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Transcript of Media Briefing on Visit of PM of Israel to India by Secretary (ER) (January 15, 2018)

January 19, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good Afternoon, I apologise for the late start this was due to things beyond our control. I welcome you all to the special briefing on the visit of Prime Minister of Israel to India. As you are we are still in the middle of the visit but we managed to get Secretary (ER), it’s a very busy day for him, who will brief you on the meeting which the Israeli Prime Minister had with our Prime Minister and also the restricted talks and also the visit that has happened so far. I also have our Ambassador in Israel Mr. Pavan Kapoor who is with us and Jt. Secretary (WANA) Mr. Bala Bhaskar. So without any further ado I give the floor to Secretary (ER).

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am sure you all are following the visit very closely on the television. You have seen many of the events that have already been televised. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit is the culmination of the 25th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel.

It is significant because in this 25th year the Prime Minister made a standalone visit to Israel in July and Prime Minister Netanyahu is now making the return visit. And I think that all of you who saw the television shots would have understood the warmth of the relationship and personal chemistry that the two leaders enjoyed. This was evident at the airport, this was evident at the event to rename Teen Murti Chowk as the Teen Murti Haifa Chowk. IT was also evident in the fact that the Prime Minister gave a private dinner for the Prime Minister of Israel and Mrs. Netanyahu as well as in the very warm and friendly meeting that the External Affairs Minister had with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told our Prime Minister and others that he was very moved by the events and the renaming of Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti Haifa Chowk. Our Prime Minister underscored that this is the centenary year of the event in which a number of Indian soldiers fell at the battle of Haifa and it was therefore with a great sense of appreciation that the Prime Minister of Israel and Mrs. Netanyahu attended that event at the Teen Murti Haifa Chowk.

Yesterday, the first meeting was with the External Affairs Minister in the evening. It was a very warm meeting. External Affairs Minister had met Prime Minister Netanyahu who is also the Foreign Minister of Israel when she went there in January 2016 and they picked up the thread of the conversation from that meeting and a number of issues were discussed on the bilateral front.

This morning we had the ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan but the morning began with a restricted meeting between the two prime ministers and then this was followed by delegation level talks. I am sure all of you have seen the joint statement which captures the essential elements of what was discussed but I would just like to highlight a few things that were discussed between the two prime Ministers.

The first important area included strengthening of bilateral cooperation in three or four key sectors. This included agriculture in particular, science and technology also defense and security. Secondly a number of issues were discussed in new areas that the two countries are planning to move into. This included the oil and gas sector and cyber security. There was also discussion on how to facilitate the flow of people through connectivity, through improvement of visa systems and so on and in this context both prime ministers, and particularly our prime minister, emphasized that our relationship with Israel has moved beyond merely a G2G agreement, it is actually people to people to relationship and that the new technologies that are now available should be used to strengthen this relationship. And I think Prime Minister Netanyahu himself underscored on more than one occasion that Israel has been on the cutting edge of technologies which affect the lives of people and that Israel is ready to cooperate with us in all these areas.

One of the areas in which Prime Minister Netanyahu laid particular emphasis was agriculture. He actually discussed with Prime Minister Modi a number of new technologies which actually reach the farmer directly in terms of whether it is water to the plant, whether it is fertilizer to the plant, when to cut the crop, the use of big data in agriculture to improve productivity and to enhance yield, a number of issues were discussed and the Union Agriculture Minister was also present during the meeting. It was decided that both countries will work jointly in these areas to see how we can apply the new technologies that Israel has to improve agriculture in India.

Water, of course was another big subject for discussion. Israel has some important technologies in use of water, in conservation of water, in purification of water and we agreed that these were areas in which we would also work. Science & technology was an important issue was discussed. The fund that was announced by the two prime ministers in Tel Aviv when prime minister went in July has now been operationalized. Both sides have put in the requisite amount of funds, $20 million from each side and we have sent out the call for proposals.

There was a discussion on innovation and start-ups and the business event which is going to be held later this evening will pick up on this theme because the principal theme of the CEOs Forum and business event is Innovation as a bridge between India and Israel.

One of the interesting new features which also figures in the joint statement is the decision for us to exchange youth, 100 young people each year in the areas of science and technology in order to popularize among youth what the two countries are doing in science and technology. Another area which I would like to mention in the joint statement is also a decision by the Ministries of Science & Technology to have a symposium for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) areas and again this was something which was emphasized as a P to P rather than a G to G indicator of the relationship.

On the investment side, both prime ministers felt that much more could be done on the trade front, given the fact that our trade figures are roughly around $4 billion. The Prime Minister spoke of the reforms and he particularly emphasized that if we have to give comfort to investors, we need to conclude the bilateral investment treaty as soon as possible. Those negotiations are underway.

Four agreements have been signed, the details are in the joint statement but in addition to the four G to G agreements, two semi government to government agreements were signed. The signatories on our side were ministries or the entities of the government of India. One was Aayush with regard to Homeopathy research, the second was on space research. Three letters of intent were signed, one between the Invest India and Invest Israel and two more in the energy field, metal air batteries and solar thermal related technologies.

After this meeting with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister of Israel will call on Rashtrapati Ji this evening. There will be the CEO event and Business Forum. The delegation really includes a very large business component and they are very hopeful that during the course of this visit we can get more investment, we can have greater trade deals and the business event that is taking place today which culminates in the two prime ministers delivering remarks and addressing the business event is expected to enhance that part of the bilateral relationship.

Views were exchanged by our External Affairs Minister on a number of regional issues as is normally the practice, regional and multilateral issues. I think the two prime minister are extremely pleased with the outcome of the talks that was evident in the press statements that they issued earlier this afternoon. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he is looking forward to his forthcoming visit to Gujarat and to Mumbai. But of course he will go before that on a private visit to Agra tomorrow and he will also be addressing the Raisina Dialogue as the keynote inaugural speaker. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. There are two documents which we have already put on our website. The first as Secretary mentioned is the joint statement and we have also put out the list of MoUs and agreements which we have signed.

Question: To quick questions, one on the Spike deal can you give us some clarity because there have been contradictory reports, whether it is on the table, it is off the table, if it is off the table, what is the prime reason behind and if it came up for discussion and second, how does India plan to take forward its traditional position of support to the two state solution to the Palestinian conflict, how did that figure in talks?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: On defense cooperation, it was of course discussed between the two leaders and the joint statement reflects that discussion. I am obviously not at liberty to go into the details of that discussion but suffice to say that where individual defence procurement is concerned, the relevant matters are discussed by officials. This is not normally done during high level visit.

As far as the issue of Palestine is concerned, yes, it was discussed. Yes, it is true that Israeli side expressed its position and our side explained and cleared our own position both on the status of Jerusalem and on Palestine. What the two sides agreed was that our relationship was much larger than any single issue, that we need to look at it holistically and while we continue to talk to each other our relationship is not determined by this single issue.

Question: The question is about in how much detail was the discussion on terror, we obviously heard Benjamin Netanyahu speak about condemnation of terror. He mentioned Mumbai 26/11 attack and we do know that he will be visiting Mumbai but in how much detail was it discussed?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: Time was obviously a constraint, a number of topics had to be covered but of course both India and Israel share a similarity of approach on handling of terrorism, on the fact that we will not tolerate terrorism in any form and substance. It’s been reflected in quite a substantial paragraph in the joint statement but essentially both prime ministers agreed that it is necessary for us to cooperation for us to work together to deal with the menace of terrorism. In any case there are various other mechanisms we have with Israel at various levels to talk about this issue.

Question: Can you elaborate discussion on cyber security, what are the areas we are converging on and what can we look forward to?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: This is a new area for our collaboration and therefore the MoU which is being signed is essentially to start that process. Hereafter the two sides will meet and discuss the way forward. Bala, would you like to say something on the MoU.

Jt. Secretary (WANA), Shri B Bala Bhaskar: This is basically the sharing of information and tools in this area.

Indian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Pavan Kapoor: It is a little bit more than that, they are also looking because so far the exchanges between India and Israel has been much more in the B2B area as far as cyber security is concerned. We have many cyber security companies from Israel which are amongst best in the world represented here in India. Now this is getting into the G2G cooperation, so there will be cert to cert cooperation, there will be cooperation on training and assisting on both sides. So these are the areas we will start getting into, as the Secretary said.

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: It did figure quite prominently in discussion between the two prime ministers so they both attach importance to this subject.

Question: As you are talking about lots on agriculture and water, but we didn’t see any agreement on agriculture and water so what was discussed and what is the outcome?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: This is a subject we have been cooperation on for many years and the two countries have established 25 Centers of Excellence across various parts of India. The two prime ministers are going to visit one of the centers of excellence in Vadrad in Gujarat which is specifically devoted to fruits and vegetables. And during that visit they are going to remotely, through video-conferencing, inaugurate a second center of excellence which is in Bhuj on date palms.

So essentially we have now operationalized 20 of the 25 centers, the remaining five have to be operationalized. And what the two prime minister therefore discussed now was move beyond these centers of excellence and to look at ways in which we could spread use of technology particularly big data as well as sensors on the ground for instance in improving crop yields and in giving information to the farmer through the use of big data, sensors and satellite technology to enhance yields.

So it was in a sense going beyond simply setting up institutions to using technology to bring it straight to the farmer and in this regard they decided that we will have meeting at the official level hereafter to concretize how these technologies can be used to help the farming community.

On water, of course the focus was essentially on, if you remember when prime minister went to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu showed him a mobile vehicle for purification and desalination of water, so essentially building on that we are looking at ways in which we could collaborate to take this on a much larger scale. That particular vehicle will be gifted by the Prime Minister of Israel to the Prime Minister of India and a number of other areas in which we can help in water in terms of drip irrigation and so on is what is going to be looked at.

Question: I have a small clarification to ask regarding a previous question, would you be able to give us a direct answer whether the Spike deal was actually discussed between the two prime ministers? And my question is there has been a rather reference to terrorism in the joint statement and Pakistan has not been named so is it because of the divergence in the way we look at terrorism and the way they look at it, in a sense they view Iran as an epicenter of terrorism whereas we view Pakistan as being so, so is it why Pakistan was not named in the statement?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale:
To answer the second question first, I think there is absolutely no divergence in the positions of the two countries. It is not necessary each time to name countries but I think the sense of paragraph is very clear and I would like to read it, "Both sides refer not only to terror organizations but those who sponsor, encourage or finance terrorism of provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups.” I think the meaning is quite clear.

On the first question, as I said earlier we did discuss defence cooperation but I am not at liberty to disclose any further details on this.

Question: We have been discussion a free trade agreement for quite some time. Now how will this be taken forward, we expected some statement on that. Secondly on defence cooperation, joint ventures between Indian and Israeli companies already exist, we have Punj Lloyd, we have other companies like Kalyani setting up joint venture, setting up factories actually but there are no orders as of now so how will these joint ventures now be taken forward as there is no clarity how the Indian MoU will give them orders?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: On the free trade agreement, it is a fact that the prime minister of Israel did raise it during the discussions. Our Prime Minister conveyed that a delegation will be going to Israel shortly and I understand that a delegation from Department of Commerce will actually go next month for discussions on trade.

As far as the second question is concerned, prime minister did explain that he had taken a number of reforms for Make in India in the defence sector. But as to the second part of your question I think it should be directed to the Ministry of Defence. Ministry of External Affairs cannot answer that.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I would request you all to follow the one question rule otherwise we will be at liberty of ignoring one question.

Question: My question is about the big data that you referred twice in your presentation so far. I wish to know how do we plan to work on this with Israel at a time when Aadhar is being discussed in such a vigorous manner in India and secondly are there safeguards that you have in place to share this sort of huge database that we have currently?

Question: Mr. Netanyahu has said in an interview last night that two regions are responsible for speeding up of relations between the two countries, one is FTA, of course you answered that partially. The other one is bureaucracy, would you like to say something, why does bureaucracy get into this and does it actually lead to the delay in things happening?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: So far as the bureaucracy is concerned, I don’t know if you were there in the press conference earlier this afternoon during which our Prime Minister referred to the statement made by the Prime Minister of Israel when he went on the visit about difficulties faced by the Prime Minister of Israel with regard to the bureaucracy but essentially the message that both prime ministers said was that we will take this relationship forward regardless. That’s the kind of importance they both attach.

With regards the question on big data, I’ll limit myself to the subject on hand and since it is not my place to speak about Aadhar. I think the idea of big data was brought into the discussion by the Israeli side in the context of emphasizing on how technology can now be used to agglomerate vast amounts of information and then bring it to bear on individual field or individual farmer’s effort whether that is in water utilization, for the ideal time to cutting a crop, what should be planted in that area, the soil conditions was one of the issues that was mentioned actually. So it is the application of big data information in terms of improving yields. As I said this was the idea that was discussed today. The specifics have to be discussed when the two agriculture ministries meet and we will plan that meeting soon.

Question: You mentioned about regional and multilateral issues came up for discussion, could you give us a sense of what those issues were, did either side raise, for instance, the issue of Iran, Syria, Iran Nuclear deal for instance, thank you.

Question: There was a mention in the joint statement regarding the concerns of Indian caregivers in Israel, what is the issue and what redressal India is looking at through the bilateral agreement with Israel on this issue?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: I will request my colleague, the Ambassador to talk about the caregiver issue. On the question of regional and multilateral issues, a number of issues were discussed. We discussed the situation in the West Asia, we discussed UN related issues. There was a brief discussion on reforms in the United Nations Security Council, there was no discussion on the Iran Nuclear dealing in any specific manner. I think Indian government’s position in any case is quite clear on that.

Indian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Pavan Kapoor: We have about 11 to 12 thousand Indian caregivers working in Israel. They all go there on their own through the market mechanism as it were. What we have found is that they are often getting into issues before they move here, they get exploited by agents at this end and then sometimes they are open to similar issues on the other end also.

So we are trying to see if we can have an arrangement or an agreement by which these issues are dealt with and regulated in a certain manner. The Israeli Supreme Court has actually mandated and told the Israeli government that they should be doing this for caregivers coming from all countries. So we are just working with them and trying to formalize it in a way to try and remove that, nothing more than that. Thank you.

Question: There was this agreement signed on co-production of films between India and Israel. Can you give us the details and can we expect Indian actors to act in Israeli films with India government’s help?

Question: Did Israeli side show any interest in making investment in India under the Make in India program, any specific project under discussion?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: I’ll request my colleague to speak about film coproduction. As far as investments in the defence sector are concerned, there are already investments in defence sector. Israeli companies have already invested. It is certainly our hope and this hope was expressed by prime minister today that more companies will come in and that the outcome of this would be the transfer of technology to India and in that regard prime minister did explain what new steps were being taken to encourage industries to come. Beyond that individual investments are not discussed at such meeting but I presume this would be discussed at the Business Event by the business communities in both the countries.

Jt. Secretary (WANA), Shri B Bala Bhaskar: Basically this MoU is a new beginning in the production of films and techniques and then various places and some jointly produced new themes. So this is only beginning of exploring this area, it is only exploratory in nature and then based on that it will help both the countries to come up with certain specialized areas in this film production.

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: I just wanted to add here that the prime minister of Israel himself on a number of occasions expressed that he was looking forward to his visit to Mumbai and interesting anecdote was that during the lunch or the banquet that the prime minister hosted a short while ago, one of the music items played by the live band was Ichak dana, bichak dana. The number of Israelis who knew that was amazing, in fact they all immediately turned around and, oh, we know this song and it’s very popular in Israel. So I think that films would be a good way of building people to people relations.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: We are running short of time so I’ll take last two questions.

Question: Since the joint statement and prime minister also mentioned about the people to people contacts and strengthening people to people contacts. What I want to know whether there was a mention about convincing Israel to give a right to pilgrimage for religious tourism because the city of Jerusalem is sacred to a large population in India to Muslims as well as Christians?

Question: On the bilateral investment treaty, any sort of discussions, when it will be concluded, when are the next round of talks and whether it will be discussed within the framework of the free trade agreement?

Secretary (ER), Shri Vijay Gokhale: To take the second question first, what was essentially discussed today was a decision by both sides to move towards a bilateral investment treaty. I understand that one round of discussions has already been held and second round will be held shortly. But it is not within the ambit any trade arrangement. The idea was to put in place an arrangement which gives comfort to investors, to Israeli investors in India and presumably to Indian investors in Israel.

With regard to the first question, what was discussed was facilitating visits between the two countries, whether it is in improvements in visas or improvements in connectivity or in other ways of helping people move between the two countries. Obviously the specific issue that you raised were not discussed but I would like to request my colleague if he has anything to add to it.

Indian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Pavan Kapoor: Just to say that as far as we are concerned there is no stoppage or no ban on any religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem whether it is Christians or Muslims at all, it is completely open and the vast majority of Indian tourists who go to Israel are basically for pilgrimage purpose primarily from Kerala. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: With this we come to the end of this special briefing on the visit of the Prime Minister of Israel to India. Thank you all for joining and thank you Secretary, thank you Ambassador and JS (WANA) for speaking to the media.

(Concludes)
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