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Remarks by External Affairs Minister at US India Strategic Partnership Forum In Washington D.C. (October 03, 2019)

October 04, 2019

Speaker: Thank you. I have the honour of introducing our two speakers this evening. I'll start with the Foreign Minister. Dr. Jaishankar was sworn in as External Affairs Minister of India back in May. In his 41 year old Diplomatic career he has served at many posts including that of India's foreign secretary, as well as Ambassador to the Czech Republic, High Commissioner to Singapore, Ambassador to China and more recently as we all know as India's Ambassador here in Washington.

In that role, he spearheaded Prime Minister Modi's first visit to the United States which generated enormous enthusiasm about the trajectory of the bilateral relationship and opportunities for growth in India. He is not unaccustomed to taking on tough issues. He played a key role in the conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement earlier in his career.

We find ourselves at another pivotal moment in this bilateral relationship with a potential trade deal within sight, fingers crossed. We are fortunate to have him in this critical role and look forward to his insights on the future of the US India relationship.

Our other speaker this evening is Nelson Cunningham who is the President and Co-founder of McLarty Associates. Prior to co-founding McLarty Associates in 1988, he served in the White House as Special Adviser to President Clinton on Western Hemisphere affairs and as General Counsel in the White House Office of Administration. He is a member of the Department of State's Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy, a past member of the Secretary of State's Foreign Affairs Policy Board and past chairman of the Exim Bank Advisory Committee. He also serves on several boards including The Atlantic Council and the US India Strategic Partnership Forum- our host this evening, and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. So now it is my pleasure to welcome our two speakers for a very engaging conversation about US-India relations.Speaker: Thank you Minister Jaishankar for joining us this evening. Thank you all for coming. As the Minister knows we have met many times here in Washington, and we have met in Delhi. I am one of those Americans who fell head over heels in love with India some years ago. In the last dozen years I have been to India 16 times and I am about to go for my 17th visit later this month for the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum board meeting and leadership conference which I will be hosting there. I think, in this room that puts me in the bottom quartile of people who've travelled to India because you're really sitting in a room of those in Washington who know India best, and who focus most on India.

What I'd like to do is start a bit with US-India, the broad relationship. We can move then to the commercial relationship and then I'm going to ask you on behalf of everyone in the room, something of a professional advice and you'll see what I mean when we get there. You started 10 days ago with the rock ‘n roll and Howdy Modi in Houston with fifty thousand Indians and Indian Americans. I understand your Prime Minister had the warm up act of President Donald J Trump who helped get the audience going. You then travelled with your Prime Minister to New York last week where we saw each other.

You alone had some 30 bilateral meetings, 40 meetings with your foreign minister counterparts, and you participated in many multilaterals and plurilateral. There was a meeting of the Quad: US-India-Japan-Australia. Yesterday, you were with Secretary Pompeo. Tomorrow you'll be with Secretary Shanahan, and our Defence Secretary Esper. I told the minister, when I read his schedule that I wept. I'd like to begin by asking you, where is the relationship today? You had an intense focus both on the US and on multilateral affairs. How does India see its relationship with the United States in the broader context of great power relationships in the world?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: I could give a lecture on this, but I will give you a shorter answer for now. And I use that word with a lot of care, I really think it's a very unique relationship because you have two countries of this size. Look at where they stand in the economic and political hierarchy of the world. Further, look at the dramatic transformation in this relationship in the last 20 years. And, dramatic change between big countries is not that common.

And when I say a dramatic change, I mean there isn't a sector today where you wouldn't say that there's been very high growth rate. Take a look at Howdy Modi. We couldn't have possibly conceived of such an event 10 years ago. Five years ago when we conducted the Madison Square Garden event, it was something which was just a big risk considering to do something like that. Now why did that happen? It happened, in part, because of the growth of the Indian American community. Reading the history of our relationship gives us very interesting numbers. When former Prime Minister Nehru visited the U.S for the first time in 1949, there were 3000 Indian Americans. Further, when Indira Gandhi visited in 1966, this number was 30,000. And when Rajiv Gandhi visited, there were 300,000. Today, there are more than 3 million Indian Americans – that of American Citizenship. To this, if you add those who are legal residents, then the number is likely to double. Now it's not the numbers that I want to emphasize, you have to ask yourself why did that happen? What is their position today, and a lot of that was captured by the Howdy Modi event. You have people who come here, which in sense reflects a phenomenon which is going to be the future of the world that is the flow of talent from one geography to the other. So this build up is actually indicative of some larger processes in the global economy.Again, I would be cautiously optimistic because a lot of work has gone into it. Those messages in detail have been spelt out to various countries. There is a sense that everybody has come so far that if you make that one last push maybe you will get there. This is the mood right now, I believe.

Speaker: I am going to turn the audience in just a moment and begin to take questions. We will be able to take a few of them and have the Minister give an answer. But before we do that, I want to get some professional advice from you. This is the first time that I have sat with a Foreign Minister who has actually spent time as one of us - you were the head of global public affairs for Tata & Sons, you sat where we were and have helped shape government thinking in India and around the world, now you are back sitting in the government chair. What do you wish you had known, what lessons have you learned from your time sitting on both sides of the table, both sitting up here and sitting out there in the audience?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: I wish I had done what I did last year, maybe 20 years before. The reason I say this is because for me the last year in business was like entering a different world. You know when you are doing something for some time even if you keep challenging yourself there is a degree of complacency which all human beings tend to exhibit. So you have the experience as well as the confidence, I wouldn’t say you get lazy, but that hunger and drive, tends to soften a bit. The moment you get into something different, you suddenly fire up because you are entering a room where other people have a lead on you. They know what they are talking about more than you do, so the desire to come up to speed and in fact get ahead of them is very strong. And you suddenly become much more of a learner than you were at a job which you had been doing for a long time. And it was a very different world in terms of decision making, the premium on time, the premium on cost, the willingness to take risks- all these were very different in that world.

Now as I said, if I had done it 20 years earlier it would have been helpful but our system doesn’t work like that. Government is a lifetime employment - there isn’t a revolving door. There is just one door, you go in and you go out. Today what it has done for me is that when I come across a situation that involves an economic issue or trade issue- things which I speak to many of you about- I probably have a better sense of where all of you are coming from, because of that experience. So for me, shall I say, I got a little bit more knowledge rather a little bit more understanding than knowledge which I wouldn’t have had earlier.

Speaker: Thank you for remembering the humility with which we all sit out there and try to figure out how do we shape thinking here. Why don’t we go to the audience now. I think we have got probably seven or ten minutes for questions.

Question: I actually have a personal question to ask you and that is relating to your father and the role that he played as a strategic architect for India for so long. I had the privilege of meeting him back in those days you were referring to, 20 years ago when a lot of this was just getting started and I’d really be interested in knowing what you would want to tell him today given where you are. He’d obviously be a very proud man, but also just the vision that he had and imparted to you and how that connects for 20 years to where we are today. Thank you.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Well, you know it is funny. You are the second person who has brought it up in past two days. Not particularly the same question but somebody asked me in some other context about my father as well. Some of you know him personally and some of you may know him by reputation. There are a lot of thoughts I have but one of them certainly is that he spent a lot of his professional life working on defence issues in the defence ministry and in those days you actually did negotiations on landlines which nobody does any more. My childhood memories are of him arguing with people in the Kennedy Administration on defence issues. So issues like reliability of supplies and how can you cut that off? Because this was in the run up to the 1965 war when the US terminated its defence relationship with us.So in many ways, I associate him with the American relationship to which was not always positive then. And he was perhaps a more argumentative person than I am. So a lot of his early acquaintances remember him more for his force of argument but I think over a period of time those powers of persuasion kicked in and certainly during the nuclear deal, that whole period, the fact that he weighed in so publicly on what was a very controversial agreement in India certainly made a big difference. I don’t think he would have imagined that I would be a minister.

Speaker: Your mother would though.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Part of the reason is that I couldn’t have imagined I would be a Minister. My mother, of course, saw me that day on television and like all mothers messaged me saying they always knew these things would happen. But I do think of him often because in a sense I was his student as well and he did a lot for my generation and the people like Dr. Rajamohan and Sanjay Baru and so on. He kind of introduced us to the world of real politic and I think that sense of reaching outcomes other than getting obsessed with the process was something that had an impact on a whole set of people including in the foreign service.

Question: Going to ask you about India-Iran relations and how your relations with US is impacting your relationship with Iran. As you know the Iranians are feeling a little disappointed that you’d stop buying so much oil from them but India’s interest lies through the port of Chabahar going into Afghanistan and India has sudden interest in Central Asia that goes through Iran. Its relationship with Iran has been changing in that regard. How do you see India’s relationship with Iran going forward and how do you see India’s relationship with US impact that relationship?

Question: Just a question in terms of the challenges which India faces globally and in terms of the numbers of the Foreign Service officers we have and the global footprint that is expected, how that works out and what are your plans in this regard. Thank you.

Question: My question has to do with the transformation in US-India relationship and I see it very much driven by economics because we remember back in 2002 with Clinton, one of the big things was that India was the big emerging market and each time you can see that whenever the economy did well the interest and the enthusiasm also grew and not just for the US but globally. Most recently, of course as you know, India’s economy has faltered, it has gone from 7% to 5 % and my question is, to what extent is your foreign policy success hinging on India doing well economically because if you want to reach $5 trillion I think you got to go 8%.

Question: Could you elaborate what you think India’s role in Afghanistan should be over the long term as whenever these negotiations with the Taliban come to a close, thank you.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: That gives me a reasonable spread. Look, where Iran is concerned, I don’t agree with you that Iranians are disappointed. I think Iranians are realists, and there is a larger global situation in which they are operating and in which we are operating. So in the world that we inhabit, we frankly understand each other’s compulsion and possibilities. From our perspective, the real issue is how do I continue to get affordable, predictable access to oil and gas and so far that has been made possible.

Obviously, we have concerns about the state of stability and volatility in the Gulf but the Iran issue is an evolving issue. I think everyone knows that when one can read the front pages of many newspapers today which carry developments pertaining to Iran. So I wouldn’t attribute that sense of finality. Countries don’t, in that sense, have or shouldn’t have at least, unreasonable expectations. So I think all of us kind of understand how this works out.

On the challenges of the Indian Foreign Service, to some extent the problem is exaggerated because people do the headcount in India very differently from how they do it in any other foreign office. People talk about the Indian Foreign Service being about a thousand people. A different way of putting it is actually to look at the total number of employees, Indian employees; it is probably closer to about 5-6 thousand. Now how does one deal with that? Obviously, I’d really like to grow, no issue with that but I also realize that adding to your resources is not easy in any government today. But we are still adding by the way. We are opening 18 new embassies, and each one has a new set of resources that have been given to it. But when your numbers are small then you do what you actually do in business and that is, you leverage the larger environment.

So to a large extent, if you look at the new activities we do- development assistance, training, projects- what we do is take in the information, farm it out, use consultants, work with other ministries or organizations and then get it back in again for a decision. So to my mind, today the ability to work with other organizations and ministries inside and outside the government, getting that mind-set to use other capabilities to get your work done, those will all be remedies till you actually get to the number you feel comfortable with, and that will take some time.

On the issue of growth rate, economies give out numbers quarter by quarter, but foreign policy doesn’t run quarter by quarter. There would be ups and downs. I would look at trends and people do understand that some of the recent numbers are actually transient issues. At least my sense, particularly of engaging people outside India is that they seem to be very confident and I am also very confident that you will see much stronger numbers fairly soon. I don’t see a lessening in the interest of the world in the Indian economy. I don’t fully share your view that people are interested in India for the market of India, I think that is a factor. And if you look at Indian-American relationship and look at the Clinton years, those were the years when the H1B kicked in, when the dot com revolution created a new bonding between India and US and the flow was actually towards America rather than towards India. I would say, certainly, for countries like India and US, calculations around political security issues would be important. So I would urge you not to be down hearted by a bad quarter or two. Trust me, this relationship is doing well and will keep going north.

On the Afghanistan issue, we see Afghanistan in much more permanent terms than the US does partly because we live much closer. We have a historical relationship of bonding with Afghanistan. It’s not a relationship between state to state rather it’s something much bigger. We are very comfortable with them culturally - if you have ever been to Kabul you can see signs of that and in other Afghan cities as well. So at this time, we do understand that there is something shifting in the United States which will probably lead to a different posture. It’s not entirely a surprise - the US has been committed there for a long time. The challenge for all of us - most of all for the Afghans then for the US, and then for everybody else is that how do you work out something with the broadest possible acceptance with the best possible outcome. And the best possible outcome will involve preserving as much of the gains of the last two decades as possible. Now, some of it may be negotiated, and some of it may not be but my gut sense is that in Afghanistan we tend to work too much out of the past. A lot of the changes which have kicked in the last 20 years will make themselves felt in the future as well.

Speake: Mr. Minister, thank you. We are reaching the end of our time together. On behalf of the Strategic Partnership Forum, I want to thank you. I want to thank Ambassador Shringla, your embassy, a central partner to us here in the business community. I thank you for coming and spending time with us and for giving us little professional advice.

Thank you.

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