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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (October 31, 2013)

October 31, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. We have not met in this format for some time. Lest you think we have abandoned this format, I just thought we will jog your memory and tell you that it still exists.

I have three announcements to make, which I will make in terms of sequence of the dates on which these events are going to take place, following which the floor is open for you to ask any questions.

The first announcement that I have to make is about the travel of the External Affairs Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid to Perth. Mr. Khurshid left last night. He will be participating in the Indian Ocean Region Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) meeting in Perth.

As many of you perhaps are aware, we were the Chair of this organisation for two years. EAM will hand over the baton to Australia who will be the Chair from November 1st onwards. Indonesia will take over as the Vice Chair from Australia. This is a 20-member organisation which has littoral countries of the Indian Ocean who are likely to discuss a range of issues. I will try and summarise for you some of those issues.

I understand that one of the things on the agenda is the name of this organisation. As some of you are aware, last year there was an initiative to try and shorten the name and this is on the agenda. Other issues are: cooperation with the UN and specialised agencies, how should we engage dialogue partners more, the secretariat of the organisation and mechanisms and ways to strengthen it, and also an initiative that we lay great store on and that is university mobility in the Indian Ocean region universities.

We expect that at the conclusion of this meeting in Perth there will be of course the usual communiqué. Also Australia is proposing a Declaration of Perth Principles for the Peaceful and Sustainable Use of the Indian Ocean and its Resources. We look forward to that meeting on the 1st, and the outcome of course will be shared with you.

The second announcement that I have to make is about the convening of the Fifth Heads of Mission Conference of all Indian Heads of Mission abroad. This is an annual feature. Usually it is held in August. This time it is proposed to be held in November. It will be held from the 4th to the 7thof November. We expect approximately 120 of Indian Ambassadors and High Commissioners to various countries to converge in Delhi for this annual feature.

This year we have a theme for this conference and that is "India’s Place in Changing World Order : Where Do We See Ourselves? What Do We Wish to Achieve?” So, much of the discussion is going to be focused on this theme.

As is usual, the Heads of Mission will interact with the President, the Vice-President. The Prime Minister will address them. They will also be addressed by the External Affairs Minister, the Minister for Commerce, and the National Security Advisor.

Interestingly this year, in addition to the usual focus on neighbours and South Asia the effort is also to focus in a very specific regional manner. Therefore, we are having with CII and FICCI roundtables focused on different regions. These will be interactions between the Heads of Missions from various regions with leading Indian businessmen etc., who have interest in those regions.

Also within the Conference itself specific sessions are devoted to Africa, to Latin America, to Central Asia, to Europe, etc. In addition, there will also be sessions devoted to consular and passport issues which are assuming increasing importance.

Finally, Mr. Sam Pitroda will address the Ambassadors on "Innovations as Instruments of Foreign Policy”. This is again a new venture that we are endeavouring.

The third announcement that I have is about the visit of the Prime Minister of Kuwait. At the invitation of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait will be visiting India from the 7th to the 9th of November. This is the first visit of a Head of Government from Kuwait since they bifurcated the Crown Prince from the Head of Government. The last visit of a Head of Government from India to Kuwait was in 1981 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Kuwait. Of course we have had other high-level visits both from India to Kuwait as well as from Kuwait to India.

Perhaps you are aware that Kuwait is amongst our largest suppliers of oil. We import something in the vicinity of 10 to 12 per cent of our oil imports. The total bilateral trade between Kuwait and India is in the vicinity of US$ 17 billion of which US$ 15 billion is oil. Our exports to Kuwait are in the vicinity of a little above US$ 1 billion.

We have a very large Indian community in Kuwait. It is the largest expatriate community in Kuwait, and it is in the vicinity of 700,000.

So, we expect a full agenda between the visiting Prime Minister as well as our Prime Minister. We will separately in due course provide you a detailed briefing on that.

That is about what I have in terms of formal announcements. As is usual, I will open the floor for any questions that you may have first on the announcements that I made and after that on anything else that you may like to ask.

Question:Which sessions or any other things are open for the media of these Ambassadors who are coming?

Official Spokesperson: This is usually in the context of brainstorming. Therefore, none of the sessions are open. These are closed sessions where they exchange forthrightly their viewpoints. We have not in the past followed a practice of making them publicly available or open for the media, and that practice will continue.

Question:Is even the inaugural session not open for the media?

Official Spokesperson: Even that. However, if there are elements which would need to be highlighted, we will certainly, like in previous years, circulate to you the main points of any important issues which may be highlighted.

Question:Can you give some hints as to what would be the likely change in the name of the organisation? Is it Indian Ocean Dialogue or something? Any name being proposed by India?

Official Spokesperson: I think you have a valid question. There is no proposal by India on this. There was a proposal initiated by Australia last time, and this is to focus on a shorter name because they found that the way the name is now structured along with the short form, is fairly long. And they are thinking of a concise name which perhaps will be encapsulated in four alphabets rather than the number of the alphabets now. And it will still have Indian Ocean Region, but perhaps it will have one other alphabet. And you will know in a day’s time.

If there are no more questions related to the announcements made, we will move on to other issues.

Question:This is about one of the reports in the papers today about the possibility of the Prime Minister going for the CHOGM conference in Colombo. Has a final decision been taken? What is the procedure?

Official Spokesperson: This is a question which is a rather high priority and perhaps what you are trying to find out right now is the level of Indian participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting which will be held in Colombo from the 15th of next month.

I can confirm to you that a process has been set in motion to arrive at a decision on this matter. We are taking into consideration all aspects of our national interest, our foreign policy priorities and our international obligations. I can also confirm to you that that process has not reached its culmination. There is still some way down the track on this. Once that process reached its culmination, we will certainly share the outcome with you, and perhaps that is where we are on that issue.

Question:It has also been reported that Chief Minister Vigneshwaran has written to the Prime Minister requesting him to visit Jaffna. Is there…(Inaudible)…?

Official Spokesperson:Without of course divulging what is a privileged communication between the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council of Sri Lanka and our Prime Minister, I can confirm to you that he did receive a letter on the 28thof this month late in the evening. I will not get into the exact details of the letter, but again I can inform you that the letter basically indicates that he is grateful for Indian assistance in terms of ensuring that the elections were held and an elected body has taken its place. He does inform that he has now assumed charge and he is grateful to India for that. Also, in the context that letter he has invited the Prime Minister to visit Jaffna. This of course is an input into the decision-making process and will be considered with a variety of other factors. Right now, as I said, the process is underway. So I cannot let you on to anything further apart from the details that I have shared with you

Question:Is it routine and usual for Chief Ministers of individual Provinces in foreign countries to approach our Prime Minister directly and vice-versa? Is it usual or is it accepted for Ministers of individual States in India to approach Presidents or Prime Ministers or Heads of State of other countries?

Official Spokesperson:The relationship between India and Sri Lanka should not be characterised as usual. It is a very strong relationship, it is a very close relationship, and it is a relationship where India has worked with Sri Lanka for a variety of issues including the welfare of the people in the northern areas who have been adversely impacted. So, let us not judge these things by the usual parameters of what you think is usual.

As for other relationships, each relationship each unique and our relationship with Sri Lanka is certainly unique and, therefore, our interaction is also in a way is distinct. And I think we should respect that distinctiveness and that is a distinctiveness that is reflected in our foreign policy and our approach towards Sri Lanka.

Question:My question is regarding the Patna blasts.Main aapse yeh janna chahta hun ki hamare paas joh information hai according to intelligence note, voh kahti hai ki Patna blasts ISI ne fund kiya, Riyaz Bhatkal ko ye poora operation diya gaya tha. Jab hum Pakistan se lagatar baat-cheet kar rahe hain - chaahe Pradhan Mantri ki baat ho ya hamaare diplomatic level par - uske beech mein is tarah ke dhamaake chinta ka saval nahi hai Videsh Mantralaya ke lihaz se?

Official Spokesperson:Dekhiye Dilip, joh aap kah rahe hain mujhe toh is baat ke baare mein jaankaari nahin hai. Main ne abhi abhi joh hamaare afsar hain joh in sab cheezon se deal karte hain unse baat ki hai aur ab tak na hamein koi aisi chitthi mili hai joh aap kah rahe hain. Toh yeh hypothetical baaton par toh hum javab nahin de sakte hain.But I conform to youki ab tak hamein aisi koi chitthi nahi mili.

Question:Akbar, I am not asking you whether there is a change in India’s Pakistan policy. What I am asking you is, are we seeing a new nuance in India’s Pakistan policy, a new shift, sort of a subtle shift in view of these LOC flare-ups? Will it be a correct thing to say that MEA has given a completely free hand to MOD and it will be, so to say, Defence Ministry versus their forces or whatever as far as the LOC flare-up is concerned? And are we seeing any kind of forward movement diplomatically with Pakistan?

Official Spokesperson: I think we need to go back to the last substantive diplomatic discussion between India and Pakistan and that was the discussion between the two Prime Ministers in New York. Let me recall for you what the common understanding as an outcome of that meeting was. The common understanding was that the precondition for a forward movement in the relationship, which both the Prime Ministers desire, is an improvement of the situation on the Line of Control. That is a common understanding between our two countries and that is what guides our diplomatic interaction with Pakistan. I repeat, the precondition for a forward movement in the relationship is an improvement of the situation on the Line of Control. That is it.

Question: Could you throw some light on US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena’s recent visit to India and what transpired in the meetings?

Official Spokesperson: We are not in the business of telling if an Ambassador of a certain country came to India and that Ambassador met middle level officials in South Block. This is not something which is unusual. We have regular interactions with various Ambassadors from various countries who are in India, because many of those countries see India as a leading player in South Asia and they would like to ascertain our views, and these are as a matter of normal diplomatic discourse shared with them.

Question: LOC has not reached a satisfactory situation. Will the EAM meet Sartaj Aziz when he comes to India?

Official Spokesperson: Perhaps you are aware that we are going to have a major biennial event called the ASEM. Minister’s Conference. This is to be held on 11th and 12thof November. I understand that Mr. Sartaj Aziz, who is the Pakistani National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister is also participating in this event. Based on this we have a received a request from them for a meeting with the External Affairs Minister on the margins of that event. We intend to have that meeting based on that request. As hosts, India is meeting several countries whose Foreign Ministers are participating in that meeting. I can confirm to you that includes Mr. Sartaj Aziz.

Question: Can you give us an update on the visit of the Pak Judicial Commission and also the condition of Indian prisoners in Pakistani Jails, the numbers?

Official Spokesperson: This is a normal feature between India and Pakistan. Despite the difficulties and differences that we have had, we view issues relating to prisoners as humanitarian issues. Therefore, you would recollect that even when the Composite Dialogue earlier this year was suspended or had not been resumed at that stage in April, an Indian Judicial Commission - two Judges - had visited along with a Pakistani Judge. And this is a reciprocal visit. My understanding is that they will be submitting a report today. And this report will feature issues relating to Pakistani prisoners in Indian prisons. Also, my understanding is that as a follow-up to this there would be another visit later on early in the first half of next year of Indian members to Pakistan to follow up on the situation of Indian prisoners in Pakistan.

As regards Indian prisoners in Pakistan, my understanding is that there are approximately 400 or so Indians who are in Pakistani prisons. These are approximately 214 civilian prisoners and 186 fishermen. Of these, by our count, almost 90 have completed their sentences and should be released because according to the India-Pakistan bilateral agreement all prisoners who have completed their sentence should be released within one month. So, we would hope that this is abided by. My understanding is that earlier this year - in some cases in March and in most other cases in July - those 90 prisoners had completed their sentence terms and, therefore, they are entitled to return India. And we look forward to Pakistan releasing them, and welcoming them back home.

Question:Can you please tell us what India’s stake on the present political stalemate going on in Bangladesh is?

Official Spokesperson:I am not here to comment on the internal affairs of any country. Therefore, I am not able to answer your question.

Question:Would the deliberations of the Heads of Missions be confined to India’s role in the present international scenario or would they discuss the repeated ceasefire violations by Pakistan and developments in China on our borders?

Official Spokesperson:All the issues that you mentioned will be discussed, as will India’s socioeconomic realities be discussed, as will areas about our development agenda and what we are doing to implement the global development agenda be discussed. So this is a holistic approach. It is for four days all through the day. We expect that all issues of interest to practitioners of Indian foreign policy will be covered in that discussion.

Question:What would be MEA’s response to Infosys’ visa fallout issue with the US Government? They have agreed to pay the penalty. Any comments you would like to make?

Official Spokesperson: This is a civil settlement between an Indian company and a US Government agency. Why would you like the Government of India to comment on a civil settlement when it is mutually agreed to between both the parties to arrive at that settlement?

Question:Sir, would India be participating in the IOR-ARC meeting starting on Friday? I missed out on the announcement.

Official Spokesperson:That was my first announcement. Mr. Salman Khurshid, the External Affairs Minister, is right now on his way to Perth. This will be held on the 1st. We will participate actively and hand over the baton as Chairman to Australia. I have provided other details of those discussions as well as our approach to that. These are available and I do not want to repeat since others have already taken them down. But I will pass them on to you.

Thank you very much.

(Concluded)

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