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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (West) on visit of Vice President to Latvia (August 20, 2019)

August 22, 2019

Under Secretary (Digital Diplomacy): Welcome to this special media briefing from Riga, Latvia on Vice President’s visit to Latvia. Vice President arrived in Riga yesterday and since then he has had a series of engagements. I have with me Ambassador of India to Sweden and Latvia, Smt. Monika Mohta, Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma and Jt. Secretary (CE), Dr. Anju Kumar who would take us through the engagements the Vice President has had so far.

I would invite Secretary (West) to deliver his initial remarks, after which we can have a couple of questions. Sir, the floor is yours.

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: Good evening and welcome to this press meeting. The visit of Hon’ble Vice President to the Baltic region the important countries of Baltics continues. It is part of a historic tour of this region and he has already been to Lithuania and now it’s Latvia and on to Estonia. So that really would underline the very-very significant, the first highest level visit that has taken place since establishment of our diplomatic relations in early 1990s.

The visit has also gone according to expectations. Hon’ble Vice President visited the freedom monument this morning, laid a wreath there and was given ceremonial welcome. He visited the National History Museum and that was really a wonderful presentation of Latvia’s history where it has regained its independence, where the Latvian state has emerged through a series of historical events it became independent, lost its independence and again regained its independence.

Hon’ble Vice President was very pleased with the kind of presentation that gave us valuable insights into this country and its proud history. He had an engagement with Excellency, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins in the morning and there was a memorandum of understanding on cultural cooperation, CEP – Cultural Exchange Program, so that is really something which both countries attach high importance.

Although Latvia and India are in different parts of the world but there is a very strong sense that we have some cultural linkages including through Sanskrit and this remain to be fully understood. We do see a lot of similarities but more work should be done, more joint activity to identify these aspects and there is an emotional content on account of such cultural commonness.

Hon’ble Vice President, you are aware that he also presides over the Upper House i.e. Rajya Sabha. It was really very-very interesting visit to the Parliament – Saeima and he engaged with the acting Speaker, Ms. Inese Libina-Egnere. There were also the friendship group of the Latvian Parliament Friendship Group which is dedicated to furthering relations with India and it was a very-very interesting substantial meeting where cooperation between the parliaments was discussed, parliamentary procedures, processes that was discussed, aspects of our democratic ways of life which are common to each other and it was also realized that scale of India’s democratic exercise including elections, Latvia is much smaller but important thing is there is much to learn from each other, much to contribute to each other. So that aspect came out so it was really a visit to build upon and to move to newer things.

Hon’ble Vice President was then received by the President of Latvia. There was a tête-à-tête and then delegation level talks. I think the overriding theme was again the reinforcement of our democratic values, the commonness in democracy, respect for the rule of law that brings us very close to each other. We find we are very comfortable working with each other.

The other aspect is came out that Latvia can give very good gateway for India into Europe in terms of economic content it is relatively smaller country but it provides an entry point for us into Europe. So that is something which we could exploit and even otherwise the pure bilateral exercise and there are opportunities for cooperation with regard to trade, IT(Information technology), Agriculture, food processing, business exchanges, culture and movies.

In all the meetings it was really remarkable that the interlocutors spoke very fondly about the kind of exposure they have had to Indian movies, Bollywood as it is popularly referred to and the desire that we should do more in this area.

Pharmaceuticals is another area, telecommunications, biotechnology so there are certain niche areas where Latvia is able to, probably we could source from Latvia and for they are also interested in presence of India in a bigger way.

Later on in the day in the evening we will have a business forum where President of Latvia in fact will join Hon'ble Vice President. So that itself shows at what level this event is taking place. So, High importance is given to translating these warm sentiments to each other into business activity and business related results.

There would be later on in the evening also the unveiling of the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the National Library. So, Mahatma Gandhi as the icon of peace, non-violence and simple living. His message greatly resonates in the Baltics including in Latvia. During the period when they were engaged in regaining their independence they found comfort in Gandhian messages and Gandhian teachings, so that I think, would probably be the backdrop against this bust of Mahatma Gandhi being installed in the National Library.

So that I think, would more or less would give you snapshot of the visit thus far. Once again I reiterate it being a historical visit which is launching platform for many other kinds of result oriented activities.

One point I should anticipate even before you ask I should mention that there is a feeling that the presence of a resident embassy makes a huge difference and about five years back the Latvian embassy opened in India and the feeling was very strong that it has contributed to strengthening of our ties and there is an interest that India opens its embassy in this part of the world.

So we were aware and we responded also as we can respond at this stage that this matter is being given the importance that it needs and deserves. So when we think that the time may be right to take a serious look and see how we can make this happen. So I think the Latvia side is reassured that we give it a very high importance. So that is where we are at the issue of resident mission.

One more point I just say that we are coming from Lithuania and we are seeing that increasingly Indian students are looking to access the university and academic institutions in the Baltics and we saw about 1000 students in Lithuania and here the number is around 2000. So they are extremely happy and they are number one in terms of number of students as far as the foreign students are concerned.

This is an area where they feel happy, Indian students are not only welcome but they are treated as very serious people who are devoted to academics, so they enjoy high respect. There is a great deal of satisfaction that Indians are choosing Latvia for higher education, so that came out in almost all the discussions and meetings that we had today. So that is there. Would you like to add something.

Under Secretary (Digital Diplomacy): Thank you sir. We now open the floor for questions.

Question: Joint press statement said that they are focused on international issues including terror and piracy. So what were actual discussions, did they surround about Kashmir or it was overall about terror and the menace of terror in the global arena?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: As we have close understanding in international relations, we look to support each other in international fora, in the United Nations and other fora also, mutual support, we are aiming for membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Latvia has played an important role and they were also chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and we greatly benefitted from taking them on board and we will continue to work, so that is one area. As far as we also look forward to continued support for India’s case of permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

We did highlight that India has a very strong claim with population of one sixth of the global population and other credentials. So the Latvians also respect India’s claim, they are very supportive of India’s claims. There were also candidature for international organizations and those for the non-permanent seat of United Nations, so we are supportive of each other’s candidature. So with that kind of understanding, it wouldn’t be surprising that we had a candid exchange on all other aspects.

The issues of concern to us, terrorism and the way terrorism has impacted our country and the kind of determination we have to combat and also the international support that we are looking for based on our very strong democratic credentials.

We have briefed them on important issues where we need greater support and Latvia being a member of European Union, they can carry that message forward on terrorism and all the related aspects, our relations with our neighbors, so all those aspects have been adequately covered and may I say that reciprocal also.

Latvian side also gave us a briefing on situation around the region and the way they look at it and in Europe. So both sides have greatly benefitted. All these high level visits are really moments when understanding has to be reinforced and I should say that this is a country which is always with us. So it is a part of continuing exchange of views on matters of importance to each other.

Question: In the joint statement there was one point also of Climate Change. So what kind of discussions were held in the delegation level talks?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma:
We are interested in expanding the opportunity for other countries to be part of the International Solar Alliance. There are some changes also which are required to be done before other countries can join but these are again the countries here are looking at renewable energy and in India there is a huge focus on renewable energy and the potential of the solar energy.

So we used the opportunity to reiterate that it be our desire that the International Solar Alliance is something which is worthwhile and Latvia should also consider. Climate Change is something which concerns one and all so essentially that was there in the important discussions.

Under Secretary (Digital Diplomacy): As I see no other questions this brings us to the close of this special media briefing. Thank you all for joining us.

(Concludes)
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