Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister's meeting with President Bush and other matters
September 26, 2008
MEA Official Spokesperson: Good evening and welcome to the Press Center. Foreign Secretary is here to brief you about Prime Minister’s meeting with President Bush and other issues. He would also be taking a few questions after his opening remarks. Let me also introduce Ms. Gaitri Kumar, JS (AMS) who is to the right of Foreign Secretary.
Foreign Secretary: Good evening. Sorry to keep you waiting. I will brief you on Prime Minister’s meeting with President Bush. PM met with President Bush in Oval Office at 5 o’clock and the meeting went till 6. Then they went across for dinner. It was a very warm and friendly meeting. They both naturally reviewed what they had achieved in terms of transforming Indo-US relations since July 18, 2005 when the Joint statement had laid out the vision of how they wanted to take the relations forward.
You would recall that a major element of the Joint statement was on Civil-Nuclear cooperation which we were told is close to being adopted by US Congress. Both expressed their happiness and PM expressed his gratitude to President Bush for his decisive intervention for NSG clearance at various stages.
They also reviewed the rest of the relationship. Both expressed great satisfaction on the transformation of the relations and other various fields where the relation is moving forward, whether it is education, whether it is agriculture, whether it is high-technology co-operation. On cooperation in health, on high technology, cooperation on defence we will make available to you fact sheets which are also on our website, so you will get basic data on the relationship.
We also agreed to open two additional Consulates in the US at Seattle and Atlanta. US has opened its Consulate in Hyderabad. The two leaders also had discussion naturally on the regional situation, on the situation around India, as President Bush, I think, said to the media later that he had sought Prime Minister’s advise on the situation in the region. There was talk also on the need to support Afghanistan’s transition into normal democratic society and free the region from terrorism.
There were also some discussion in the initial meeting itself on Doha round and its prospects and how to carry it further. PM said India was interested in rule based trading system and that the most important part of our approach was our concern for our subsistence farmers and President Bush expressed understanding for this for the fact that this would need to be accommodated.
Most of the larger international issues were covered during the Dinner. It was a small dinner in the old family dinner room of the White House. There were some discussions and it came out very strongly that both leaders had a very firm faith in the importance of this relationship. But not only in the region but more also in the larger global context whether it is energy, or other crucial issues like that the environment for instance. There was some discussion that how we could move forward in this direction.
This was a very positive meeting. We were very satisfied with the manner of the meeting and what was covered. Everything that we wanted to do and achieve was done, but naturally there was something of a valedictory tone to it as probably it was the last time President Bush was in White House that PM was visiting. But there was a strong sense of satisfaction achieved over the last few years and where we have brought the India-US relationship. I would be happy to take questions.
Q : During the discussion, was the situation in South Asia like war on terror, stabilization of Afghanistan etc. discussed because in his statement President Bush said that he had sought PM’s advice on this? Was there discussion on India’s involvement in Afghanistan?
A : Yes, South Asia was discussed. We are already very involved in Afghanistan. Our assistance commitment today is almost 1.2 billion dollars. There is about 4000 Indians working today in Afghanistan for peaceful reconstruction. That’s a sizeable number. It is for the economic development, it is for the restoration of the economy, it is for the hospitals, schools. Now even in culture, we have committed to set up a cultural university. It cuts across every sector. There is a programme to get nutritious wheat biscuit to children in school throughout Afghanistan. This actually shows India’s commitment as being very strong and that will continue. This is a response to Afghan need and to what Afghanistan feels she wants. That has got nothing to do with any larger multinational force or anything. We have not participated in that, we don’t have a military presence and we don’t intend to change that.
Q : What specific action does US want India to take in Afghanistan?
A : Please ask US that question. We did not hear any demands from them. He sought advice.
Q : Are you o.k. with what amendments have been suggested on the nuclear cooperation bill? There have been reports that India is unhappy…
A: Let them finish their process. We will talk to you about this later. I have said this over and over again, I am not going to comment on their internal process. There can be reports or whatever you like but I don’t see the point of commenting on it.
Q. : There have been some amendments suggested today. Do you think they are going to adversely affect the progress?
A: Same question, same answer. I am not going to comment.
Q: After today’s meeting, as far as operationalising the nuclear deal is concerned, what would be next step from GOI?
A: I think, we are discussing the possibility of the visit of the Secretary of State to India. We have been trying it for sometime and looking for possibility of dates.
Q: Is there possibility of a ceremonial signing……………….
A: Let the US complete their process. After that we will sign the agreement and take the next step.
Q: What is the factual basis on which PM told President Bush that people of India loved President Bush?
A: I think, if you look at the public opinion polls, the ratings for President Bush are higher in India than in any other country. That is the factual basis.
Q: During PM’s meeting with President Bush, was the issue of Pakistan discussed?
A: There was a discussion on the regional situation and the situation in the Pakistan was discussed as well but it was not a large part of the discussion.
Q: Did the issue of Afghanistan come up?
A: As I said, they all figured in the discussions.
Q: US is facing economic crisis and Prime Minister being a renowned Economist, did President Bush ask him for advice and did PM give any advice?
A: I think, the Prime Minister expressed gratitude that in the middle of all this pre-occupation with the financial situation, President Bush found time and that they had spent the time together. President Bush said in return that in the middle of all this, the one person that he wanted to spend time with was the Prime Minister for his calming and serene effect. It really was quite a remarkable conversation. The issue itself of financial crisis has come out on most occasions due to Prime Minister’s background, his being such a renowned Economist and experience. Of course, he said what he thought. It came up with President Bush in passing; it came up in his discussion with the President of the World Bank where they went into much more detail about the role of multilateral organizations in dealing with and giving warning about such crisis before they happen. It came up in his meetings with several leaders including with Chinese Premier, in each case it was slightly different depending on what the nature of the conversation was. But this is natural given the PM’s eminence as an Economist. But I don’t think, and the PM is the first to say himself, there are any simple answers on how to deal with this issue. There are several ways of dealing with this. I think, he would be speaking about this in his speech at the UNGA about what he thinks needs to be done because it affects, from our point of view, the prospects of development. In fact, it already affecting growth in developing countries and other economies. That for us is a bad effect because when it starts affecting people who cannot afford to take a cut then it becomes a serious global issue.
Q: Was there any discussion on expansion of UN Security Council? Did US, directly or indirectly promised its support?
A: I think US has spoken before in public. In fact if you look at the July 18, 2005 statement, you find that US spoke in general terms about understanding India’s aspirations not specifically about supporting India’s candidacy to the UN Security Council. In that sense that has been the consistent US policy. PM did not raise it this time neither did President Bush.
Q: Was there any further talk on enhancing defence cooperation with US?
A: The Raksha Mantri was here just last week and they had discussions so the PM did not go into those details. But one of the fact sheets that I am giving you is about defence cooperation.
Q: What about time constraint? Tomorrow is the only time that Congress has. What happens next?
A: We are back to time-frames. I don’t really know. This has been going on for quite some time. Earlier it used to be when you are going to be ready, when are you going to do NSG or this or that. We have never got into the time-frames. We are not the Astrologers here.
Q: Sir, you are saying, it was positive but overall if you would tell us what is the major outcome?
A: I think, for me, the most important thing is the quality of the conversation. It was very easy flow of ideas. Both obviously understood each other well and were very comfortable with each other and for me that was very remarkable. You know it was not a formal or stilted conversation where you have an Agenda that you have to say this or do that. Not at all, and I think that is a result of the success of the last few years of transformation in the relationship that we have accomplished. That was the experience of having successfully worked together. I have not seen a conversation of this quality at this level. It is very rare that you see this.
Q: Sir, was there a valedictory feeling to the meeting?
A: That is natural.
Q: Sir, we are opening two Consulates in Atlanta and Seattle. Any particular reason for this?
A: I think, community is always a big reason for us. I think for location of Consulates, there is also commercial reason where our trade originate from, where there is buying and selling and also the importance of these cities or the consular areas that we carve out for them for our relationship. Seattle for instance has a large community and there is lot of trade from the west coast. There is lot of high-tech trade with Seattle, not just aerospace and Microsoft but in other areas as well. Same is with Atlanta. Both these areas are of relative importance for us. There are other places where we would like to open Consulates but there is a constraint of resources.
Q: Like Miami and …………………
A: We are keen too but we cannot do everything at once.
Q: Was it discussed that if the Nuclear deal is not consummated in the next few months, there would be similar support from the next Administration?
A: There was no mention of that at all. But my own expectation is that this has something which has bipartisan support, both candidates have expressed support after the NSG clearance. As you can see, in the Congress there is bipartisan support but the fact is that, they do have other things to do so it is really a function of their own process. I don’t think it is a lack of will or support.
Q: But was there any disappointment at the non-completion of the process?
A: We have never set deadlines. Why set ourselves up for that kind of disappointment as you said. This is something new that we are trying, it is unprecedented, it is very important, it has tremendous potential. We have to work it and we have to learn as we go along. And so far I think we have done very well.
Q: Did President Bush also talk about the need for a strategic treaty with India?
A: I think we have a strategic partnership already. We declared a strategic partnership on July 18, 2005 in the Joint Statement. They expressed satisfaction the way things have progressed, the way it has grown.
Q: What is the status of the additional protocol with IAEA that has been mentioned in the July 18, 2005 joint Statement. You anticipate that at some point, somebody will raise the fact that India has not yet done that part?
A: You want me to guess, what a Congressman might say in a Congressional process. Why should I? The status is very simple, we have started discussion with the IAEA on the additional protocols, we have had two rounds of discussions both at technical level and at a high level and the DG of IAEA has stated that we have made substantial progress in that discussion.
Q: For the scheduled meeting, John McCain could not come. What discussion did PM have with Sara Palin?
A: I was not there yesterday since I was with you. I don’t have the details of the meeting but I will get back to you. If I don’t, Vishnu will give you something.
Q: (In audible)
A: We get along very well. As I said the relationship itself enjoys broad bipartisan support and even if you look at the opinion polls, then this is one of the most popular relationship. I am not worried that political transition will affect us. In democracy we get used to doing transitions. This has been going on for 200 years. I don’t think that is going to affect relationship that so clearly works for our interests and their interests as well. I think it is remarkable if you look at the transformation in the last three years, at what this relationship has done in fields that actually matter to people - in education we are now talking in terms of expanding our scholarship exchange both ways to over a 1000 students, we are now talking for instance, with the CEOs on 14th October and the next day a Special Session the next day with the Vice Chancellors and the Deans of Universities. This kind of qualitative transformation in a relationship is based on mutual interest and mutual benefit. It is not dependant on one Government. So, I am confident, even for the difficult ones, that ultimately the logic of the relationship and our mutual interests will see it through.
Q: We are opening Consulates here, are they opening in India as well?
A: They opened Hyderabad last year and I think they are looking at some other places as well. It is up to them to decide.
Q: Sir, you promised at your last interaction a more detailed account of the discussions between PM and President Zardari of Pakistan?
A: Yes, I promised you. I believe that in the detailed discussions between them, they covered all aspects of the relationship. PM raised our concerns of course. President Zardari made it quite clear that, and you have seen it reflected in the statement as well, his determination to deal with issues like terrorism and stressed the value that he attaches to maintenance of the cease-fire. They also spoke about the Kabul Embassy blast. President Zardari condemned it in no uncertain terms which is why we are holding the special session of Joint Anti Terror Group on that issue.
But more than that they talked about the potential of the relationship and how we can use trade and use other things to move forward on the various issues. President Zardari also raised the water issue because Baglihar is filling the dam and the Pakistan Indus Water Commissioner was worried that water flow were low and he had complained to his colleagues. Partly this is because, this year, the flows anyway are lower than the average; it is a fact of life. So we have invited him to come in the next 15 days and to see that we are actually not filling the dam or anything but there is scarcity of water in the river. Having told him this, the PM assured we will abide by our commitment under the Indus Water Treaty.
There was a considerable discussion on the potential for economic cooperation especially in the energy sector. One of the ideas on the Pakistani side was to develop the enormous Thar Coal deposit. Pakistan also has a shortage of electricity and needs to generate to much more. One idea is to jointly develop those coal deposits to use electricity on both sides of the border. It is only an idea, no one has done a feasibility of wheeling the power out of Pakistan. But several ideas like that were discussed.
So it was a pretty open and wide ranging discussion. This is to be expected and it was their first meeting and I think it was important that they both get a sense of what the other person’s vision about the relationship was. I think some of that flavour comes through in the speech today at the General Assembly by the Pakistani President and that gives you a sense of the sort of things that were discussed. It was an open free wheeling discussion, most of it positive forward looking and seeking potential in this relationship and how to realize that.
Q : Was President Zardari invited to India?
A : He has been invited, in fact, he was invited as the President of the party. He has also been invited as the President and we said that we would be happy to see him. There was also an invitation for PM to visit Pakistan. Both of them accepted the invitations although no dates have been set.
Q : Sir, the dinner at White House, what type was it? Was it a working dinner. Who all were present? Was there any speech?
A : No, there were no speeches. It was not a very formal dinner. On the US side, Vice President Dick Cheney, US Ambassador to India Mulford, Under Secretary William Burns, National Security Adviser Hadley, Secretary for Education Margaret Spellings, USTR Susan Schwab and senior assistant to the President. On our side Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, NSA, Special Envoy to PM , Foreign Secretary, JS (AMS), MEA, JS(P) and JS (G) from PMO and PS to the PM attended. It was a small dinner and very relaxed one.
Q : What food was served ? Was vegetarian food served? Was the food tasty?
A : It was very nice food. Perhaps fish.
Q : In the last seven days some US officials have said that they do not want to sign the deal at a disadvantage. They are perhaps thinking that since Prime Minister has announced that Russia and France are ready to have cooperation with us after NSG, India is perhaps in a strong position now, so this particular issue, was this mentioned?
A : There was no such sentiment expressed. But the fact is that no one will be disadvantaged because if you look at the kinds of quantities that the reactors would entail, we would have to go to several suppliers. The only issue really is whoever supplies has to be commercially competitive. The 123 is an enabling agreement and once it is done, it would allow firms and companies to sit and do the detailed contracts for the supply of the equipment etc. That work is going to take a little time. It is not that once 123 is done, contracts would be signed overnight with anybody. Even if we sign tomorrow with France or Russia, I don’t see anybody being disadvantaged in this process.
Q : In the Paris leg of the visit, will nuclear cooperation with France be an agenda?
A : It is on the agenda. We are working on it with them for some time.
Q : Will our Cabinet have to ratify the agreement ? In an interview, EAM had said that it would need to be ratified.
A : Our procedures are that Cabinet approves for signing of an agreement and then it is sent back for ratification or it can approve for both signing and ratification. I will have to check. If EAM said that then it must be correct.
Q : Have we committed to place orders for 10,000 MW to US?
A : The commitment to US is that we will place orders if they are commercially competitive which is the same as our commitment for anyone else because you can buy cheaper electricity from someone burning coal or something else. Even when the agreement is signed, it will still have to go through the commercial process – discussing with companies and working out the details – but no one will be disadvantaged.
Q : To clarify, after NSG waiver, can we go ahead?
A : The NSG is a waiver to the NSG member States to do business with us.
Q : Can France do it independently?
A : The question is not clear. Let’s not confuse issues. The NSG gave a waiver to its members saying you can cooperate with India for the civilian uses of nuclear energy. So they are free, they can cooperate with India. If they want to do business with us, we will not say no.
Q : What about additional protocol ?
A : The additional protocol has got nothing to do with this. It is up to them. Why are we confusing issues here? The NSG has given a clearance to its members to do business with India. US is an NSG member and so are 44 others. If there are no more questions.