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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (December 21, 2017)

December 21, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namashkar and good afternoon. Welcome to this press briefing. Before I move on I am very happy to acknowledge the presence of 12 Afghan Diplomats, they are sitting here. They are in New Delhi as part of their training as they are doing a course at Foreign Services Institute. We are happy to associate with Afghanistan in their efforts to develop their human resources and we are very happy that they are present here today.

Moving on, I have one announcement to make. Government of India was approached on behalf of Lord Shiva devotees in northern Sri Lanka, who had expressed a desire to visit the ThillaiNataraja Temple in Chidambaram to participate in the "MaarkazhiThiruvaathirai” (AarudraaDharshana Festival), which will be held next week (24 December 2017 – 3 January 2018). This is a major festival at a particularly sacred temple for both Indians and Sri Lankans.

In response to the request, Government of India has agreed to facilitate the travel of pilgrims through a ferry from Kankesanturai (near Jaffna) to Chennai. We expect this will permit a large number of Sri Lankan Tamil pilgrims to undertake this important and auspicious pilgrimage.

Question: My quest is on Maldives. There was an editorial in Maldives newspaper criticizing India. Can you comment on it?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: We have seen this editorial. As you all are aware, India and Maldives enjoy close relationship. We have shared development and security interests, we have a number of ongoing projects between the two countries which reflect this commonality. Frankly, there can be nothing which can be further from the truth as this article. I think this article should not be taken too seriously.

Question: There are also reports that Indian government has imposed visa restrictions on Maldivian citizens visiting India.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I am not aware of this development. I would like to know the source.

Question Contd.: Reports appearing in the Maldivian press.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I don’t think this information is correct.

Question: We have had one response from your office on the National Security Strategy of US which has been unveiled by President Trump which appears to me to be limited to the larger global objectives of India for peace and stability and anti-terrorism and India-US relationship. The emphasis is on the bilateral but the larger issue which has been raised by countries in our extended neighborhood, with whom India has close relations and much greater interests like China, Russia and Iran and so on.

They have been very critical of this policy. Russia has referred to it as imperial and also being driven by a unipolar objective and China has said that it reflects cold war mentality. So is there not a conflict of India perceives itself being projected as a potential leading global power if the policy is towards the unipolar world. Would you like to respond in more detail?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you for the Question. In fact the response to the National Security Strategy which was released by the US was quite broad. We responded to what was included in the NSS as far as India and South Asia was concerned and I think it was a very detailed and broad characterization of the strategy. Different countries have responded to their aspect of what is contained in that strategy. Frankly from our perspective, I don’t think I should comment on each and every line or each and every comment which has been made in the NSS.

Question Contd.: Limited aspect of Neighborhood First or ….

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: That is already there. I think we are talking about shared strategic interests, it includes a very broader vision and I don’t think it needs further elaboration.

Question: I want to refer to the report of the Lt. Gen. Jhanjhua, Security Advisor, Pakistan saying that India and US have come together to oppose the CPEC and secondly there is a reported warning that there could be nuclear conflict in South Asia?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You see we are quite used to these alarmist comments coming out of Pakistan. I think we have seen these comments in the past also and it is very clear that it has a political motive when they come out with these statements. I suggest that it should not be taken too seriously.

Question: Ravish, you must be very used to these alarmist comments but you are not very used to Pakistan Army Chief telling his MPs that they should be friends with India and they should build good relations. How does India see this kind of statement?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You see, like any good neighbour we do desire good neighborly relations with the country who is our neighbour. It is important for Pakistan to understand our core concerns of terrorism. We have time and again emphasized on it. We have time and again asked them to take against terrorist and terrorist groups which are operating from their soil and this is something which they have to handle if they are really serious in cultivating this friendship.

Question: Just wanted to check with you the US envoy to UN Nicky Haley has been making a lot of sharp comments and she literally said on Thursday, if anybody basically goes against the US on the Jerusalem issue, they will be naming and shaming countries and that will help them to decide who the allies are and who they pay for. How do you look at these comments and is there any sort of a re-thinking in your position which by the way Arab envoy is seen to be criticizing?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Our position on this has been articulated and I don’t think I should add anything further on that.

Question: On KulbhushanJadhav, the Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson in a briefing has said that the family will be flying to Islamabad rather than taking the Wagah route and also said that they would be OK with media interactions if India response positively. We just want to know if that is going to happen.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I have seen a lot of things on this particular meeting. Last time I did mention that the modalities of this meeting are still being worked out and who goes when, how do they go, how does the meeting takes place, I think this is something which the two countries are engaged in discussions. I don’t think it would be proper for me to get into the specific details about how these modalities are being worked out at this stage.

Question: Agar media interaction keliye Pakistan kiSarkarkehtihai to Bhaaratusko accept karegaya deny karega?

(It is supplementary to the Question asked just now. If Pakistan government asks for media interaction so will India accept it or deny it?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Dekhiye is par ye jo statement haiwoaaj hi aaihaiunke spokesperson ki taraf se. Abhi to ye aaya hai, hum usko dekhenge aur vichaar karenge aur fir jo bhi hamara decision hoga wo hum bataayenge.

(You see the statement on this from their spokesperson came today only. We will look into it and think over it and then whatever will be our decision, the same will be conveyed.)

Question: Tomorrow we are looking at talks between the NSA AjitDoval and State Counselor Yang Jiechi. Are some new confidence building measures likely to be announced or discussed in the light of what has happened in the past few months?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You know my answer but still, have patience, the talks are scheduled for tomorrow. They will take place as we had announced earlier and in fact I kept my promise of briefing all of you and sharing with you the dates of the talks. So please have patience and I think we will share some information about the talks very soon.

Question: Foreign Minister Lavrov’s recent comments about exhorting India to join, asking India to reconsider joining One Belt One Road, is that an issue of dissonance between India and Russia?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: On OBOR, I think time and again I have articulated our position and if you want I can again say the same thing which is basically that our policy has been very clear and consistent. You are aware why we oppose this and why we have been against this initiative.

We believe that connectivity issues should be based on universally recognized norms, international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and quality and must be pursued in a manner which respects territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Coming back to the second Question, I had mentioned with respect to the comment made by the Russian Foreign Minister that India will always be open to any efforts which will address our legitimate concerns in this regard and I had already spelt out those concerns.

Question: It is related with Myanmar, it’s a twofold question. One to do with Foreign Secretary’s visit in which India has offered development assistance specifically for the development of the Rakhine Province including pre-fabricated houses so could you give us the sense of what all have we offered to Myanmar on this count? And on the other issue, the Bangladesh Minister has spoken about how Bangladesh feels that Pakistan might be using Rohingyas to foment terrorism in the neighborhood and he has called for more cooperation between India and Bangladesh. Your comments on that.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: On the first questionI am sure you must have seen this detailed press release which we have issued during the visit of the Foreign Secretary. There are two things which I would like to add to what has already been shared with you. The first is the amount of commitment to the development efforts and that amount is $ 25 million over five years and which is an indicative figure and depends on the actual requirement and utilization. There are several other aspects of the discussion and what we intend to do with Myanmar and how we intend to help them with the objective of restoration of normalcy in the Rakhine State and enable the return of displaced persons.

Your second question partly answers this and again we would welcome any efforts between Myanmar and their discussion with any country which could help this process.

Question: It is more of a clarification, whether the Myanmar Government has agreed to take back all the Rohingya refugees who have been taking shelter in India and other parts of neighboring countries?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I think it is evident. If you are following the news coming out of that country, they have agreed that the displaced persons, who have moved out of Myanmar, they will be taken back. There are certain mechanisms which are under discussion between Myanmar and Bangladesh for this purpose.

Question: I am not asking about the result of tomorrow’s meeting between NSA and Chinese Special Representative but I just want to ask you that what are the issues that are expected to come up because this is a meeting after Doklam stand-off and China opposing the MasoodAzhar naming in UN Security Council. I just want to know the subjects that are going to come up in the meeting?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much for the question. The nomenclature of the talks is very clear, Special Representatives Talks on Boundary Issue, so I don’t think it needs any further elaboration. Basically the discussion will be focused between the two SRs on the boundary issue and we, of course, attach a lot of importance to this dialogue mechanism.

Question: Kuch din pehle hi Pakistan ke Army Chief nejobayaandiyahaiki Hafiz Saeedusitarah Kashmir kamuddauthaasaktahaijistarahekaam Pakistani naagrik. Iskoaapkistarah se dekhatehain?

(Few days back Pakistan Army Chief had made a statement that Hafiz Saeed can take up the issue of Kashmir just like any other Pakistani citizen. How do you see this statement?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Dekhiye wahan se jo comments aate rahte hain, tarah tarahke comments aate hain, mujhe lagta hai ki kabhi-kabhi sab par react karna jaroori hai ya nahi ye mujhe samajh mein nahi aata hai par chunki aapne jab ye poochha hai to main batana chahunga ki Hafiz Saeed ki jo asaliyat hai wo kisi se chhupi nahi hai. Wo internationally proscribed terrorist hai, wo Mumbai attack ke mastermind aur prime organizer hai aur sabko unke bare mein pata hai. Ab unse judi hui khabar ki wo yahan jaa rahe hain, wahan jaa rahe hain, unhone ye bhi bayaan diya hai ki hum 1971 ka badla lenge. To unki baton ko kitna seriously lena chahiye, mujhe lagta hai ki ye aap logon ko jyada pata hai.

(See, there are a lot of comments that are made from that side, sometimes I don’t know if I should react to all of them or not but since you have asked I would like to tell you that the reality of Hafiz Saeed is not hidden from anybody. He is an internationally proscribed terrorist who was the mastermind and prime organizer of Mumbai terror attacks and everybody knows this.

Now every news related to him whether he is coming here or going there, he has made this statement or that, recently he made a statement that they will avenge 1971. So how much seriously his statements should be taken I think you people are a better judge of that.)

Question: Aisi khabar aai thi ki Ladakh se judijo China ki seema hai wahan par satellite phone miley they jis se ki yah aarop lag raha tha ki China Bharat se khufiya jaan kari ikattha kar raha hai. To kya is mudde ko China ke saath hone wali baithak mein uthaya jaayega?

(Recently there were reports that few satellite phones were found in Ladakh region near the China boundary hence accusations were made that China is trying to get confidential information from India. So does this issue will be taken up in the meeting with China?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Dekhiye mere pass aisi koi jaankaari nahi hai.

(See I don’t have any information on this.)

Question Contd.: Ye kai news channel par bhi chalaa hai.

(This report has run on many news channels.)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Chalahoga par agar mere pass iski jaankari nahi hai to iska matlab wo unsubstantiated hoga. Usmein kitni sachhai hai iski mujhe jaanch karni padegi aur fir main iske bare me in tippani kar paunga lekin abhi filhal mere pass is mudde par kuch kehne ko nahi, iske mujhe tathya pata karne padenge. Kyon ki jo aap dekhate hain uske basis par pravakta ki haisiyat se tippani karna uchit nahi hoga. Iske bare mein pata karna padega ki sachhai kya hai.

Aur doosra mujhe lagta hai ki maamla thoda sa defence ka haiu nse bhi consult karna padega, ho sakta hai ki unko is bare mein kuchh pata ho. To uske baad hi main kuch bata sakta hoon.

(It might have run on news channels but if I don’t have any information then it means that it must have been unsubstantiated. What is the truth in this case, I’ll have to investigate then only I’ll be able to make any comment on this issue and right now I don’t have any information on that and I’ll have to collect facts regarding this. Further it would not be appropriate for me as the official spokesperson to comment on whatever is seen, we need to establish the truth about the report.

Secondly, I believe that the issue is related to defence so they also have to be consulted, it is possible that they might have some information on this. So I can tell you after that only.)

Question: You have tried to avoid this question once before but today is a big day in UNGA given the Jerusalem vote and President Trump has declared that he is going to cut aid to countries who are not supporting US. So in this context can you please give us some details, if not about the policy about the voting but where do we stand vis-à-vis East Jerusalem? Are we with Israel, what has been our interaction with Arab Diplomats in the last few days, we understand there have been a few meetings, so if you can just shed some light it would be very helpful?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Unfortunately again I will not be able to add anything to what I have already shared i.e. our position on this matter. On the voting itself, I think we should just wait for the voting to happen, you’ll get to know in which direction we are going to vote.

You referred to the meeting which our Hon’bleMoS M J Akbar had with the Ambassadors of the League of Arab states. This took place on 11th December. Basically the Ambassadors of Arab state expressed their views on the US policy of recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and on our part MoS M J Akbar reiterated India’s position which was articulated by us a few days ago.

Question: Pradhanmantri Ji ki maannee ya Oli Ji se koi baat cheet hui abhi ya unke kisi saathi se kyonki ye khabarein aa rahi thi ki abhi tak Pradhanmantri ki koi baat hui nahi hai unse?

(Has the Prime Minister spoken with Hon’bleOliJi or any of his colleague because there have been reports that till now Prime Minister has not had any talks with them?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Actually I have just been informed which I think I should share in this forum that Hon’ble Prime Minister had a telephonic conversation with Mr. K P Sharma Oli, Chairman Communist Party of Nepal, UML and also with Mr. Pushp Kamal DahalPrachanda, Chairman Communist Party of Nepal, MC and also with Mr. SherBahadurDeuba, President Nepali Congress and the present Prime Minister of Nepal.

Since this conversation took place while I am in the briefing I do not have the details of the conversation and what transpired in the talks but at some stage if there is something to share we will do that with all of you.

Question: You would have seen recent reports on what archaeologists have said about Ram Setu. Now on this issue, has India spoken with Sri Lanka on any aspect of this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: To my knowledge, as far as I know, not specifically on this issue but there are existing mechanisms of dialogue between India and Sri Lanka. Our High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, he himself is in regular touch with the government. There are several layers of mechanism for dialogue between India and Sri Lanka to discuss a range of issues. Not specifically this one but the entire gamut of bilateral relationship between the two countries get discussed.

Question: Pakistan ke Hangumein jo incident hua tha jismein forced conversion ki baat ki jaa rahi thi aur Videsh Mantri ne tweet kar ke kaha bhi thaki is maamleko Pakistan ke saath uchch star par uthaya jaayega. To kya yah maamla uthaya gaya hai aur kya convey kiya gaya hai?

(The incident which happened in Hangu in Pakistan where there were reports of forced conversion and our EAM had also tweeted that this issue will be taken up with Pakistan at a high level. So has that issue been raised with Pakistan and what has been conveyed to them?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Aapne EAM ki tweet to dekhi hogi jisme inunhone kaha tha ki hum is masle ko Pakistan ke saath uchit star par uthaayenge. Hum is mudde ko utha rahe hain, ye kab uthega aur kaise uthega ye abhi main bata nahi sakta.

Aapko shayad pata hoga ki pehle bhi humne aise maamlo par apna concern vyakt ki yaha jismein Pakistan ka jo treatment hai apne khud ki minorities ke saath, uske bare mein unko ye bhi salaah di hai ki jo international obligation hai regarding treatment of minorities, unki country mei use Pakistan ko follow karna chahiye jis se jo minorities us desh mein hai nunki safety aur security ka jimma Pakistan ke pass hai.

(You must have seen the tweet by EAM in which she has said that we will take up this issue with Pakistan at appropriate level. We are taking up this matter but when and how it will be taken up, I cannot say at this moment.

Probably you would be aware that earlier also we have raised our concerns in similar cases where Pakistan’s treatment to their own minorities was concerned. We have also advised them that Pakistan should follow international obligations regarding treatment of minorities in their own country because it is the responsibility of Pakistan to ensure the safety and security of minorities in their country.)

Question: This question is about the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Myanmar. Did the issue of flushing out the militants of North East who are operating out of Myanmar figure in the discussions?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You know the press release is quite detailed. We have tried to put together issues which got discussed during the Foreign Secretary’s visit. It says that, Matters pertaining to Rakhine State were discussed during these meetings. It also says that all matters relating to bilateral cooperation including follow up on decisions taken during Prime Minister’s visit.

So you can imagine that the entire gamut of relationship and especially as far as our bilateral relationship is concerned were discussed. But specifically I will not be able to comment. There are certain things which we cannot comment in public but since I have given you a broad overview of the visit and the discussions, I think that should be sufficient.

Question: Just a supplement related to Myanmar. You mentioned we will be spending $ 25 million. Can you be a bit more specific, on what all this amount will be spent?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, in fact as I mentioned it will be difficult for us to get into very specifics on how this entire amount is going to be used. Some details are mentioned here, I think we are talking about re-settlement etc. and also with the overall objective of restoration of normalcy in the state.

So there could be quite a few elements that could be included as part of this assistance. So this is something which will be an ongoing discussion between the two sides.

Question: India’s envoy to the UN has criticized China for its position on MasoodAzhar saying that China’s position is dictated by narrow political considerations. Since then we have heard the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson and he has dismissed it saying that China has acted in a candid way with East and it has nothing to do with the narrow minded political considerations as you mentioned. So would you like to join the issue with them and clarify your position on this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Our Ambassadors abroad, when they make a statement, of course it is considered as a statement made by the Government of India. So we made a statement, reaction has been given by the Chinese side on that statement. I would not like to rejoin issues with that statement again and I would rather leave it at that.

Question: Can we get a sense of where do you see the politics in Maldives playing out because after your last comments that you made on the FTA that Maldives signed suddenly with China, reports suggested that they have suspended three councilor who met the Indian envoy to Maldives. How is India viewing the political development since then?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I think it is important to understand that there are basically two aspects of the relationship. One, of course, is that India attaches a lot of importance to our relations with Maldives. You’d also know that they have a India First policy. We also mentioned last time that we expect and hope Maldives to be sensitive to our concerns.

On the FTA itself, I did make a comment last time. I think we should understand and we are actually trying to understand the implications of this. It needs to be carefully studied. In such situations governments do engage in diplomatic discussions and I don’t think we should pay too much attention on things that are going around including the incident which you mentioned.

My understanding is that such discussions between India and Maldives are on at this point of time and I would like to point out at a tweet by the Maldivian Foreign Minister in this regard.

Question: Last week the Maldivian Government took action against three civic body officials meeting the Indian Ambassador in Male. So have you taken up this issue with the Maldivian Government?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: That is what I am saying that I just explained that we have to see our relationship with Maldives in a broader perspective. It is an important country, we do attach a lot of importance to this relationship and we also have a lot of engagements at people-to-people level. We should look beyond these developments and we should have diplomatic discussions between the two sides to address any issue which exists between the two countries.

Question: As far as Doklam is considered it was initially said, even by the MEA, that this disengagement and pull out would be in phases, in graduated phases. Can you tell us where things stand just now?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you for your question. I have mentioned in the past that operational matters i.e. how the disengagement is taking place, how many troops are stationed, where are they and how they are going to disengage, I don’t think this is something which should be discussed in this forum. In any case I think these are matters which pertain more to the Ministry of Defence than to the Ministry of External Affairs. But I think it would not be appropriate for me to comment on operational matters.

Question: This $25 Million for Rakhine State is in the form of an aid or Line of Credit?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: In the form of grant assistance.

Thank you all very much for joining in.

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