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Press Briefing by the Official Spokesperson

July 08, 2003

Shri Navtej Sarna: Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

We have two press releases.

Shri Tara Singh, currently High Commissioner of India to Guyana, has been appointed as the next Ambassador of India to the Republic of Belarus in succession of Shri B.R. Muthu Kumar. He is expected to take up his assignment shortly.

The other press release is on the deployment of Indian Air Force Helicopter contingent in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC)

Starting from July 12, an Indian Air Force contingent is being inducted as a part of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called ‘MONUC'. India's decision to send this specialised contingent of over 300 personnel underlines its continuing commitment to the Charter and the principles of the UN and to peacekeeping as an invaluable instrument for the maintenance of international peace and security. You will find all the details in the press release. I may just highlight that the present contribution is the largest that the Indian Air Force has ever lent to a UN Mission and the first case where the Indian Air Force will be providing support to foreign military forces and also the largest Air Force contingent in Congo.

Presently Indian peacekeepers are also engaged in the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and UN Interim force in Lebanon and in the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and several other operations.

The third matter in which I wanted to share some information with you was about today's Inter-session Meeting of the Consultative Committee on External Affairs and the subject for discussion was India-China relations. You can imagine this was of great interest coming as it does just 12 days after Prime Minister's visit to China. The External Affairs Minister briefed the Hon'ble Members of the Parliament present and cutting across political party lines there was widespread appreciation of the achievements of the Prime Minister's visit and members congratulated the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister and the Government for having undertaken the visit and for the achievements that the visit produced. Mr. Sinha essentially briefed them on all aspects of the visit and the purposes of the visit as well as the achievements. He mentioned that the twin objective of the visit were to establish close relations with the new leadership of China and to impart fresh momentum to the ongoing diversification of cooperation between our two countries. These objectives had been fulfilled and in fact the External Affairs Minister quoted the Prime Minister saying "the journey ahead is long, but a good beginning has been made”. The meetings of the Prime Minister that had been held have enabled him to establish personal relationship with new leadership of the People's Republic of China. The stress on economic and trade relations was evident from the fact that the Prime Minister delivered two keynote addresses at two very large gatherings of Indian and Chinese businessmen and that he had been accompanied by a 70 member delegation of senior businessmen from various chambers of commerce. EAM also mentioned that a decision had been taken to set up a joint study group to report within the next 12 months on the potential complementarities in expanding trade and economic cooperation between our two countries and to draw up a program for the next five years. EAM also briefed the Consultative Committee on the documents that had been signed. For the first time the two Prime Ministers signed the Joint Declaration outlining the platform and roadmap that both countries have agreed on for India-China relations. This declaration was a signal that our two countries are committed to working more closely together including through our common desire to strengthen the trend towards multipolarity. EAM also briefed the Consultative Committee on the other document which was the Memorandum on Border trade and its implications. Another significant outcome was the decision to appoint Special Representatives to look at the boundary question and these representatives will explore from a political perspective of the overall bilateral relationship the framework of a boundary settlement.

EAM reiterated that regarding Tibet, contrary to some media reports, there was no change in India's position either on Tibet or on the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama or other Tibetan refugees in India. EAM also pointed out some areas of follow up action. One is the establishment of an Indian Cultural Centre in Beijing, to establish annual meetings of Foreign Ministers, convening joint economic group later this year, setting up of the joint study group, scheduling meetings of the Special Representatives and to deliver on the assistance that was promised by the Prime Minister to the newly establishment India Study Centre in Beijing University as well as the draw up programme for the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of Panchsheel which falls next year. These are some of the issues that were discussed today. If you need figures of bilateral trade, EAM briefed the Committee that it has grown by 37.5% in 2002 to US $ 4.9 billion. India has been given approved tourist destination status by China and cooperation on flood forecasting and control has begun with the supply of hydrological data of Brahmaputra in the flood season, while exchanges in other existing areas of cooperation like science and technology, cultural exchange, defence, agriculture, investment have progressed.

Today the delegation from the visiting Pakistani businessmen who are in India to attend the meeting of the India-Pakistan Chamber for Commerce and Industry called on the Prime Minister along with two representatives of FICCI. They congratulated the Prime Minister on having taken the peace initiative, thanked him for having taken it. They recalled that the India-Pakistan forum had been set up after Lahore and they expressed their happiness that they had been able to meet now because of the initiative that Prime Minister Vajpayee has taken. They fully supported the move that he had made. The Prime Minister for his part mentioned that the meeting that was taking place was a positive reaction to his initiative and that increased economic cooperation would create a conducive atmosphere for betterment of relations between the two countries. Pakistani businessmen also expressed their thought that the improvement in trade and economic relations would benefit Pakistan itself also and it would open up a 1 billion strong Indian market for trade. These were the matters I had.

Question: When was this Brahmaputra river data given?
Answer: It is an ongoing process. I cannot give you an exact date of when this data was exchanged.

Question: Indian troops have been deployed in Eritrea, Kosovo….. How many troops have been deployed?
Answer: I don't have details of the each of the missions but there is nothing new. Our presence has been there for a very long time. I can tell you that overall India has been one of the largest troop contributors to UN Peacekeeping activities with more than 65000 Indian troops, military observers, civilian and police officers having served in 36 UN peacekeeping operations over the last 5 decades.

Question: When is Shivshankar Menon going to Islamabad?
Answer: I don't have a date of when he is going to leave for Pakistan.

Question: Why is the delay?
Answer: I don't think there is any delay at all. Prime Minister's visit has taken place to China and that is why our Ambassador was present in Beijing. There has been no delay. In fact we had announced his name much before anything else happened.

Question: What are the other issues discussed in the consultative committee meeting?
Answer: Some issues came up. The main subject was India-China relations. Briefly there was discussions on whether any decision had been taken on sending troops to Iraq and EAM briefed the committee that no decision had been taken yet on the matter and that all aspects would be taken into account.

Question: Foreign Secretary's departure to Kathmandu has been delayed. When is he going to Kathmandu?
Answer: It's a question of flight schedules. He will be reaching in time for all the substantive meetings.

Question: Nepalese Foreign Office Spokesperson was quoted as saying that informal bilateral meeting between India and Pakistan are expected. Can you confirm this?
Answer: There is no plan for any bilateral meeting.

Question: on the issue of non-tariff bearer?
Answer: I am not aware of the specifics that were raised. I am not going to respond until I see the exact things that were raised.

Question: Israeli Foreign Minister's special envoy is in Delhi. Do you any details?
Answer: He is a special envoy. I will have to check when are the meetings taking place. I can let you know later.

Thank you.

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