in the law because a supply of fuel to Tarapur without that law being changed would in a sense be illegal.
QUESTION: You talked about announcements that will be made. How many agreements are going to be signed?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: These are not agreements which are going to be signed in the format of the two principals sitting and various agreements being signed. Essentially what we would be doing is there are certain MOUs or certain agreements which will be signed amongst concerned agencies at the time of the visit. Some of them will be reflected in the Joint Statement which we hope to also announce. There will be also fact-sheets which will be released giving details of the various decisions which have been arrived at. As I mentioned to you, there are several in the works.
QUESTION: There was a mention in the July 18 document about the US including an Indian astronaut in the training programme. Has there been any progress? If there has been no progress, why has there been no progress?
Do you think you have embarked on this separation plan business a little too late in the day?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Training of the Indian astronaut, or putting an Indian astronaut on a US mission entails a certain cost to us. Therefore, we have to determine whether or not for our space programme and for our space agency this was something which we should be making a financial outlay for. Given the priorities for their space plans, they came to the conclusion, our space agency came to the conclusion, that this was not something which really could fit into their perspective plans for our space programme. Therefore, we have not pursued this.
Your second question was, ‘Did we embark on the separation plan at a very late stage?’ No, we have been working on it since July 18, immediately after that. We have been working on all aspects of the Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement between the two sides since then. As I mentioned to you, a considerable amount of progress has been made on all aspects of this proposed agreement. Separation plan is only one aspect. There are many other aspects of the agreement. We have been having very intensive negotiations on each and every aspect. But, we still have some distance to go as I said.
QUESTION: …Inaudible… (On Civil Nuclear energy, President Bush’s second term)?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As I mentioned, it would certainly have made us very happy if we had the agreement in place for it to be announced during President Bush’s visit to India. This initiative is not something which is episodic. It is not something which is a sort of an event. Its significance lies in terms of the process that it sort of opens up. If it is a process, and if it is something which is of long-term significance, then I think its relevance will remain even after the visit has been concluded.
QUESTION: My question pertains to the five talking points which President Bush had listed out at the Asiatic Society speech. Interestingly he was pretty okay with the rest of the talking points apart from the one on agricultural products and services. According to him, India should raise all its subsidy on agricultural products and services. Services was not the main agenda. How are we posturing ourselves on this particular demand which might come up?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Our position on these issues is very well known. We have taken certain very well considered positions in the WTO. I think we will continue to take those positions. There is a certain logic to the position that we have taken on agricultural products. So, with regard to the issue of subsidies, with the exception of what applies to a country like India which has a very large population engaged in agriculture, where there is still a component of subsistence agriculture, there is a need for certain defence measures. If that is conceded, then we are looking at much freer trade in agriculture. We have no ideological sort of resistance to that.
But I think the reality of where our agriculture stands today still remains. In fact, if we really make success of the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, to which the United States is willing to contribute, we will see in the years to come a much freer access to the Indian market as far as agricultural products are concerned. Already I think there is a considerable amount of liberalization in this respect, something which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. I think people should appreciate that we have come this far. But our ability to go forward has to be in fact related to the reality of the Indian economy and Indian agriculture. I think we can explain this very persuasively to President Bush.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister was supposed to have spoken to the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last night. What did he speak to her? What was the conversation about?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: There was a conversation between the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister last night. I think the conversation, if I am not mistaken, related to how President Bush and the Secretary of State were looking forward to President Bush’s visit to India, that there was great expectation and anticipation with regard to this visit. On the specific issues, of course, they touched upon…
QUESTION: Did she refer to the Prime Minister’s speech?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: She did refer to the Prime Minister’s speech but she also said that with regard to the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement that we are close and we need to work hard in order to close whatever gaps there are. And she said that the Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran should put extra effort with Under Secretary Burns in order to achieve closure.
QUESTION:ac You just said that you will take sometime to cover this. How much time do you think both sides will take to cover and come to the deal?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As long as it takes.
QUESTION: Hamas movement has won in the Palestinian elections and formed the Palestinian Government. The US has stopped the financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian people. What role India can play in the peace process in the Middle East? Would you support the Hamas movement forming the Palestinian Government?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: It is for the people of Palestine to decide how they are governed. We will respect the wishes of the people of Palestine. That is our position. We have always supported the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people and we will continue to do so.