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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (August 01, 2014)

August 01, 2014

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. I have here with me my colleague Mr. Abhay Thakur who is Joint Secretary (North). I am certain you would have realised why he is here. We will be focusing our attention today on areas relating to his scope of work.

I have one announcement to make and I will focus on that. If any of you would want to ask questions on that, we would be willing to answer. Subsequent to that, in case any of you would like to have questions on anything else, please feel free to ask and we will try and answer those too. Those are the normal ground rules and we will abide by them. The announcement that I have to make relates to a forthcoming visit.

Signalling the resolve of the new Government of India to engage with Nepal at the highest possible level, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will be travelling to Kathmandu on the 3rd and 4th of August.

This is the first Prime Ministerial visit from India to Nepal in 17 years. The last such visit for a bilateral occasion was in 1997 when the then Prime Minister Mr. I.K. Gujral visited Kathmandu in June 1997. Of course, since then there have been several other visits in a multilateral context by our Prime Ministers.

There have also been six Head of State and nine Prime Ministerial level visits from Nepal to India since the last visit of a Prime Minister of India on a bilateral occasion to Nepal. The last such visit, as you are all aware, was when Prime Minister Sushil Koirala visited India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his swearing-in ceremony.

You are aware that this visit comes a week after the External Affairs Minister visited Kathmandu to revive the Joint Commission between India and Nepal after a lapse of 23 years. This visit, therefore, underscores once again the intention and the priority that the Government of India places on our relationship with the neighbourhood.

You are aware that following the meetings with South Asian leaders in Delhi at the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister himself visited Bhutan on his first visit outside India. This visit again to a South Asian neighbour indicates the high priority that India places on our relations with the neighbourhood.

I will try and give you a brief glimpse of the programme so that you understand what the dimensions of it are. On 3rd August, the Prime Minister will have meetings both in restricted format as well as delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is also hosting a banquet in Prime Minister’s honour. On the same day, Prime Minister has been invited to be the first foreign leader to address the Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament of Nepal. On this occasion he will meet the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Mr. Subash Nembang.

The next day in the morning, Prime Minister will begin by offering prayers at the Pashupatinath Temple. That is on August 4, Monday. He will meet President Ram Baran Yadav who has also graciously invited Prime Minister to a lunch he is hosting in his honour.

Apart from the Prime Minister’s interactions with government-level officials or political leaders from the government in Nepal, he also plans to meet a cross section of political leaders across the political firmament in Nepal. There is also a proposed interaction between leading businessmen from the apex chambers of commerce of Nepal with the Prime Minister. That in sum is his broad programme in Nepal.

You are aware that India and Nepal have relations which are rooted in a shared history, geography and culture. Our consistent effort has been to further strengthen this close relationship at all levels in the field of trade and commerce, investment including in hydropower cooperation, enhanced border connectivity, defence and security including training and joint exercises, culture, tourism and education. There is also considerable thinking under way to upscale our development assistance efforts during 2014 and beyond.

During Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal it is normal that the entire gamut of our relations with Nepal would be discussed and reviewed. This signals India’s intention at the highest level to extend its wholehearted support for a democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal.

That is all that I have to offer in terms of opening remarks. If you would like to ask any questions on any aspect of the Prime Minister’s visit, we will be willing to answer them.

Question:When the External Affairs Minister went to Kathmandu it was agreed that we will review the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty and we are going to set up an Experts Committee, and a final decision will be taken in two years or something. You were there too. What exactly is the scene on that, Akbar?

Official Spokesperson: I think you have got two separate issues confused. As regards the Indo-Nepal Treaty, if you look at the press statement that we have put out, it was said that both sides ‘reiterated’. So, what we agreed to was something that has also been agreed to in the past. The intention is that if there are some issues any of our sides would like to raise, they are welcome to raise at the Foreign Secretaries’ level, and these will be addressed. We now await any requests on this and any discussions on that.

What you are talking about – two years etc., - is a separate track, it has nothing to do with the Treaty itself. What is being thought of is an Eminent Persons Group. That Eminent Persons Group by definition is not going to be governmental in nature. We have had similar Eminent Persons Groups with other countries. Those eminent persons will sit down, look at the history of Indo-Nepal relations and its future, and suggest various recommendations which the governments of the two countries will then consider. But we are some way from that because what has now been agreed is only to set it up. However, we have to nominate members of this and this is still work in process.

Question:Sir, Nepal mein kya Maovaadi neta Prachanda se nahin milenge?

Official Spokesperson:Haan bilkul milenge, kyon nahin? Abhi jab Videsh Mantri gayin thin, unhon ne bhi mila tha. Leader of the Opposition ek aham rank hota hai har jagah, aur yahan par bhi milenge jaise Videsh Mantri ne mila tha. Lekin voh Leader of the Opposition nahin par unki party ke logon ke saath milenge. Aur mere mitra Mr. Abhay Thakur batayenge ki kaunse parties se voh milnevaale hain.

Joint Secretary (North) (Shri Abhay Thakur):Vahan chaar leading political factions hain: UCPN(M) jiske leader hain Prachanda joh Leader of the Opposition bhi hain; CPN-UML ke neta hain K.P. Oli, aur Madhesi Morcha ke saath ek group mein mulaqaat hogi. Aur saath hi Nepali Congress agar alag se milna chahegi, toh us par bhi hum zarur dhyan denge.

Question:Sir, there are reports in Nepali media about 50 oddpujaris who would conduct the ritual offering of prayers at the Pashupatinath Temple. Can you please tell us what kind of thing this is? Are you going to allow the visual media to cover it?

Official Spokesperson: We do not allow anything and do not allow anybody. There is a Pashupatinath Development Authority that handles all activities related to that. As regards other reports, maybe I can ask my colleague to amplify if there are any that we know of. But allowing or disallowing is the prerogative of the hosts. It is not for any of us to take that decision, certainly.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: I am afraid I am the wrong person to answer that.

Joint Secretary (North): All I can say now is,yeh toh Sravan ka Somvaar hai. It is a very auspicious, holy day.Aur Hindu Panchang ke hisab se select kiya gaya hai. Toh jo bhi us puja aur darshan mein zaruri hoga, voh kiya jayega.

Official Spokesperson: The details are best known to those who are organising it and it is best left to them rather than we announce any of those elements.

Question:Sir, koi agreement bhi sign honevaala hai, maslan hydroelectric ko leke ya kuchh aur?

Official Spokesperson: Good try!Aapko pata hai main kabhi agreements advance mein announce nahi karta hun, lekin aapne koshish ki.Thank you.

Question:Sir, Nepal ki nadiyon ke vajah se uttar Bihar mein har saal baadh aati hai. Kya us baare mein bhi koi baat-cheet prastavit hai?

Joint Secretary (North):Ji zarur. Flood control aur river training, yeh bahut hi aham mudde hain. Inke upar ek three-tier mechanism already hai joh kaam karta hai. Hum 200 crore se zyada ka sahayata de chuke hain Nepal ko embankment construction aur river training ke upar. Hum yeh bhi chah rahe hain kithere should be some exchange of real-time information of various river levels with satellite data because right now the collection of river data in Nepal is not very comprehensive. We are ready to extend greater assistance so that we have the flood control data in real time and can take even more timely action than hitherto. Our assistance on embankment construction is ongoing.

Official Spokesperson: If there are no more questions on this, I am ready to answer questions on anything else.

Question:Sir, I want to draw your attention to the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry as well as Urban Development Ministry website publishing derogatory photographs of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu as well as the Prime Minister of the country. How do you react to that?

Official Spokesperson: Before you drew my attention to it we were already aware of it. So, let me tell you, the moment we heard about this the Government of India has acted with alacrity. We immediately activated diplomatic channels. Our High Commission in Sri Lanka took this matter up immediately and we were assured that action would be taken forthwith. Subsequently, I can now confirm to you that action has been taken and that objectionable article that you are referring to is no longer on that website.

Question:The Chief Minister has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that Sri Lanka should apologise. Will that also be taken up with the Sri Lankan authorities seeking an apology?

Official Spokesperson: Geeta, I am not aware of any such communication but the point is that we acted with alacrity, we have achieved our objective, and should any further action be required, we will certainly consider this and take appropriate action. For the present I can confirm to you that as soon as we took up this matter, we drew immediate results and to our entire satisfaction that offensive article was removed. Now, if there are further things that we need to do, we will certainly consider them. Should we consider them and take action, we will inform you like we have done in this case after taking the action and after drawing the results.

Question:Secretary of State Kerry met Prime Minister Modi. Can you tell us what transpired between the two, what Modi expected and what Kerry said?

Official Spokesperson: I think what transpired between Prime Minister and Secretary of State Kerry is available for the last two and a half hours in the public domain. I would suggest that you have a look at the detailed press release provided on that.

Question:Akbar, this is about the unscheduled meeting of Kerry with the PM. There are reports that Kerry, when he landed in Delhi in the same evening met Prime Minister Modi to impress upon him to cool down India’s attitude in WTO.

Official Spokesperson: This is news to me. This is the first time that you are saying this thing.

Question:The meeting was not on the schedule.

Official Spokesperson: This is your information, mine does not indicate that. If there was a meeting already, why would we have a fairly long, one-hour long meeting today? The only meeting that took place was today for one hour. Please do not go by rumours, innuendo and gossip. There was no other meeting except this morning’s. Everything else that you are saying, I have heard for the first time.

Question:Commercial negotiations for two Westinghouse nuclear reactors to be set up in Gujarat have already begun. Does that mean that India has shown flexibility on Indian nuclear liability law?

Official Spokesperson: We already have our liability regime which is approved by Parliament. All that can be done is within the four corners of legislation approved by Parliament the Government of India can act. If what you are saying is correct, then it is good news because our view has always been that our liability laws are not a hindrance to any investment in nuclear energy. And that is demonstrated by us already signing Kudankulam 3 and 4. If what you are saying is correct in terms of commercial discussions, it adds to the same narrative.

Question:Sir, Mr. Arun Jaitley has told Parliament today that China has violated the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement on the 2nd of June this year, and after that a protest has been lodged at a military level. Has this been taken up either in Beijing or in Delhi by the External Affairs Ministry?

Official Spokesperson: Shrinjoy, borders are the responsibility of the Government of India. This is not an intra-ministerial issue as to who takes it up or when. You are aware what the hon. Minister of Defence has said, and that is representative of Government of India. So, please do not try to nitpick as to who takes up, where, what, when, how. That has been provided in the reply to Parliament. This ‘within the Raisina Hill talk’ does not help anybody. Of which Ministry takes up, where it is taken up, he has already said that it was taken up at the military level. If that has produced results, that is it. After all, in Government of India we adopt a one ‘whole of government’ approach.

Question:I just wanted to draw your attention to a report in the international media about Secretary of State doing some plain-speaking apparently with the Prime Minister; he even told him that India’s stand at WTO is sort of giving confusing signals to the international community. Would you react to that?

Official Spokesperson: I do not want to get into who said what. But I think the Prime Minister is on record as having said that the developmental challenges that developing countries face are something that need to be understood by all. India as a developing country has challenges and a responsibility to ensure food supplies to all its people, and that is reflected in our stance. That stance takes into account our needs. If there are other countries who feel otherwise, we understand their perspective because they are coming from a different direction. Our direction is determined by our current circumstances which require us to provide for food security for a significant number of people. And that is what Prime Minister is on record as having said.

Question:The reports are continuously saying that India has refused to grant visa to the UNHRC investigating team which is formed to investigate the war crimes which happened in Sri Lanka. If it is true, what is the action taken by India?

Official Spokesperson: The reports that you are referring to, I have responded to earlier. These are not reports from India, these are not reports from the UN. So, I will not comment on reports which are neither from India which is the host for any such request, nor from the UN which would ask for such a request. Secondly, by way of background let me tell you, all diplomats act, like other government officials, on the basis of precedents. There are precedents in this context.

You are aware of our approach on the entire issue of that Resolution. When this was discussed in March, our approach was the following. We abstained on that Resolution but we voted against the paragraph which constituted a Commission of Inquiry. Keeping all these in mind we will take a decision, should we be approached on specific requests of individuals for a visit to India in the context of that Resolution.

Question:Sir, what is the update on Libya matter? Have the 58 nurses started their journey?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, right now as we speak, the 58 nurses reached the border post of Ras Jadir. It is Friday and it is prayer time in Libya. Once prayer time is over, they will cross over after completion of formalities. Our Ambassador in Libya himself is present at that border point. We hope that the nurses will cross over later this afternoon and from there travel to Tunis. As you are aware, Tunis by road is a fairly long journey. It is likely to take eight hours. So, we hope that by late in the night today all the nurses will be in Tunis.

We have made arrangements for them to fly back to their home States. Most of them are from Kerala. I understand that tickets are being booked for them to fly to Cochin. There are others, one from Delhi or a couple from Delhi and a few from Hyderabad. All these 58 nurses will be going to their home destinations. Following the success of this effort, we will be having smaller numbers travelling tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that.

We have also arranged, if it is required, a special flight to come to Zarba. Zarba is about two hours from the border of Libya but much shorter than Tunis. The idea is that if we have enough number of people, which means a plane load, who are willing to come, we will fly them out from Zarba which will obviate the requirement for all of them to travel to Tunis. So, we are ready if the numbers increase, to fly them out from Zarba. We have kept flights ready with clearances being taken, should that be required. However, if the smaller numbers of 50, 30, etc., continue, we will then have to take them to Tunis and take them out.

Right now our Embassy in Tripoli is urging everybody to leave. The security situation since we last urged them to leave has further deteriorated. It is in their interest that all who are there leave. We are also making arrangements for those who are in the Benghazi region and the surrounding region in Eastern Libya to travel out. For this, if required we will be hiring a ferry or a vessel which will take them from Benghazi to Malta. We are going to preposition people in Malta so that they can assist them when they come on land. We are in touch with the Government of Malta to facilitate the arrival of Indian nationals following which we will, if required, send a special aircraft to bring them back home.

In short I would like to tell you, the Government of India has made all necessary arrangements to ensure that all Indians who desire to come back will be expeditiously brought back. And we have reiterated our view today that all those who are in Libya should return home because the circumstances there have deteriorated even since we last sent out that advisory.

Question:Taslima Nasreen is very upset because her resident permit has not been granted and she has been granted only two months visa. What is the actual position and actual fact?

Official Spokesperson: I am not aware. As you perhaps should know, the visa policies for foreigners in India are directed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, There is the Foreigners Division which handles this under whom the FRROs operate all over India. I suggest that you direct this question to them.

Since there are no more questions, thank you very much and have a nice weekend.

(Concluded)

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