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Transcript of Media Briefing on Vice President's visits to Rwanda & Uganda and Weekly Briefing by Official Spokesperson (February 16, 2017)

February 17, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Good evening friends and welcome to the weekly press briefing. Before I begin my regular press briefing I have some special announcements to make regarding the Vice President’s visit to Rwanda and Uganda.

Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari accompanied by Smt. Salma Ansari will be visiting Rwanda from 19 - 21 February, 2017 and Uganda from 21 - 23 February, 2017. He will be accompanied by Shri Vijay Sampla, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment and four Members of Parliament, Senior Officials and a media delegation.

India – Rwanda relations are marked by cordiality, convergence of views on cooperation on major international issues and increasing trend in bilateral trade and investments, greater people-to-people contacts and a deep sense of mutual respect. During the official visit of President Paul Kagame to India from 9 – 11 January, 2017 a decision to give strategic content to our partnership was taken.

During this visit the Vice President would be meeting His Excellency the President of Rwanda and His Excellency the Vice President of the Senate and deliver an address at the University of Rwanda. The Vice President would pay homage at the Genocide Museum, interact with the Indian community in Kigali and attend a banquet hosted by the Prime Minister of Rwanda.

As regards his visit to Uganda, bilateral relations between the two countries are characterized by historical cultural linkages, extensive economic and trade interests and a convergence on major bilateral and international issues. His Excellency President Yoveri Museveni had attended the 3rd India Africa Forum Summit held in October 2015 in Delhi. During the visit, the Vice President would be meeting His Excellency the Vice President of Uganda and His Excellency the President of Uganda. The Vice President would also interact with the Indian community in Kampala. The visit by Vice President is expected to deepen and expand the bilateral relationship.

To brief you on these two very important upcoming visits I have with me Joint Secretary (Eastern & Southern Africa), Ms. Neena Malhotra and also Mr. Anshuman Gaur, Officer on Special Duty to Vice President. Neena will give you details of the Vice President’s engagements in the two countries and then that would be supplemented, if necessary, by Anshuman. With that I give the floor to JS (E&SA).

Jt. Secretary, Eastern & Southern Africa, Ms. Neena Malhotra:
Thank you, Sir. I welcome all of you once again to this briefing session. Spokesperson has already given the broad outline of the visit as well as the program. As he mentioned, Vice President will be in Rwanda from 19 – 21 February and in Uganda from 21 – 23 February. One of the Minsters and four MPs will be accompanying him. He has given the name of the Minister, the MPs who are accompanying him are Smt. Rane Nara, Smt. Kanimori, Shri Ram Vijay Singh Judev and Shri P K Biju. Besides them, there would be a number of senior officials and a large business delegation.

Just to give you a broader context of the visit, our engagement with Africa has intensified significantly. You would recall that we had invited representative of all 54 African countries at the 3rd India Africa Forum Summit in October 2015. Since then we have had 12 outgoing visits to Africa by the troika of the President, three by him, Vice President, five already and Prime Minister, four visits to African countries.

During the current government under our Africa Outreach Initiative we have also had visits to all African countries at ministerial level except perhaps CAR, the Central African Republic. In many of these countries, no high level visit had taken place for several years.

The forthcoming visit of Vice President is part of the conscious broadening of India’s footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Great Lakes region. This is the first high level visit to Rwanda from India and the visit is taking place shortly after an official visit of the President of Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, to India for the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit in January 2017. This underscores the importance that both our countries attach to our relations.

As regards the program, the Spokesperson has already mentioned that Vice President will start his official program by paying homage at Kigali Genocide Memorial. The other elements of the program include call on the President, Paul Kagame and the President of the Senate, Bernard Makuza. He will also launch India – Rwanda Innovation Growth Program as part of which there will be Technology Expo of India’s low cost innovations.

Vice President along with the Prime Minister of Rwanda will address an India-Rwanda Business Forum. His other programs include an address to the Indian community as well as at the University of Rwanda.

The Vice President will proceed to Uganda on February 21. This is the first high level bilateral visit from India to Uganda since 1997 i.e. after 21 years. There have been some high level visits from Uganda to India including the visit by the Ugandan President Mr. Museveni for the 3rd India Africa Forum Summit in 2015.

In Uganda the program includes call on the President, Vice President, address to the Indian community and India Uganda Business Forum. Besides, our Vice President will also be paying floral tributes to the bust of Mahatma Gandhi at a place called Jinja. As regards our bilateral relations, both Rwanda and Uganda are important from the viewpoint of our trade, especially in the pharmaceuticals, automobiles, mechanical appliances and machinery sectors. Our trade with Rwanda has doubled over the last five years while we are one of Uganda’s largest trading partners, we are also one of the largest investors in Uganda.

You would be aware that the Indian diaspora has invested over $ 1 billion in Uganda. Indian investors have also invested in agriculture, mining, construction, pharmaceuticals and financial services in both Uganda and Rwanda. As regards the Indian community, the 30,000 strong Indian community is an important link for India with Uganda. We have about 3000 Indian community members in Rwanda and India has also stationed a four member Indian military training team in Uganda since 2010 to train Ugandan defence personnel and have also deployed our telecom expert.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have been regular beneficiaries of our capacity building initiatives, especially the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation program, the flagship program called ITEC. We have development partnership projects in both the countries, especially in Rwanda which has been a successful model. We have provided lines of credit for the Nyabarongo hydro-power project which has been completed and is running successfully and it is learnt that the project has significantly augmented the power capacity of Rwanda. We have also solar electrified 35 schools in Rwanda and an LOC has also been given for the development of export targeted agricultural projects.

Similarly in Uganda also we have some development partnership projects. So with both the countries we have substantive relations and we wish to strengthen them further. I’d be happy to take questions later on. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
The floor is now open for questions pertaining to Vice President’s visit to these two countries.

Question: During President Paul Kagame’s visit here earlier this year, the two countries - India and Rwanda - signed an agreement on cooperation for third countries as well. Would be grateful if you could explain a bit about what that really means and what are the kinds of projects we are looking for?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The Jt. Secretary says that we have not signed any such agreement.

Question Contd.: Just to clarify you mentioned that it would be the first high-level visit to Uganda since 1997? Didn’t the PM visit for the CHOGM in between at some point?

Jt. Secretary, Eastern & Southern Africa, Ms. Neena Malhotra: It is the first high-level bilateral visit. You are right, PM Manmohan Singh had gone in 2007 for the CHOGM meet.

How big is the Indian community in Rwanda?

Jt. Secretary, Eastern & Southern Africa, Ms. Neena Malhotra: Indian community in Rwanda is about 3000.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
Since there are no more questions, in that case I would thank my two colleagues for sharing their time to brief you on these two very important and upcoming visits by the Vice President and after this we will resume the normal press briefing.

I have a couple of opening announcements which pertain to upcoming visits by the Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary will visit Sri Lanka from the 18th to 20th February, 2017. The visit will continue the tradition of close exchanges with Sri Lanka that has gained momentum in the last two years. He will interact with the Sri Lankan leadership for discussions on possibilities of collaboration and cooperation in a number of sectors including power, highways, airport, hydrocarbon etc. The visit would help in taking stock of various decisions taken during the meetings between the two leaderships.

China and India will hold the first meeting of the India China Strategic Dialogue co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and the Executive Vice Foreign Minister of China on 22nd February 2017 in Beijing. This dialogue mechanism was agreed to during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to India in August 2016. The two sides are expected to discuss all issues of mutual interest in the bilateral, regional and international domain.

Foreign Secretary Dr. Jaishankar will pay a visit to Dhaka on 23rd and 24th February, 2017. This visit is at the invitation of the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Mr. Md. Shahidul Haque. The two Foreign Secretaries will review areas of bilateral cooperation between the two countries including high-level visits. During the visit the Indian Foreign Secretary is expected to call on the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

This concludes my announcements. The floor is now open for questions.

Question: Any details of this meeting on Afghanistan which was hosted by Russia yesterday?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As you have seen, the Russian side has already put out their read out, but I can share with you our own assessment of the six party talks that were held in Moscow.

India, as you know, attended the six party consultations on Afghanistan held in Moscow yesterday which were hosted by our privileged strategic partner, the Russian Federation. Other participants were Afghanistan, China, Iran and Pakistan.

The consultations brought together regional countries which have important stakes in peace and security in Afghanistan to exchange views on promoting security as well as peace and reconciliation in that country.

India expressed the hope that the initiative for these consultations which mark a new beginning would help promote regional cooperation for stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, protecting its unity and integrity and pursuing peace and reconciliation.

We stressed that it is essential to end all forms of terrorism and extremism that beset Afghanistan and our region and to ensure the denial of territory or any other support, safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region. India stressed that an end to violence and terrorism is fundamental to promoting security and creating an environment necessary for peace and reconciliation which is Afghan led and owned.

We also underlined that it is up to the government of Afghanistan to decide whom to engage in direct talks. These efforts can only be facilitated by friends and well-wishers of Afghanistan. We pointed out that regional efforts to promote security, peace and development in Afghanistan can benefit from wider international collaboration and cooperation wherever Afghanistan benefits from them.

So this gives you, I suppose, our perspective, what we promoted at the six party talks and everybody has found these talks to be useful and I believe these will continue.

Sir ek report hai ki Kerala se ek family hai jo ki Afghanistan mein Islamic State ko set karane ke liye kai kadam uthaai hai jisamein wahaan par tech units aur dukanein bhi kholi hain. Usko aap logon ne agar notice mein liyaa ho toh kya reaction hai aapkaa?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Kerala ki ek family ne Afghanistan mein dukaan kholi hai ISIS ki madad ke liye? Mujhe poorn vishwaas hai ki hamaari jo security agencies hain unki nazar mein ye hogaa zaroor aur agar is par adhik details mil paayenge to main aapse share karungaa.

Question: As you are aware Sir, Hafiz Saeed’s name is on the Pakistan exit control list. Now he has written to the Pakistan government suggesting his name be removed from the list because he says that his organization and he himself has never been involved in any terrorist activity. Considering that 26/11 is still on the anvil and no action has been taken, would you like to comment on it please?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
Well this is a matter between Mr. Hafiz Saeed and his handlers in Pakistan, but our view on Hafiz Saeed is very well known. He is an internationally proscribed terrorist, who was engaged in numerous acts of terrorism directed not just at India but also at India’s neighbours and we believe that he needs to be brought to justice as soon as possible.

Question: Vikas, can you elaborate on India China Strategic Dialogue and what is the agenda and what are the broad areas?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Well, as the label of this dialogue itself says it’s a strategic dialogue. India and China share a Closer Developmental Partnership and as you know there are a number of issues also between the two countries. There are a lot of collaborative activities but there are also some friction points and the idea is that through the medium and mechanism of the strategic dialogue, the Foreign Secretary from our side and the counterpart on the Chinese side are able to take a holistic view of India China relations and see to what extent the two sides can accommodate each other’s concerns and interests.

Question: Vikas, we have seen that from 2005 to 2014 India and China also have had their strategic dialogue between the foreign secretaries so this now, is it a new mechanism or it is a continuation of the earlier one?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: This was said to be a new mechanism which was agreed to during the visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he came to India in August 2016. This mechanism was agreed to at that time. I think it’s a more comprehensive mechanism.

EAM in her conversation with the US counterpart, did she raise the issue H1B Visa?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
Dekhhiye main ye kahungaa ki jo baatcheet hui thi hamaari Videsh Mantri aur America ke Videsh Mantri Rex Tillerson ke saath kal 9 baje ke aas paas.

That was a much broader dialogue covering various aspects of the India US strategic partnership. We have already put out a read out in terms of what the two leaders spoke about in terms of expanding and deepening the partnership, in terms of cooperating even more closely in counter-terrorism, counter-extremism and as far as the H1B Visa is concerned, as you know we are already engaged on a continuing basis with both the US Administration and the U.S. Congress. Other stakeholders such as NASSCOM etc. are also engaged in their own consultations.

Our Ambassador in Washington recently issued a statement also in this regard. So I think as far as the H1B issue is concerned, the US side is very well aware of our concerns in that matter.

Has Bhutan given any assurance on ratification of BBIN motor agreement?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
As you know the agreement was passed in their lower house, it did not pass in the upper house and I think the Bhutanese side is engaged in working out the mechanism by which this issue can be resolved because Bhutan’s commitment to the motor vehicles agreement as part of the BBIN framework is very much there.

Question: Is there a time frame for Bhutan to push this through?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I think we should not push through these things, after all it’s a legislative issue there, so I think we should wait for them to sort it out.

Question: Sir as you told that Foreign Secretary will be visiting Dhaka and among other issues they will be discussing the high level visits, but we know that there are certain unresolved issues which is creating problems for betterment of the relationship. Do we expect any forward movement in this visit or any resolution of issues?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
Foreign Secretary is going precisely to have discussions on all aspects of the India Bangladesh relationship. It’s a very important relationship for us. Bangladesh is a very important and valued partner for us up and as you know they cooperate very closely with us as part of the BBIN framework as well. So Foreign Secretary’s visit there is obviously to discuss the entire gamut of issues between India and Bangladesh and also the possibility of the high level visit which I think you know is likely to take place.

Question: Just to confirm, is MoS M J Akbar representing India at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bonn?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
I believe so, yes.

Question Contd.: And is there any plan or any proposal for him to meet Rex Tillerson there?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I’m not aware of that. Mr. Tillerson just had a conversation with External Affairs Minister.

Question: The Chinese Foreign Ministry put out a statement pointing out that they are now Sri Lanka’s number one trading partner. Was wondering whether you put any significance to that statement given the geo-political …

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said, we do not look at our relationships with countries through the prism of third countries. This is between China and Sri Lanka.

Question: Can you give us any further update on Mr. Wang Qi and more than that how many such people who were stranded during the war? Do we have a database of these kind of people in India?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The MEA does not have a database of such people certainly. We were made aware of this because of the BBC documentary that was aired and then we made enquiries with the Ministry of Home Affairs and we are very happy that we were able to contribute to this family reunion. Mr. Wang Qi accompanied by some of his family members - all his family members did not go; some have stayed behind in India - has gone to China. He was received with great fanfare at Beijing and there was a big welcome ceremony for him and Xian, his home province when he went there and the Chinese side also greatly appreciated the constructive role and the support that we provided to this family reunion. I am not aware of any other such cases.

Question: Two days back a techie was shot dead in US, a Karnataka student. What is the reason?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: This was not a hate crime. This happened in the San Francisco area. I’ve got a full report about this. This was not a hate crime by any stretch of the imagination. It was an attempted carjacking and you know he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The assailant has already been caught and Mr. Vamshi Mamidala’s body is being sent back at our expense. We convey our sincere condolences to the family.

Question: During the Foreign Secretary’s Sri Lanka visit, will there be any talks on the fishermen issues?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
Look, fishermen issue is an issue that both sides want to resolve and now we have a mechanism for that, we have the Joint Working Group, we have the ministerial level committee. The next meeting will be in April, so we already have that particular mechanism and certain very positive steps were taken in the last meeting as well, including use of technology etc. So let’s await the JWG and the Ministerial Level Meeting to resolve this particular issue. Foreign Secretary will have a very wide ranging discussion on a whole host of issues as part of the India Sri Lanka Strategic Partnership.

Question: This week we have the deputy leader of the Maoist Centre from Nepal visiting Delhi, he was here during the weekend and he said that Nepal is moving ahead with the election plans without finalizing the provincial boundaries. We discussed the issue of boundaries as it figures in the amendments and he said that that will have to wait. Amendments will come later and the election will come first which is a three tier election. How do you look at it?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I situate my answer in a much broader context because you know we have never ever been prescriptive in our relations with Nepal. Our consistent position has been that peace, stability and progress in Nepal is in the interest of both India and Nepal. India has been supportive of initiatives of the Government of Nepal to meet aspirations of all sections of society and we hope that all sides will continue to engage closely for a successful conclusion of the ongoing efforts.

With that let me come to a close of this press conference. And now that the press conference is over, let me say that this is the last press conference that I will be addressing as the Official Spokesperson. It has been a privilege for me to serve as the official face and voice of the Ministry of External Affairs over these last two years.

It has been an incredible journey to see the evolution and diversification of our engagements with foreign countries at such close quarters because the XP position is one which really allows you a ringside view of international developments as they impact India and as India engages with the world.

My role as the Official Spokesman has also brought me in very close contact with all of you, the journalistic fraternity, especially those of you who cover foreign affairs. And let me tell you that I have been tremendously impressed by your curiosity, by your commitment and above all, by your dedication in understanding the minutiae of Indian foreign policy, as is evident from the extremely late night calls which I have received from several of you! My WhatsApp has kept buzzing well past midnight! In my own way I have tried to answer as much as I could. I have always believed in exchange of information. The role of the spokesman is to provide you a perspective from our point of view on what India’s external engagements mean, what our foreign policy means, how our foreign policy has dovetailed with our domestic agenda.

I hope I have been able to be of assistance to you, be of service to you. As I prepare to leave this post and hand over to a worthy successor, I’m sure that all of you will also offer your full support and cooperation that you gave to me so that he is also able to discharge his duties as effectively as I, at least, tried to discharge. So with that once again let me say a very sincere thank you to each and every one of you for all the support and assistance that you gave me and who knows maybe our paths will cross again sometime, somewhere.

Thank you all.
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