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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister's Five-Nations Visit (June 3, 2016)

June 04, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening friends and welcome to the press briefing on Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to five countries beginning tomorrow. As you know, these are five very important countries that the Prime Minister will be visiting including the United States.

To brief you on this journey I have with me Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar, and Joint Secretary (Americas) Mr. Munu Mahawar. Foreign Secretary will give you opening statement, he will go through the details of the programme, and then the floor is open for questions. Please note, Foreign Secretary’s time is limited. So, once we begin the Q&A session please keep your questions short. With that I give the floor to Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Dr. S. Jaishankar): Vikas, thank you.

Let me begin by very briefly walking you through the programme. The Prime Minister will be leaving for Afghanistan tomorrow where he would be inaugurating along with President Ghani the Afghan-India Friendship Dam which was earlier called the Salma Dam. After the inauguration, there would be a lunch hosted by President Ghani. Then the Prime Minister would be going on later in the evening to Qatar.

In Qatar, tomorrow there would be a dinner for him which is hosted by the Prime Minister of Qatar. He will also be visiting a workers’ camp in Doha. Then on Sunday his day begins with a meeting with business leaders, followed by a restricted meeting with His Highness the Emir of Qatar, and then signing of agreements, a lunch hosted by His Highness the Emir, a meeting with the father Emir. Then he has an interaction with the Indian community, and then he departs in the evening for Switzerland.

His programme in Switzerland is on Monday. It is a meeting with the President of the Swiss Confederation, followed by a business meeting. Then he leaves Switzerland for the United States. He arrives directly in Washington on the 6th.

On the 6th, he has really three programmes. He will be going to the Arlington Cemetery for a wreath laying. Then he has two events at Blair House where he is staying. One is a meeting with Heads of American think tanks. The other is a function involving the repatriation of cultural property, basically Indian antiquities which are in the United States which are being returned to India.

On the 7th is his meeting with President Obama. He has a meeting followed by a lunch which President Obama is hosting for him. In the evening the Prime Minister would be meeting business leaders in the US and addressing the US-India Business Council. Between the two, between the President’s meeting and the business meeting at the end of the day, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter would be calling on the Prime Minister.

On the 8th of June, the forenoon is devoted to events in the US Congress. He would be going to the US Congress, meeting the Speaker, the Congressional leadership. And he would be delivering an address to the joint meeting of the US Congress. This would be followed by a lunch which is hosted by the Speaker in honour of the Prime Minister. Then there will be a reception which will be jointly done by the House and Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and the India Caucus. And then there is a brief community reception.

In the afternoon of the 8th, the Prime Minister would be flying off to Mexico City where he will have a meeting with President Pena of Mexico. The President would be hosting a dinner for him. After the dinner, he will be taking off from Mexico to return to India.

So essentially you have five days – 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th – five countries, five visits. That is the programme.

Now very quickly to run you through the events of each visit, on the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, there would be an inauguration ceremony from Herat with the release of the water and the running of the three turbines. Together they produce 42 MW of electricity. They will be transmitted through a substation to Herat city.

In terms of the Dam itself, it is built at the cost of approximately Rs.1,700 crore. A lot of effort has gone into the dam. I must tell you the dam was first actually envisaged in 1976. So, for a lot of Afghans, I think this was a point which President Ghani made when Prime Minister met him last in Tehran, he said this was like a dream which people never thought would be realized. It has taken work under very challenging circumstances to complete it. We take a lot of pride in this because again our record in Afghanistan, whether it is the Zaranj-Delaram Road, whether it was the Parliament Building which the Prime Minister inaugurated last December. We have done important projects for Afghanistan, development projects, in very difficult circumstances. And we believe that the enormous goodwill for India in Afghanistan derives from this perception that India has been a very steady, faithful developmental partner for Afghanistan.

The dam itself has actually more than 500 engineers and technocrats worked on site. Its implementer is WAPCOS. BHEL has provided the turbines for it. I would also say that other than the 42 MW that it will generate, it will irrigate about 75,000 hectares, and it will also provide drinking water for the region. So really for that whole Herat area it has enormous significance, and that is the reason why the Prime Minister decided that he would go himself for the inauguration.

Moving on to Qatar, the Prime Minister’s visit on the 4th and 5th is a very important visit. He will be the first Prime Minister to actually visit four countries in the Gulf – UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and now Qatar – within a year. Where Qatar is concerned, it is a very important trade partner, it is a very important energy partner, it has a large diaspora. This by the way is reflective of the Gulf as a whole. While he is going to Qatar I would urge you to see this in a broader regional perspective.

Just to give you a sense of the stakes in the Gulf, today our trade with the Gulf is USD 112 billion. Two thirds of our energy supplies come out of the Gulf. We have eight million Indians living there. And of course we have very strong security interests in the Gulf as well.

Specifically where Qatar is concerned, our bilateral trade is about USD 10 billion. It is our largest LNG supplier. Sixty-five per cent of our total LNG requirements come from Qatar. And we have 6,30,000 Indians living in Qatar. The Emir of Qatar had visited India last year. So, Prime Minister in a sense is returning that visit. His father, the previous Emir, had visited India in 1999, in 2005, in 2012.

As I mentioned to you, there will be talks with the Emir, a lunch, interaction with business leaders, and interaction with workers who are there actually working on an important project to develop the historical downtown of Doha. So, Prime Minister would be meeting with workers who are working on that project.

Qatar is also important for us not just for the reasons I mentioned. It can be a very important economic partner. It has a large sovereign wealth fund. Certainly a lot of the countries in the Gulf today are looking at investment opportunities in India and you can expect that that too is a subject which will be discussed during the visit.

Moving on to Switzerland, Switzerland interestingly is our fifth largest trade partner globally. It is also the 11thlargest investor in India. So, if you look at the economic importance of Switzerland, it is not a visit to be underrated. Apart from the direct trade and investment relationships, it is a country with some very significant strengths, particularly in the renewable energy side, in the vocational education side. And we do believe that Prime Minister’s interaction with business leaders, which will take place after his meeting with the President, would encourage Swiss industry to invest more vigorously in India.

Let me now move on to the US. This would be Prime Minister’s second bilateral visit to the United States. He was there, as all of you know, in September of 2014. The background to this visit really is that President Obama spoke to the Prime Minister and mentioned to him that in this year he was inviting some leaders with whom he had a very close and productive working relationship, to visit him in the United States. So, in many ways you can say it is a sort of a consolidation visit, that the last two years when President Obama has been President and Prime Minister Modi has been Prime Minister they had worked together to progress the relationship. So, a lot of work is going into advancing various subjects, various issues which have been under discussion for the last two years and perhaps even before that.

Other than obviously the central meeting with the President, the address to the joint meeting of the US Congress is very important. Prime Minister Modi would be the fifth Prime Minister after Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh to address the Congress. He will be first foreign leader this year to address a joint meeting of the Congress.

The Speaker has made an exceptional gesture of hosting a lunch in his honour. That is something clearly which is very unusual. He will, as I mentioned to you, begin his visit to the US by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery. He would be the third Indian Prime Minister to go to Arlington. Pandit Nehru went there in 1949 and Mrs. Indira Gandhi went there in 1966.

The return of antiquities of course is a fairly straight forward affair. I think there are a number of very important antiquities which would be coming back.

In terms of the outcomes that we expect from the US visit, obviously at this time I would not be very specific about it. I have to hold that story till the 7th of June. But I would point to the fact that in the last two years really a lot of progress has been made across a very broad front. The 123 agreement has got operationalised, the Joint Strategic Vision for Asia Pacific, Indian Ocean has been articulated and is being worked upon, our own dialogue processes have been expanded, enhanced in different ways, defence cooperation has moved very substantially, the DTTI is looking at far more ambitious proposals today.

Investments from US have been very strong. I think I have a US figure but considering so much of the American investments are routed through other sources, the real figure is very much higher. And the US, if you put goods and services, is our largest trading partner. Also, we have got a lot of traction in many of the national flagship programmes whether it is Smart Cities, Digital India, or Make in India. So, the Prime Minister’s business interactions particularly with the USIBC would be focusing on taking those areas forward.

We work with the US in virtually every field, education, science and technology, health, space. And we have seen a very marked increase in the number of people visiting the two countries, particularly last year, and student exchanges has been very strong. We do expect some of these areas at least to move forward during the visit and these will be expressed appropriately in a joint statement.

Finally where Mexico is concerned, the last time there was a bilateral visit at the level of PM was1986. This was Rajiv Gandhi visiting Mexico. Dr. Manmohan Singh had visited Mexico in 2012 for a G20 Summit. Now this visit’s origins lie in a meeting which Prime Minister had with the President of Mexico at the UNGA last September. The President was very keen that he should visit Mexico early. This March, the Foreign Minister of Mexico was here and we discussed taking this further.

You know we have a growing trade with Mexico. Today, the two-way trade is about USD 6 billion approximately, and there are a lot of possibilities. Our pharmaceutical and automotive exports to Mexico are particularly strong, and we do import crude oil from Mexico. We are actually the largest importer of crude oil from Mexico in Asia, we are the third largest globally. So, you will see in Mexico a fair amount of discussion on scaling up economic cooperation.

Our overall sense is that today in each of these destinations, particularly Qatar, Switzerland, U.S. and Mexico, the progress that has been made in terms of making it easier to do business would be reciprocated by stronger business interests that we expect to encounter out there.

So, this is sort of a broad sense of where the visit planning is and what our thinking is about these countries. If you have any questions, I will be happy to take them.

Question: You spoke about the PM’s visit to Switzerland. The Switzerland is in discussion for a very long time because of the black money which is stashed away by Indians in Switzerland. National Bank of Switzerland says that about USD 1.8 billion are still there stashed by the Indians.Is the Prime Minister going to take up this important issue when he talks with the President of Switzerland?

Foreign Secretary: Do you want me to take the questions in clusters or do I take them one by one? I am a little tight on time, so if you have clusters of questions, that would help.

Official Spokesperson: Any other questions on Switzerland?

Question: Is the Prime Minister going to take up the issue of membership of India into NSG with the Swiss authorities?

Foreign Secretary: On the black money issue, we are in touch with the Government of Switzerland under the DTAA mandate. We have had some discussions about this. We have a few more planned in the near future. We have received support from Swiss authorities on exchange of information on tax data between the two countries. We do hope to engage as early as possible in the automatic exchange of information with Switzerland, and this has been conveyed to the Swiss tax authorities.

On the NSG issue, I would not specifically limit it in a way to Switzerland. I think, as many of you are aware, this has been an objective that we have pursued for many many years now. We believe we have made a lot of progress and that has led us to formally apply to the NSG for membership some days ago. We are engaging all NSG members regarding this issue, and obviously Switzerland is a very important member and definitely I would expect it to come up.

Question: After the Salma Dam, are we looking at trying to help them more with some power generation programme?

Official Spokesperson: Are there any more questions on Afghanistan?

Question: Are there any other major programmes ongoing in Afghanistan. I know you have sort of vaguely answered it but is there something in the offing beyond this?

Question: It is believed that India is competing with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan. What do you have to say on that?

Foreign Secretary: At this time, I think the focus is very much on completing the projects that have been going on for many years and they have been going on for many years because doing a project in Afghanistan is not the easiest. Even if you take what we call Afghan-India Friendship Dam, no longer Salma Dam, the fact that road connectivity was poor, the materials were difficult to get, the security situation was uncertain, these are big challenges you face. That day when you see the picture of it, you see really what in a sense a remote area it is in.I find it difficult to find words to capture the effort which has gone into these projects. So, by finishing the Parliament Building last year, I think we took a very big step forward.

We have done projects in the past. I referred to the Zaranj-Delaram road, the Pul-e-Khumri transmission line and the substations which we have done in Doshi and Charikar.I think the broad approach, not only in Afghanistan, is that let us first try to complete what we have on the plate rather than keep making promises and taking on stuff and then not being able to deliver on it as quickly as we would like. So, at the moment, I think it is completing what is in the pipeline which is really the big push in Afghanistan, and the completion of this dam would truly be sort of a monumental objective.

On the question you had about the other country, look, we build dams, we build parliament buildings, we build transmission lines, we educate kids, we do people’s health, we do the radio stations and so on. You can judge for yourself what they do and draw your own conclusion.

Question:On the Nuclear Suppliers Group, are you expecting any opposition to India’s membership in the NSG and where would you expect it to come from? Will Prime Minister Modi be asking Obama to try to kind of go to bat for India on this and lobby other countries on behalf of India?

Official Spokesperson: Are there any other questions related to NSG?

Question: Given that we have been tracking the Prime Minister’s travels over the last few weeks, Mexico and Switzerland were not originally on the schedule. Have they been added recently or was it always on the agenda for this tour?

Question:Sir, five-nation visit mein NSG ka agenda kitna bada hai aur isko kis tarah se kin-kin deshon ke saath rakha gaya hai?

Question: You mentioned the broader discussions we are having with many NSG members regarding our membership application.Mexico is another country which is a member of the NSG. Yesterday, the Mexican Ambassador to India mentioned to us that for them the NPT remains the key cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime, and they would not be willing to really compromise on what she called their principles. What exactly is our strategy in convincing countries like Switzerland and Mexico which have traditionally been more conservative about this issue?

Foreign Secretary: In terms of Maya’s question, I think what happened was the visit schedules sort of come together. I mean you do not have a simultaneous thought about all countries at the same moment. I think typically planning would be that we start somewhere, then what fits into it, what are the commitments we have. So, the Swiss visit arose from a meeting which Prime Minster had with the Swiss President on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in March in my recollection. They had a meeting and then Prime Minister said that he would try and make it early. The Mexican visit has been on our mind since September last year. We looked for some matching dates at that point, it did not work out. So, often these are functions of scheduling. As you would notice, the approach is really to pack in as much as you can, as tightly as you can.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Foreign Secretary: I would say both with Switzerland and Mexico, there are substantive issues which go beyond NSG. I mean if I am going to my fifth largest trade partner, I do not think I need the NSG to go there, which is not to say we would not discuss it. But I would urge you not to have a unifocal view of Indian foreign policy.

Now on your NSG question, there were three questions out there, first of all I think we need to understand some important differences. The NSG is a regime. It is a sort of a flexible arrangement amongst States which is quite different from the NPT which is a treaty. If you look at the central word in that acronym NSG, it is ‘supplier’. If you look there, it is proliferation. So, I think the objectives are different and I would not really confuse apples for oranges. You asked, do we see problems, or how do we make a case, or what is the expectation, or the reactions. I would put it this way that for the last more than a decade we have been telling the world that a country like India and an economy like India which is growing will require more energy and we expect for reasons of greenness, cleanness technology that the nuclear component of our energy mix would grow.

In the earlier days, we would make this as a broad argument, quite convincingly I should add. But now we can very specifically put some numbers up there. We can say today that the INDC envisages that 40 per cent of our power generation capacity by 2030 would be non-fossil fuel. If 40 per cent is non-fossil fuel, obviously a substantial part of it would be nuclear. If big investments are being made both domestically and internationally in the nuclear power sector, that would only be possible if there is a sense that this is a predictable environment. If there is uncertainty about trading rules, if there is uncertainty about technology access, then you will really not get that kind of investments and players stepping forward.

We are looking at a very major domestic expansion of our nuclear power sector. We are also looking at a very large international collaboration with different countries in this. I mean if all our plans come true, we will really have a large number of reactors in the next 15 years in this country. Therefore, getting us into the NSG would help facilitate nuclear trade with us. And as the nuclear industry grows, we are also becoming a nuclear exporter. Last year we issued about 150 licenses to different countries. So, we want our own industry also to be compliant with international norms and practices. So, our view is, do not confuse the NSG and the NPT. They are two somewhat different things.

The merits of our joining NSG derive from the fact that we have a substantial expansion of our nuclear energy segment ahead of us. The fact is that as industry grows, we will ourselves become a serious nuclear exporter, and it is also a fact that our record in this has been very good. I mean if there are norms and practices in the world, proliferation is not an irrelevant concern to it. It is not the same. People look at us. I think we have a very solid record with which much of the world is comfortable.

I would also flag to your attention that the NSG has already made one exception for us. So, in a sense, our credentials have been examined; a judgement was arrived at in 2008; in 2008 we gave some commitments. We gave commitments on separation of our nuclear programme between civil and the strategic side. We agreed to accept and implement the additional protocol. And if you look at all the commitments we made in 2008, we have very faithfully followed up. So, we think it is a sort of logical next phase. So, the long answer to your question is, if you make out a good case, if it looks credible, if the facts back you up, if the record is solid, then I think we expect everybody to understand and accept it. Obviously, countries which feel that what we are doing is the right thing, if they take it upon themselves to articulate their positions and talk to others, this is what friends do for each other.

Question: I would go back to the Qatar part of the trip and quote you. You said, "And of course we have very large security interests in the Gulf.” You did not specify them. So, I would request you to elaborate what these are, what already exists. And also, if this is such a relatively new relationship with Qatar on this front or in this area, then what is going to be discussed as far as security interests are concerned. It is other than security of our people who work there. I do not mean that.

Foreign Secretary: But I do mean that in the sense that when I say that we have security interests in the Gulf, when you have 8 million people, I regard that as a big security interest. When you import two thirds of your energy, I regard that as an equally big part of your security interest. I think a lot of these countries today are also looking at a very uncertain regional situation around them and they have concerns about radicalization, about terrorism. So, I think in line with many of the other visits that we have made to the Gulf, I would urge you to look at it in a similar context. Today, with a lot of the Gulf countries, when I say we have security interests, we have exchanges of assessment; we have practical cooperation of different kinds; so, all of that. So, conceptually, practically both the security interests kind of manifest themselves.

Question: About the Mexico trip, it would be very short but would it be possible to just elaborate?

Question: It is not about Mexico, it is about the United States. First of all there is a quick protocol question. Do you know whether the Prime Minister will be greeted or welcomed on the South Lawn of the White House? Do we know that? It is sort of …(Inaudible)…with all kinds of significance, so I am interested to know that. Secondly, in the big profile address before Congress, what are the themes that Mr. Modi wants to lay out? What is the message for the US Congress? And are there any requests that he wants to make of them?

Foreign Secretary: Very briefly on the Mexican visit, what I can tell you is that we expect to have obviously at the President-PM’s level exchange of views on the world situation. But we do expect that the focus of discussions would be on bilateral cooperation especially bilateral economic cooperation. We look Latin American countries, in terms of economic cooperation Mexico kind of ranks right up there. But there is still a feeling that there are opportunities which we should be exploiting better. There are already Indian companies in Mexico and Mexican companies here but the expectation is that particularly on the investment side, there would be a greater push.

On the US question, what I do know is he will be welcomed in the White House. Which Lawn he gets in, I must confess, is something which I do not have right now in the papers in front of me.

On the Congress, I do not want to predict the Prime Minister’s address to the joint meeting. But I do want to say that today the Congress is very much at the heart of our relationship with the United States. It has been very supportive of India. I can go back in history and cite you even in some more difficult days where actually the Congress has been the part of the US polity which has been very sympathetic to India - 1950s, even 1970s - but particularly the last two decades, I would say. I mean if you look, the India Caucus is the largest. Having sort of operated in the Congress myself, I can tell you the doors are open, Members of Congress are always willing to interact with you. A lot of it is also to do with the Congressional relationship with the community. That has been a very strong bonding for us. But we expect the Congress to be as supportive as it has been in the past. And I am reasonably sure that in some way the Prime Minister would express his appreciation for this very consistent support that we have got from the US Congress for the relationship.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Foreign Secretary: Again, look, I hesitate to predict his speech but I can imagine that the ease of doing business would be addressed, I do not in the Congress, certainly in the US-India Business Council meeting.Thank you everybody.

Official Spokesperson:Foreign Secretary, as I told you, has to go. So, that concludes the press briefing. Thank you.

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