Joint Press Interaction by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran and US Under Secretary of State Mr. Nicholas Burns
January 20, 2006
OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON (SHRI NAVTEJ SARNA): Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to this joint press interaction by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran and US Under Secretary of State Mr. Nicholas Burns. This has to be a quick press interaction. After the two opening remarks have been made, we have time only for a few questions because the Under Secretary of State has to catch a flight and Foreign Secretary has another engagement at five o’clock. I request the Foreign Secretary first to address the press.
FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Good evening to all of you.
First of all let me take this opportunity of welcoming Under Secretary Nicholas Burns. We have spent the last couple of days in very friendly and very intensive discussions on a whole range of issues.
Let me begin by saying that a part of the discussions, a very important part of the discussions, was focused on the forthcoming landmark visit of President Bush and Mrs. Bush to India, which we expect to take place sometime in the first week of March this year. I conveyed to Under Secretary Burns and his delegation that a very warm welcome awaits President Bush and Mrs. Bush to India.
In our discussions we looked at the itinerary, both the protocol aspects as well as the substantive aspects of the visit; it is really reflective of the very significant transformation that has taken place and is taking place in India-US relations. We had a preliminary and broad discussion on that agenda. Of course, it will be for the advance team that will be coming from Washington and further discussions that we have with our American friends to really get a fix on that itinerary for that very important visit. We both attach a great deal of importance to this visit. It would be really another defining moment in Indo-US relations.
As you are aware, we have also had another meeting of the Joint Working Group on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation. As you know, this Group is headed by Under Secretary Burns on the US side and myself on the Indian side. You would recall that when I had gone to Washington sometime back I had shared with Under Secretary Burns some preliminary ideas about the kind of separation plan of our civil and military facilities that we were contemplating on the Indian side. We also discussed some other components of that proposed agreement to which also we attach a lot of importance. For example, we had a preliminary discussion about the kind of safeguards that we are looking at; we had a discussion about what is the kind of scope of our cooperation. A number of issues were discussed but this was really the first time that we were going into some of the substantive aspects of the proposed agreement.
This current meeting that we had of the Joint Working Group enabled us to carry forward our discussions in much greater detail on all aspects of the proposed agreement. It would be fair to say that I think we have today a much better understanding of the kind of perspectives that the United States has with regard to various aspects of this proposed agreement, and we have a much clearer perspective as well. I think we have come to the conclusion that we need to discuss this in greater detail in the coming days and weeks and this particular dialogue between us will be continued.
In the course of these discussions we have for example, shared with the United States our plans for a very significant expansion of our civilian nuclear energy capability over the next few years and what kind of scope of international cooperation that we envisage for meeting the targets that we have in the civil nuclear energy sector. So, this has been an extremely useful discussion. It would, as I said, be fair to say that we need to have more discussions on this particular subject.
We have also had occasion to exchange views on a number of regional issues. As you know, this aspect of our relationship has really developed in the recent past. We have been exchanging views and trying to coordinate our views on issues like Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka. A number of these issues were discussed. Although there was not so much time to go over the entire spectrum of regional issues, we had a very useful discussion on some of these items.
Under Secretary Burns will be visiting Pakistan, I believe, as well as Sri Lanka. So, this was a good occasion for us to exchange notes particularly since recently we have had the visit of President Rajapaksa to India and, as you know, a couple of days back I myself had a round of discussions with my Pakistani counterpart. So, this was a very opportune moment for us to exchange notes on our relations with these countries.
So, once again this has been a very productive, very useful exchange of views, as always. It has always been a pleasure to engage Nick in these very very friendly and very productive discussions. I look forward to having an opportunity to resume our dialogue in the none too distant future.
Thank you very much indeed.
OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON: May I now request Under Secretary Burns to address the press please.
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE (MR. NICHOLAS BURNS): Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here. I want to thank Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran for his hospitality to myself and to our delegation. We have had a very good two days of discussions here in Delhi. I was in Mumbai the day before that. I believe that President Bush is going to have a very interesting and very successful visit here when he comes later this year.
We believe that the character and the quality of US-India relations have been transformed by the last several years, particularly through the leadership of the Prime Minister and our President. They have identified a strategic partnership on a global basis between India and the United States that is qualitatively different than any relation that our two countries have had going back to the founding and the independence of India in 1947. So, it is our strong, strong impression that across the board the foundations have been laid for a new relationship both on the bilateral economic, science and technology, agriculture and energy and educational initiatives that the Prime Minister and President laid out in the July 18 statement and, of course, to the cooperation on regional and global foreign policy issues that Foreign Secretary Saran outlined for you. On that score, we do consider India to be global partner.
It is important that we talk about the situation in Sri Lanka. We are concerned about the situation there, concerned about the level of violence, concerned about the breakdown in the ceasefire. In my trip to Colombo a couple of days I will certainly be meeting with the Sri Lankan Government, meeting with the Norwegian colleagues as well and try to make sure that we are standing on the side of the preservation of the ceasefire and of peace, and of peaceful resolution of disputes there.
In Nepal, the United States is very concerned by the actions of His Majesty the King and arresting and detaining of members of the political establishment in the last couple of days. We have issued a statement frankly very critical of that. We are equally critical, of course, of the Maoists. We believe that they should not be using violence as a political weapon. So what India and the United States can do together is to try to assert a joint appeal for peace and for democratic reconciliation in Nepal, (which) is very important.
We had a very good discussion on Iran. You all know the position of my Government. We believe that Iran is a threat to peace, both in its own region and globally. Iran has overstepped the bounds of international law in seeking to use its facility at Natanz for centrifuge research and enrichment. You have heard what our President and Secretary of State had to say on Iran during the last week. We had a thorough discussion of the situation with Foreign Secretary Saran. We are hopeful that when the President visits, we will see a fruition of many of the joint initiatives that we have undertaken to strengthen the US-India relationship. I have mentioned some of them.
I would say on the question of our future agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation, we remain hopeful that we will be able to achieve this agreement. It is a very difficult undertaking and it is a unique undertaking. I am not sure any two Governments have actually had a negotiation quite like this because the situation is unique, India’s position is unique, and there is a complexity and a difficulty to these talks which is inherent in the subject. And yet we worked very well together for two days here. We listened to each other. I believe the American delegation learned a lot from what we heard from the Indian Government about its own perspective. Both Foreign Secretary Saran and I have committed to each other that we will continue these talks hopefully towards an agreement in the not too distant future.
So, I am very pleased by the visit here. I think we have a great friend in India, we Americans. We are very grateful for the role that India is playing in the world today. We are hopeful that this new relationship is getting around to even greater heights in the future. I myself and my delegation want to thank my good friend Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran for his hospitality and for the welcome that he has shown.
QUESTION (NEW YORK TIMES): This is to Secretary Saran. You just heard him say, ‘I think we have a great friend in India, we Americans’. Do you think that US Congress might be inclined not to give India the nuclear technology that it wants if India does not also stand with the west on Iran?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As far as India is concerned, the civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement stands on its own merits. Whatever interaction we have had in the recent past with visiting Congressmen, visiting Senators and the interaction that we have also had ourselves with Congressmen and Senators in Washington leads us to believe that there is a fund of goodwill for India in the US Congress, that there is a very pervasive feeling of friendship and support, a bipartisan support for a much stronger Indo-US relationship. Therefore, we remain hopeful that the civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement - once it has been negotiated between the two administrations, when it goes to the Congress - will receive a positive response.
QUESTION (NDTV): This is to Under Secretary Burns and Foreign Secretary Saran. You yourself have termed this entire agreement as very difficult and unique. The papers that presented to you by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, do you find them credible and defensible?
Mr. Saran, do you think that India shares the concerns of US, UK and EU-3 on the Iran issue?
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much. In July, the Prime Minister and the President set out to undertake something new in international politics, that is, the United States made a commitment to India and India made some commitments to the United States that we would try to overcome thirty years of division and disagreement on the civil nuclear issue and the United States will commit to make the argument to the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as to the United States Congress that both US law and international law and practice should be overturned to permit the international community to engage in trade, in technology transfer, in investment, in India’s civil nuclear energy. We think that proposition is an important one and will further the nonproliferation objectives of the international community because the largest democracy in the world, India will no longer be outside the system but will be inside the system. Of course, that has enormous potential benefits for India. The benefits for the United States and the world community are that we will be working with India and engaging India on an equal basis. So, there will be benefits for both sides. It is a very attractive proposition.
What is unique and difficult, of course, is that this kind of thing has not been done before. India is a unique country and its position on this particular issue and this industry is unique obviously. So, President Bush has taken the position that this is in the interest of the United States, it is in the interest of the other countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
We have had very good discussions in many different cities, in New York, in Washington, in Delhi and I think we have met in some European capitals. We have talked a lot on the phone. I think what we have been able to do is establish a framework for how this agreement can work. We have now had a thorough discussion with the competent nuclear authorities of each Government by the way, in Foreign Secretary Saran’s delegation and in my own delegation, about the intricacies and the details of this. There is no question that we have made some progress over the last six months but much further progress has to be made, and that there are some difficulties ahead of us. I have spent twenty-five years in diplomacy thinking that with goodwill and with dedication, countries can reach agreements and I have the same feeling about this agreement.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: We remain very supportive of the initiative taken by the EU-3 to engage Iran in finding an amicable solution to some of the issues which have been raised with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme. We have been extremely supportive of that process. It stands to reason that India - which has, with Iran a very long-standing, close and what we call civilizational relationship with its people – would not like to see a situation of confrontation developing in a region that is very close to India. Therefore, our advice has always been that confrontation should be avoided. This is a message that we have given to our friends. This is a message that, by the way, we have also given to our Iranian friends that an effort needs to be made in order to avoid a situation of confrontation from developing. We also believe that in dealing with this issue it is important to develop as broad an international consensus as possible. Much of our effort over the last several weeks has been directed towards developing that international consensus. That is the spirit in which we have also discussed this matter in the last couple of days both with the United States of America, as also representative of the EU-3 who was on a visit to India recently, as well as with Iran.
QUESTION (ASSOCIATED PRESS): Mr. Burns, you mentioned difficulties in working out with the nuclear deal. Can you elaborate what these difficulties are?
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: I wish I could have the luxury of taking you into the inside of these negotiations and telling you all the details. But I am afraid that would violate all rules of diplomacy if I did that. Suffice to say, I talked about the unique nature of these negotiations given the history of the nonproliferation regime, given India’s own history in the nuclear sphere. I think that has added to the complexity of the negotiations just by definition. There is no question that we believe, and we have said many times, that for any agreement to be credible with United States Congress and with Nuclear Suppliers Group (it) is going to have to be a detailed agreement, it is going to have to be substantial. Despite the fact that we have been at this for six months I think there is still a further way to go. We, both sides, realize that and we realize that we have our work cut out for us over the next several weeks. But we are dedicated, as a friend of India, to work on a respectful and equal basis with the Indian Government.
We will have to see if we can be successful. I hope we can because it is very important that this agreement be realized. It is an agreement made between the President and the Prime Minister. It would have enormous benefits for India. It would really allow India to engage in international trade, in technology, in research and development with other countries who have scientific institutions in a way that has not been possible for thirty years. It would allow the nonproliferation community internationally, the regime that has been established internationally, to have the benefit of India meeting the same standards and practices in the civil sphere (as) the rest of us have been meeting for a long time. So, we are negotiating on that basis. We have to see what happens in the future. We would be working hard. But there are difficulties ahead.
QUESTION (ASSOCIATED PRESS): A quick follow-up. …(Inaudible)… before the President arrives so that the deal can be concluded and presented to the Congress?
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: I do not know for sure. Our goal, of course, would be to have an agreement before President Bush arrives in India. We would hope for that. Of course, nothing is ever certain in these types of negotiations. But … we have going for us, there is a lot of trust between the Government of United States and the Government of India. We feel that trust. We feel that we are negotiating with a highly professional set of diplomats on the Indian side. We know we have the goodwill of the Indian Government and they have ours. In diplomacy that goes a long way. Both of us want to see the end of these negotiations and want to see it move forward. So, we are proceeding on that basis.
QUESTION (HINDUSTAN TIMES): Secretary Burns, this question relates to the Iranian National Security Advisor recently equating the Indian nuclear programme with that of Iran’s and saying that this was an example of international double standards on the whole nuclear issue. What do you have to say on that?
US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I saw Dr. Larijani’s remarks which asserted this kind of double standards. Frankly I was, I think everyone was, surprised by them. They were outrageous remarks from my perspective because how is it possible to compare India with Iran in the nuclear sphere? On the one hand you have a country, India, that has never been a proliferator, that has been very responsible in safeguarding its nuclear technology; on the other hand you have a Government and a regime in Iran which the IAEA says for eighteen years conducted secret nuclear research without revealing it to the IAEA, a Government that has just last week unilaterally lifted the seals placed by the IAEA on the centrifuge facility at Natanz, lifted it off unilaterally, … violate its agreement in essence with the European Union by proceeding in nuclear research, a Government that has earned the criticism of Russia, of China, of the European countries, of my own country over the past two weeks.
I was in London earlier this week meeting with the EU-3 Governments, with the Russian and Chinese Governments. While we do not have identical views on this, I cannot speak for those other Governments, I can tell you what united us. Each of the Governments that I mentioned, that met in London this past Monday, just a couple of days ago, believes that Iran has crossed the line it should not have crossed, that it should heed the advice of Dr. El Baradei and the IAEA and return to negotiations, it should suspend its nuclear activities, it should not engage in centrifuge research much less enrichment. My own Government would say it should not engage in uranium conversion at the plant at Esfahan. So, Iran has clearly miscalculated. The United States believes that there should be a vote of the IAEA Board of Governors on February 2, and there should be referral to the Security Council because since Iran has crossed so many international red lines, Iran has to know that there is going to be a penalty to be paid for such actions. That is the American view on Iran. But for Dr. Larijani to assert somehow of some equality between India and Iran by asserting a double standard is quite outrageous and it is quite off the mark.