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Transcript of Special Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary (February 25, 2020)

February 26, 2020

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : Friends, namaskar, good afternoon and at the beginning our apologies for the delay at this was due to the traffic restrictions so we are here today afternoon for a special briefing on the visit of President Trump to India. I have with me the Foreign Secretary of India, Ambassador Taranjeet Sandhu Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaurang. What we will do is we will have initial remarks by the Foreign Secretary and the I’ll open the floor to questions. Sir the floor is yours.

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : Namaste and Good afternoon. I think all of you’ve been following the different elements of this very extraordinary visit by the President of the United States and the First Lady. You have seen the level of enthusiasm yesterday in Ahmedabad as you are that President arrived around noon yesterday. He was received by the Prime Minister. They proceeded their first point of call was the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. The President and First Lady spent some time there. You’ve seen the famous picture along with the Charkha and the President. From there of course they went to Motera Stadium where again I think all of would’ve seen that event Live with a capacity audience and enthusiastic audience. The President then left for Agra, visited the Taj Mahal and then returned to Delhi later that evening. This morning the day started with the ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan and both honourable Rashtrapati ji and Prime Minister was there, were there to attend this important occasion. From there, the President went to Rajghat, to Gandhiji’s Samadhi, paid his respects and then of course that was followed by talks at Hyderabad house. There were both talks in the restricted format and the extended format. In all, the Prime Minister and President has spent over 5 hours in discussions at various stages from the time the President arrived yesterday till now. With regard to the talks of course you’ve seen some of the major outcomes already articulated during the press statement by both the Prime Minister and the President. But just in order to put it in some context I would say that the talks fell broadly into 5-6 major categories. The first category was security and defence, the second category was in the realm of energy, the third category would be in terms of Technology and Trade, the fourth category would be really people to people contacts and the fifth category would be you know on the Global aspects of the discussion and then of course some regional issues of interest. Now on security and defence, I think there was an understanding that we a strong strategic partnership, it is now referred to as the Comprehensive Strategic Global Partnership. This is a partnership that has encompassed an extraordinary increase in both exchanges as well as you know in cooperation in various realms of defence and security domain. In the defence side of course it's very now fairly well known that we conduct some of the largest exercises, joint military exercises with United States. We also have very good defence trade and Technology initiative which involves joint R&D, joint technology transfers. I think the President was very clear that he would give the highest consideration to India for procurement and technology transfer. So, we are really looking at at very fast clearances of cutting edge technologies that concern our defence industries, joint collaborations. You would also I think seen that while we already had a fairly large defence procurement profile from the United States, we have recently acquired two more platforms for which the cabinet committee on Security had given his clearance. This is of course before the visit. But in all I think we're talking about from the period of 2014-15 onwards, about 9 billion dollars acquisitions of defence equipment from the United States. In addition to this, we’re talking, we’ve the two sides have decided to set up a working group on cooperation on narcotics, this is clearly a high priority for both countries and I think this is a good outcome. We’ve also decided to reinvigorate the Homeland security dialogue for which I think we’ll be looking for dates as soon as possible, clearly there is a lot that is covered in the realm of Homeland security and we are already doing a great deal but this dialogue would help in providing direction and guidance on some of the major aspects of that cooperation. Energy has emerged as one of the most important areas of our bilateral cooperation. We have moved from a country that has not sourced any of its energy requirements from the United States to sourcing 7 billion dollars in 2019 and we expect to source upto 9 billion dollars in 2020 from the US. This is of course crude oil and LNG but it is an important factor of our diversification of our sources of energy. It is natural that United States as the largest producer of energy in the world would collaborate with India which is emerging as one of the largest consumers of energy in the world. But we are not just sourcing these products, we are also investing in the production and and technologies that are emerging in the energy sector in the United States. So, this cooperation is multifaceted, it is I think designed to ensure that we have the best options before us and I think it is a partnership which has the potential to increase significantly in the years to come. One new element in that we are also considering the import of cooking or metallurgical coal from the United States. This is an area where we believe we need to diversity our source of imports, the US has emerged as a fairly competitive supplier in this area and we are looking to have the visit of our steel minister to the US in this regard as early as possible. With regard to trade I think you’ve heard the Prime Minister and the President there’s been very very useful and comprehensive discussions on trade, there was an appreciation that trade has increased year on year steadily over the last few years, US exports to India had increased fairly dramatic increase and that there was a noticeable decline in the adverse trade balance from 30 billion dollars a few years ago to 25 billion dollars today. So, the adverse trade balance is also gradually I think eroding with greater amount of acquisitions that we are making from the US in areas like oil and gas, purchase of commercial aircraft etc. On the trade side I think the two leaders have decided that we would conclude the ongoing discussion as soon as possible and give it legal framework and the text could be finalized with legal vetting as soon as possible. I think the two leaders also decided to move towards what was referred to as the big deal in the trade sector. As you are aware the US is India's largest trading partner is largest I think it accounts for 12% of our total exports and of course India's emerging as a very large market for the United States also. There are complementarities in this because there are a lot of areas in which we required goods and Technology which we don't have from the United States and vice-versa, so there’s a mutuality of benefits in these complementarities and these are the areas that we fore to focus on when we are when we begin negotiations on a large trade agreement between the two countries.

We are also, there was also a discussion on the people to people aspects to the relationship. There was the realization that there is a vibrant Indian community, community of Indian Origin in United States who contributed significantly to both the economy and Society disproportionately at the same time it is important that areas like education also covered in the people to people relationship. There are are over two hundred thousand Indian students in the United States, there are academic exchanges and these are valuable. On the whole I think from our side there was the issue of H1b visas were raised, I think it was pointed out that Indian professionals contribute significantly to the development to the Hi Tech sector in the United States, increase they contribute to an increase in the competitivity of the high tech sector, at the same time in addition to the technical capacity and innovative, let’s say approach that they bring in to their work, they also provide value from the point of view of their let’s say the democratic backup background, I mean we are both, we have that common I would say area of ideology in terms of values and principles that we both believe in democracies as countries and this is an area that I think Indian professionals can fit in better when it comes to working and contributing to other democracies in the world. The issue of totalization also came up there was a sense that Indian professionals who spend less than 8 years but nonetheless contribute towards social security and other benefits in US system, they really need to get that money back if they spend less than the minimum time for which they are reimbursed. This is an issue and I think something that was flagged in the discussions. On the global side of things there was a focus on connectivity. Clearly this is also part of what we visioned in the indo-pacific to increase the connectivity, to increase the contributions to linking countries in the Indo-Pacific both through Maritime and land and air routes. At the same time I think there was a sense that the principles that we have enunciated with regard to connectivity also fit in with some of the initiatives that recently been espoused, so there is the convergence and some other issues that we are thinking of. There was also some sense that we need to work together to address the issue of pandemics, in terms of information exchanges, in terms of working on the health requirements, working on ways to control these pandemics and also in terms of how to protect our respective population in terms of pandemics. And that was in the particularly in the context of the corona virus that’s currently a concern in many countries. The United States also announced its decision to have the Development Finance Corporation, the United States International Development Finance Corporation established a permanent office in India and at the same time would make six hundred billion dollars available in terms of concession Financing, that also is part of the overall efforts to boost cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and other areas. There were some regional and other issues that were discussed. On the whole, extremely comprehensive discussions, extremely cordial discussions, excellent rapport and chemistry between the two leaders, very high level participation from both sides and on the whole so far we see that most unprecedented historic visit as I think the two leaders called it and certainly something that we can say that with a great amount of great pride, that there was a great deal of appreciation for the hospitality and warmth by which the people of India and the Prime Minister have received the President and his delegation and of course we have a few more events the President has gone for a private event involving business interaction and of course the evening will have a dinner banquet hosted by Rashtrapati ji in honour of the visiting President after which he will leave to return back to the United States.

So, I repeat what I said the last time we had a media briefing that is the first standalone visit by a President of The United States to India. We have never had a President that has come only to visit India and I think in many senses this also means a very unique visit given the fast you know public outreach achieved through many of the events in particular the event at Motera stadium in Ahmedabad and also the sort of reinforces the strong bonds at the people to people level between India and the United States. So, I’ll stop here, I don’t know if our Ambassador wants to say a few words, otherwise we’ll take some question.

Ambassador Shri Taranjeet Sandhu: I think the Foreign Secretary has basically covered everything, I just want to add this point that from the US perspective also a very significant message has gone with the kind of reception that has been accorded to the President of the United States that at the popular level for United States this much warmth and affection is there.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Sir. I will now open the floor to questions.

Question: Sir, I want to draw your attention to show the reports from Washington which actually you know based on, these are apparently based on remarks from a White House spokesperson and he was making the point that when President Trump goes to India, he is going to raise the issue of religious freedom with Prime Minister Modi. So was this issue raised, more specifically was issue of CAA and NRC raised and also if you could throw some light on what sort of discussions we had with the US on Pakistan, did they bring up Kashmir whatever that has happened there in last few months and as the White House spokesperson said, the senior administration official said that US was going to sort of encourage India to have some sort of dialogue with Pakistan to resolve the difference. So, did the President actually do that and if he did that what was India's response thank you.

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : One, but all the possible questions that could be asked but anyways let’s see if there are any other questions.

Question : The foreign secretary on Indo-Pacific, President Trump spoke about Blue Dot network, I mean taking the cooperation forward in the concrete manner, what would it entail partnering in this initiative. And also, he also spoke about on quadrilateral and other related initiatives how do we plan to deepen quadrilateral cooperation? Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : I’m going to invoke one person one question rule now.

Question : Any progress on the proposal to set up six nuclear power plants by Westinghouse American company?

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : So, let me take the easy questions first about the CAA and the NRC. Well, the issue of the CAA did not you know come up, but with regard to what you mentioned about, I think you used the term religious freedom, right? Here of course I think there was an appreciation from both sides that pluralism and diversity are a common binding factor for both countries and you would have heard President Trump also in a speech yesterday in Ahmedabad referred to in the religious diversity in the how many that is evident in India and I think you know discussions really to the extent possible were on these lines on this issue. With regard to Pakistan I think there was you know clearly a sense that the issues of cross border terrorism, the issues of ensuring accountability in financial accountability when dealing with terrorism, the issue of narcotics, the issue that concerns us with regard to Pakistan was certainly raised and discussed and I think you know clearly in this context concerns were put out on the table, but you would appreciate that these discussions did take place in a restricted and confidential format, so I can’t say beyond this in this regard. On the question of Jammu and Kashmir, I think we did share the fact that there has been a great deal of positive developments in the state. Recently we have had two groups of envoys visiting Jammu and Kashmir including ambassador Kennth Juster of the United States. The senses that the focus is now on development, how to attract more tourism to the state and that things were leading up in the right direction. There was appreciation for the fact that in a great deal had been done in terms of moving in that way. Coming to question on the blue dot initiative, this matter was raised and I think the blue dot was proposed as an initiative that the G7 plus Australia has put up. You will recall that in our vision statement on the indo-pacific, one of the points that were brought out that was on connectivity. I think in that context we had referred to connectivity as an important aspect of corporation in the indo-pacific but that connectivity should be linked with respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, the issue of good governance, the issue of ensuring transparency and accountability when connectivity projects are undertaken. This is already on the record and of course, you know, there is a certain level of convergence when we talk about ideas but the initiative is a new one, we need a little bit of time to examine it, to study it and to revert on this issue. But the issue was raised and did come up. At the issue the court was also tangentially raised but we didn't get into any discussion. I think the sense was that we were going on right direction there. The question of Westinghouse you know has not been discuss at the level of principles but was discussed at the official level. I think we have here a sense that you know, discussions between Westinghouse and NPCIL are ongoing, that national par Industries Corporation Limited is ongoing and both companies are I think confident of reaching some short of conclusion on the aspects of the discussions that are being undertaken. I think we expect some outcomes soon but this is at a commercial realm and certainly will continue in that direction.

Question : What is your major take away from this ? thank you

Question : The Prime minister spoke about the comprehensive global strategic partnership. Can you just give us some details what’s new about this and how is that differ from the strategic partnerships we have, say Japan, also we have the special global partnership. And want very small clarification, you spoke about the trade negotiations for the big deal, can you just clarify whether it is yet to begin or it is.. because I think as far as PM said that both sides of yet to start the negotiation agreement. So, is it already began or is it yet to begin, can you just give us some clarity on that.

Question : The government had said the last week that there will be an initial act on IPR. What happened to that ACT?

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : I think question on takeaways and the issue the Global strategic partnership is similar, so I will try and tackle it. Essentially you know, if you were to look back is it is not over but look back over the last 24 hours or so, what comes to mind is first and foremost you know, what the visitor have to do is reinforced a strategic partnership. We have a strategic partnership, we can call it a comprehensive strategic global partnership. In whichever way you call it, this strategic partnership has been greatly reinforced by this visit. It is brought out you know, the elements in the stings of our co-operation in the strategic trend, in particular defense and security. But it also go on the several other areas which are taken to account our technical, our industrial, our RND and other collaborative aspects to the relationship. The second factor I think is that it has certainly provided and strengthen and provided guidance to the ongoing areas of our corporation as I mentioned whether it is the security and defence whether it is state and Technology, whether it is in the realm of energy or people to people contacts or even our corporation and coordination on global and regional issues of mutual interest. All of these have seen significant boost forward, significant direction in the highest level. It is, I think brought our two sides in closes Synergy and I think that is very important when you talk about two partners, two countries working together. The third thing I think is that it is again provided significant, let us say boost to or rather re-invigorated our people to people contacts . I think that is one of the very important aspects of our relationship. We have seen that there is a great deal of respect for the Indian American community in the United States. Successful community, entrepreneurial professional community. At the same time I think there is a great deal of support in terms of the relationship in India. There have been some press reports on the levels of support both for the relationship and President Trump on the state visit here and of course the fact that I think the connected the level of people whether it is through common ideologies and values and principles that we share, whether it is through the exchange of professional that we have, whether it is through the number of tourists that continue to visit each others countries, which is now increasing and value over a million on either side. These are very very significant factors in a relationship. You can have a relationship which is based on trade, you can have a relationship that is based on defense, you can have a relationship that has a strong on energy component, but I think relationship that has a people to people connect is something which is something which is unassailable. And this is what this visit reinforces that connect between the people of Indian and people of The United States of America. I think this is the broad takeaways but I again see if the ambassador wants to add anything to, any other aspect to the takeaway.

Ambassador Shri Taranjeet Sandhu: I think you added basically you said on all these parts. I only underlined. I know this people to people connect looks but when you see it from that side, the President of United States coming here and thousands and thousands coming out to greet him, the message which goes back there is much much more comprehensive than what normally is comprehended. So therefore, that part will be a major takeaway. When people there see and these pictures which flashed in all the newspapers or cutouts.

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : I think it's a very important point Is that in a way looking at resilience of the visit within India but what we have seen is tremendous amount of interest in United States in terms of coverage in television, articles, social media, think tanks academia, it is also another aspect to reinforcing that connect between our countries. Let me down to the trade part, I think what is very clear is that we have reached a certain level of understanding on trade issues. We need to bring that to closure. So what we are talking about is ,as soon as possible, providing a legal basis to this text and concluding this round of negotiations . Immediately following which I think the intention by the two leaders is to facilitate the commencement of negotiations for a larger inverted commas big deal. You can call this in anyway you want but essentially I think if you ask me the difference between the first and the second one the package and the big deal is that the package is basically you know whatever we do in terms of terrors and quantitative restrictions etc would be on MFM basis. Where as the second and more important agreement to be based on a bilateral agreement between our two countries. In other words, if we do get mutual tariff concessions we will be extending to each others countries and not to our other trading partners. So that is the unique aspect the second one and of course we expect the scope and the value that it covers to be much larger. On IPR ofcourse I think we're still waiting for some elements from the US side to come in. I think there is no problem on the MOU par se but we just need the final aspects and and we should be able to conclude it. MOU on intellectual property rights at the earliest possible. In any case, this issue is discussed in various bilateral forums that we have including the trade policy Forum and other bodies that are engaged on a discussion on trade related issues between our two countries.

Question : inaudible

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : I think I did answer it partly by saying that irrespective of the nomenclature you give it, the importance of that partnership cannot be under emphasized. When we say comprehensive, when we add the word comprehensive to the earlier nomenclature of strategic a global partnership, it mean that it encompasses all aspects. Not just security and defence, but as I said, collaboration, RND, industrial let’s say, joint ventures, it encompasses vast area we talked about in our many of the initiatives that are taken up . So it's not just focusing on certain aspects that we would normally associate such partnership with. So, I think it means a lot more than just normal strategic partnership that are focused on certain aspects of our Corporation.

I will take the last round of questions

Question : (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation)

Sir, both the countries have discussed the issue of religious harmony harmony , then should we mean that the discussions took place in positive perspective and no concern has been raised?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation)

The answer to this question has been already given by him but I still leave the same to the FS.

Question: Sir, considering that the timing of the entire trip it comes in the runup to the election campaign, do you really think that it’s his maiden visit here? Do you really think that and its being alleged that India has gone out of its way to please US President? Is it a reiteration by the Prime Minister of ‘Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar’ the way we have rolled out the red carpet.

Question: As you said regional issues also came up for discussion, could you please share what was the crux of the discussion on Afghanistan? What were India’s concern which has flagged The US ?

Question: Were there any questions or surprise that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to boycott the banquet or was it thought to be irrelevant?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : You mean to say whether this was discussed?

Question: Yes.

Question: : : (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation)

Sir my question is connected with Pakistan supported terrorism, You, Gulam heard Trump yesterday and today also with regards to terrorism. My question is like this, that whenever our PM meets American President, then it is always said that America stands with India against terrorism. So after the present visit, shall we hope to move further. Now we can say that America has given us hope to jointly eradicate Pakistan supported terrorism in a time bound manner with India. Can we say like say?

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla : : (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation)The issue which you raised on religious harmony . As I told the discussions on religious harmony took place in a positive direction. Ans all other conversations and discussions held were in positive direction. No discussions or conversations took place in non-positive direction.

I hope that answers your question. Election campaign, I think someone mentioned about whether this is linked to elections. Let us start by saying that the India US partnership has always been based on bipartisan support and will continue to be based on that. When we invite the President of The United States, it is the President of the United States , who is the elected President of United States. We have had President Obama here, we had President Clinton here, we had President Bush here. The represented the different parties they were elected from but at the end of the day, they are Presidents of The United States. So, I don’t think we make a distinction between Presidents from X party or Y party. As far as we are concerned, he represents the people of the United States, he represents the will of the people of The United States and for us the means of improving and enhancing our relationship with the United States. On Afghanistan I think you know, we are certainly took note of the fact that there should be an agreement if all goes well the next 5 days on between the United States and the Taliban, clearly we are taking also note of some of the aspects related to the agreement as you know, peace and stability in Afghanistan is extremely important for us as extended as neighbour of that country and of course we would be watching developments there very carefully. I think we have a shared interest, I mean India and United State have a shared interest in ensuring that there is a united sovereign democratic inclusive stable and prosperous Afghanistan and that we support a peace process that is Afghan led, Afghan driven and Afghan owned. And that peace and reconciliation process that results in a sustainable peace. Cessation of violence and of course elimination of terrorists, safe havens and preservation. Preservations is the gains made in the last eighteen years. So, I think some of this was discussed although given the time constraints we couldn’t have a lengthy discussion on this issue. The issue subject to the banquet did not come up for discussions, so I cannot comment on that. And discussions also took place on the subject of terrorism and we told them our views and you must have heard about their understanding from their side, yesterday also you must have heard President Trump that there is no support for Islamic radical terrorism, there is no support that borders have to be secured for all countries and I think there is a fullest understanding that you know India's commitment to countering terrorism to fighting terrorism has the strongest support of the United States.

Question : You mentioned the Blue Dot infrastructure program. Is that linked to the billed act, is there any link with that or is there something totally separate. That’s all I wanted to ask.

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla: From what we, the information we have right now is limited. We know that this is an initiative as I said for the G7 plus Australia to ensure that projects, connectivity projects that are undertaken are transparent, have all the criteria that are important in terms of you know ensuring that high standards are maintained and that, by high standards I means standards in terms of transparency and the actual credibility of the project. And whether it comes under the billed act, what nature it comes under is not clear but it’s not a bilateral project, it’s not an American initiative, it’s really a G7 initiative and one that I think we have to consider in greater detail once we have the, but of course you know it's something that was started at the East Asia summit in November 2019 and now has been taken up at G7 level and we have asked for some more details and asked for that we would examine this and revert on this. So, in other words while the initiative has been put forward and we have also you know in broad terms seen as being in broad convergence with regard to our own vision of the Indo-Pacific as we recall the Prime Minister made a statement on the Indo-Pacific at the Shangri-La dialogue, I think it was in 2018. This is something that clearly fits into some of the things that we have said, but this is in lines in terms of principles. But in the actual implementation how it works is something that we have to see.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : Thank you very much Sir. Thank you Ambassador Gaurang, thank you very much. This concludes the special briefing. Thank you very much for joining.

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