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Transcript of Press Conference by External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in Washington, DC


Washington, DC 
October 10, 2008

Mr. Rahul Chhabra, Embassy Spokesperson: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this evening’s press conference. It’s my privilege and honor to welcome External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee here this evening. Most of us were there in the State Department a little over an hour back when the historic agreement was signed. Minister Mukherjee will make an opening statement, following which he will take questions. 

To the right of Minister Mukherjee, we have Ambassador Ronen Sen; to his right we have the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Kakodkar; to the minister’s left we have the special envoy to the prime minister, Mr. Shyam Saran; and to his left, we have the foreign secretary of India, Mr. Shivshankar Menon.

Just a small point, I think this is the time to move all your cell phones to silent mode, please. We now request the minister to make his opening remarks.

MINISTER PRANAB MUKHERJEE: Thank you.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the media. 

Earlier today, Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and I signed the Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, which is also known as the 123 Agreement. This is a historic occasion. It marks the beginning of resumption of India’s civil nuclear cooperation and trade with the United States and with the wider international community. 

As you know, India attaches great importance to this agreement and to civil nuclear commerce with the international community. The increased share of nuclear energy in our energy mix will make a major positive contribution to our sustainable development and to meeting our objective of eradication of poverty. We, therefore, see this as a critical development for civil – for our economic growth and development. The agreement is also important for global economy and energy security as well as a contribution to global efforts to meet the challenge of climate change.

We are happy that the agreement was passed without any amendments by large bipartisan majorities in both Houses of the U.S. Congress. This reflects strong support for stronger India-U.S. relations and for the transformation that these relations have undergone in the last few years.

The significance of this agreement is that it is the first step to civil nuclear co-operation and trade between India and the USA. The agreement reflects a careful balance of rights and obligations for both parties. We intend to implement the agreement in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law and I am confident that the U.S. will also do the same. 

It is also the first step to India’s cooperation with the rest of the world in civil nuclear energy. By reinforcing and increasing the nuclear element in our country’s energy mix, which is vital to sustain our growth rate, nuclear power will directly boost industrial growth, rural development and help us to expand every vital sector of our economy. It also enables India to respond with her global partners to the challenges of climate change and global warming by strengthening her own economic growth and sustainable development. 

The signing of this agreement has also been preceded by the unanimous approval by the IAEA Board of Governors of the related safeguards arrangements, and by the consensus decision of the forty-five member Nuclear Supply Group to enable cooperation by its members in peaceful uses of nuclear energy with India.

Today’s signing would not have been possible if it were not for the sustained support and effort of the U.S. administration led by President Bush. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been a pillar of strength through this process of realizing the joint vision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the numerous supporters of the agreement, particularly the Indian-American community in the United States, whose unstinting help contributed immensely to achieving this successful outcome. 

Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to answer your questions.

MR. Rahul Chhabra : The minister will now take a few questions. I just request you to identify yourselves and the organization you represent before posing the question.

Q: Minister, I’m – Chidanand Rajghatta – of Times of India. For some odd reason today, I feel the same way I did on the day I graduated because it was three years – for those of us who are not experts – it was three years of learning about nuclear physics, about, you know, arcane ways in which treaties and agreements are formed. But my question is this, Minister: How much of this agreement rests on interpretation? And in your vast experience as cabinet minister, can foreign relations – can trust be the basis of conducting foreign relations?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: We are bound by the agreed text of 123 agreement, which is negotiated by the negotiators of two countries. And it is on the basis of the joint statement issued by President Bush and prime minister on 18th July, 2005, and also the joint statement of March, 2006. It’s not merely a question of the interpretation. It’s the question of the agreed text on which we are depending. 

Thank you. 

Q: Can I just follow up, sir? That agreed text, is it open to interpretation? That’s my question, sir. And secondly, the question of trust – can foreign relations – can trust be the basis of conducting foreign relations? Because you did say that you hope that – you hope to follow it – follow that agreement in good faith. 

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: I’ve already stated that we will implement this agreement in good faith. That clearly implies that we trust each other. 

Q: Parameswaran from Agence France-Presse. Mr. Minister, how do you view the timing of the deal’s takeoff against the backdrop of the current financial crisis that obviously is going to slice investments and foreign investments? Thank you.

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: This agreement is the culmination of three years of talks. The agreement has been signed when all the necessary formalities have been completed, including the ratification by U.S. Congress as required, as per the US. Constitution, and finally, by the assent to this law by the U.S. president. In between, certain developments have taken place. No doubt it will have its impact on the overall economic situation, but this is not particularly related to the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation, which is the subject of this agreement. 

Thank you. 

Q: Mr. Minister, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. You said today at the signing that the Congress approved this agreement with no amendments. But, of course, you’re aware that their resolution of approval did have some clauses in it that they felt very strongly about. Are you rejecting the Congress’ intent and intending to stick to only the language of the 123 agreement itself? 

And the second question is: what will be the process now for signing the International Convention on Compensation for Nuclear Damage?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: So far the first question is concerned, I’m aware of the procedure followed by U.S. Congress in legislation. Every country has its own process of legislation, as we have. We are bound by the agreement negotiated between the two sovereign countries and in this case it is the 123 agreement. 

So far the question of the international convention to mitigate the liabilities arising out of the nuclear issues, we are in the process of completing the formalities in our country and I do hope it will be possible for us to participate in the international convention in due course of time. 

Q: Sarah Jacob, New Delhi Television. You said today that this agreement reflects a careful balance of rights and obligations. Can you expand on what exactly you mean by that and have all your concerns – India’s concerns about fuel supply assurances and reprocessing – have those been met?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: The text of the agreement if you go through, it has entrusted responsibilities and obligations on both sides. In my observation, I have pointed out that there is a balance between the obligations and the rights which we will comply with. Text of 123 Agreement provides the fuel supply assurance to India and it has been reiterated by the president’s signing statement. 

Thank you. 

Q: Hi, Daniel Horner from Platts. Actually, following up on that last question, in President Bush’s signing statement, he said that it does not change the fuel assurances in the 123 Agreement, but since the agreement was initialed last year, there’ve been a number of administration statements to Congress indicating some limitations on the fuel assurances, specifically indicating that it would stop if India conducted a nuclear test and under such a scenario the U.S. would not work with other countries to provide fuel to India. So given that, are you satisfied with what President Bush said in his signing statement about the fuel assurances, or are you still confident that the fuel assurances would continue or what is your view on that? Thank you.

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: As I mentioned, every country has its own way of internal mechanism of fulfilling the constitutional obligations and also the process of legislation. I would not like to make any comment for the process of legislation in U.S. Congress and their obligations on it.

As I indicated the fuel supply assurance is being provided in the text of 123 Agreement itself, in Article 5.6.

Q: Sir, Lalit Jha from New Delhi Television, online edition, ndtv.com. Sir, during this last one and a half year, did at any point of time you felt that the deal could not go ahead and when was that?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: Of course in this long three years, there have been many moments of suspicion. Even on this issue government have to – I mean, government of India had to face a trust motion in our house of representatives, house of people, Lok Sabha, and we won that trust motion. Therefore, there have been occasions when many a people doubted whether the agreement will finally see the light of the day. But ultimately it has been possible to achieve this success. 

Thank you.

Q: Paul Eckart from Reuters news agency. Historically, India’s neighbor Pakistan has tended to view gains by India as losses to Pakistan. Should the Pakistanis be concerned about this agreement? Do you have words to assuage any concerns they might raise? That’s my first question. 

And my second question more broadly, you talked about the desire in both countries for closer cooperation and ties, do you have a wish list of other areas that you would like to work with the United States in the coming years?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: So far as apprehension of Pakistan is concerned, I can assure you we are determined to build up good relationships with Pakistan and, in fact, we are doing so through the mechanism of composite dialogue. We are addressing all the outstanding issues between our two countries. The recent statement issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Zardari, the statement issued by President Zardari is really encouraging and there is no reason of any apprehension by Pakistan. India’s commitment to nonproliferation is second to none and we have – in my statement on 5th of September, I reiterated our continuation of voluntary moratorium which we declared in 1998. 

In respect of the second question, I would like to suggest we are already expanding our cooperation in many areas, not merely in civil nuclear cooperation – this is the first – but in defense, in agriculture, in education, in science and technology, in all areas of major economic activities, we are having expanding cooperation with USA, and I have no doubt it will be possible to expand it further as a result of this agreement. 

Thank you. 

Q: Good evening, Mr. Mukherjee. This is Natasha Israni with Times Now. Two quick questions. One is in terms of bids for contracts in India, will the Americans be competing with the French? Are there any reassurances to the Americans that there’re certain contracts that they’ll be able to win and get in terms of investments in India? 

And the second question is Pakistan is now pursuing a civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. or China, or would like such a deal. If that happens in the future, would India object to such a deal with either the U.S. or China? Thank you. 

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: So far first question is concerned, we are entering into civil nuclear cooperation with USA, France, Russia and these are essentially the commercial contracts and surely the commercial aspect will be taken into account. But we are aware of our expanding relationship with USA.

In respect of civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and USA, we would like to encourage civil nuclear cooperation, peaceful use of nuclear energy, as we believe every country has its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

Thank you.

Q: Brajesh Upadhyay, BBC News. Minister, will the U.S. companies – will they get the preferential treatment when the tenders are floated the nuclear reactors, and when will the trade process actually begin?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: I will not use the word “preferential treatment.” What I have used these are the commercial transactions as and when the commercial transactions take place only can we comment on them. 

Mr. K.P. Nayar from the Telegraph. You have been finance minister, you have been commerce minister, you have been external affairs minister twice where economic diplomacy is a big part of your work. What are the lessons that India can draw from the current global economic crisis? What needs to change in Indian economic policies as a result of the current economic crisis? 

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: We are fully aware of the developments which have taken place, but recently cabinet in it's meeting has addressed this issue. As the global economies are closely linked, it might have impact on every economy. Keeping in view the appropriate measures have already been taken by Reserve Bank of India  and even today the finance minister, Mr. Chidambaram, has issued a statement outlining the measures which has been taken. This is an event to which we shall have to respond in the appropriate manner. If you have noticed, economic policies of India have undergone change with the changing world situation, keeping pace with it. It is not static. It has an inherent dynamism in it. 

Thank you.

Q: Specifically on India-U.S. economic relations, what impact will this have?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: India-U.S. economic relationship is expanding very fast. USA as an individual country is the single largest trading partner. Technical collaboration – we have the largest number of technical collaboration with U.S. companies. Keeping that in view, we shall have to make a hard assessment what adverse impact, if at all, would have on this development. It is too early to make any comment on it. 

Q: Rajesh Srivatsava – from Voice of America. Just an specification on the follow up question. American companies are already expecting 30 percent of the whole business, that is, $40-45 billion of business after nuclear deal. Have you worked on any such numbers?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: As I’ve told you earlier in response to other questions, these are all commercial transactions which will take place as and when the commercial contracts have finalized in terms of value, in terms of other ingredients it’s too early. These are all estimates, and if and when it materializes, the actual figures will be available to us. 

Thank you.

Q: V. Krishna, Hindustan Times.  If I may go back to the fuel supply assurances. Are the assurances political or are they legal?

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: As I mentioned about the particular section of an agreement which is signed. Thank you.

MR.Krishna : Thank you. Thank you so much.

MINISTER MUKHERJEE: Thank you.
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