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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on President Obama's visit to India (January 25, 2015)

January 25, 2015

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here this evening on what has been a very long day for all of you. There are still some events to go. But it has been a day of intense diplomatic engagement as far as India’s diplomatic engagement with the US is concerned.

What we have done is, we have got all the people involved in this interaction over the last four months here to try and place this in perspective for all of you. I have here with me Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. On her right is Ambassador Jaishankar, and on his right is Mr. Vinay Kwatra who is Joint Secretary (Americas) and the pointsperson in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with the United States. On my left is Mr. Amandeep Singh who handles our Disarmament and International Security Affairs. I am certain several of you have questions for him, and so we have requested him to be here too.

I will request Foreign Secretary to make some opening remarks, following which the floor will be open for any questions you have. Over to Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Shrimati Sujatha Singh): Friends, you would all know by now that this is a historic visit that underlines our deepening strategic partnership and a qualitative reinvigoration of ties in what has been described as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. In the interest of time I will touch only a few broad points.

There have been significant and substantive outcomes on the strategic, civil nuclear, defence, energy, and economic sides. I will go straight to the civil nuclear side where we have broken the logjam of the past few years.

You would recall that during the Prime Minister’s visit to the US in September 2014 the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to implement fully the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, and established a contact group on advancing the implementation of civil nuclear energy cooperation in order to realise early their shared goal of delivering electricity from US-built nuclear power plants in India. Based on three rounds of discussions in the Contact Group, we have reached an understanding on two outstanding issues namely civil nuclear liability and the administrative arrangements for implementing our 123 agreement. Let me underline, we have reached an understanding. The deal is done. Both these understandings are squarely within our law, our international legal obligations, and our practice.

Insofar as liability is concerned, during the Contact Group meetings the Indian side presented our position concerning the compatibility of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which we have signed, and responded to questions from the US Members concerning this position.

The idea of the India Nuclear Insurance Pool as part of the overall risk management scheme for liability was also presented to the US side. Based on the presentations by the Indian side and the discussions thereon, there is a general bilateral understanding that our law is compatible with the CSC.

Many of you would be aware that we had not yet finalised the administrative arrangements for the 123 agreement which we signed in September 2008. We have finalised it now. The administrative arrangements text that we have agreed with the US conforms to our bilateral legal arrangements as well as our practice on IAEA safeguards.

On the issue of export controls too we have made progress. The two leaders have committed to work jointly towards the goal of India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement. . We are grateful that President Obama supports an early decision on India’s membership in all four regimes which will strengthen global non-proliferation and export controls.

On defence and security, we have finalised the Defence Framework Agreement for the next ten years. Under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), four projects have been agreed on as pathfinder projects: (1) next generation Raven Minis UAVs, (2) roll on roll off kits for C-130s, (3) mobile electric hybrid power source, (4) Uniform Integrated Protection Ensemble Increment II. We have also agreed on a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology, sharing and design, and also development of jet engine technology.

In the field of energy we have agreed to expand our partnership on clean energy research, development, manufacturing and deployment. There are several aspects to this but I would highlight one. President Obama has expressed American interest in participating in India’s ambitious 100 GW solar energy programme.

Finally, in the economic field both sides will resume discussion on a high standard bilateral investment treaty and the totalisation agreement. Three MoUs have been signed between the USTDA and the State Governments of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to support the development of smart cities in Visakhapatnam, Allahabad and Ajmer. India and the US are also collaborating on the Digital India Programme.

Thus, as you can see, there have been significant and substantive outcomes some of which I have outlined to you. I will now hand the floor back to Akbar for questions and answers.

Official Spokesperson: So, we begin the interaction. What we will do is we will take each rubric that the Foreign Secretary has outlined, there are five of them, so that it can be a focused interaction. Anyone can raise their hand and then we will take all the questions on that rubric. Following that we will move to the next rubric. We have about 20 minutes because all of us have to go to the next event.

Question:On the nuclear deal, in simple words what has been achieved?

Joint Secretary (D&ISA) (Shri Amandeep Singh Gill):The answer is very simple. As the Foreign Secretary said, we have a deal, we have reached an understanding on civil nuclear liability and finalised the text of the administrative arrangements to implement the 123 agreement.

Question:Madam, what are the assurances that were given on the liability front, particularly the American concerns on section 46? Also, is there any kind of memorandum that the Attorney General would have to give to the Americans because that is something that the While House briefing has just indicated?

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): Not section 46 but section 17 of the law has been discussed with the US side in the Contact Group, and the presentations we have given to the US side clarify and underline that these two sections are in conformity with the CSC. Now you mentioned about the memorandum. That is work in progress.

Question:I want to know if the Americans have accepted the same kind of arrangement we have with French and the Canadians.

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): There is no administrative arrangement that we require with France. We have an administrative arrangement with Canada and that has been the template for finalising our administrative arrangement with the US.

Question:There was a tracking clause that America was raising that they will track whatever nuclear things are going to us. What is the development on us? And is there any insurance cap in that?

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): The text we have agreed with the US conforms to our bilateral legal agreements with the US which are: the 123 agreement and the arrangements and procedures on reprocessing. The text also conforms to India’s practice of IAEA safeguards. So, that is the current practice of safeguards in India.

Question:You spoke about the idea of insurance pool to address the liability issue. Could you spell out the specific? What is this insurance pool, because there have been speculation all along as to what has been agreed to in today’s meeting.

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): The insurance pool or what would be called the India Nuclear Insurance Pool is a risk transfer mechanism which is being formed by GICRE and four other public sector undertakings in the general insurance business in India. These companies would together contribute Rs.750 crore to the pool and the balance capacity would be contributed by the government on a tapering basis. So, this is the general shape of the pool. It is similar to 26 such international pools around the world. The details, for example, of the premiums are being worked out. And the United States has committed to work with India to share information and best practices on the formation of this insurance pool. The important thing for you to note is that this is a complete risk management solution for both operators and suppliers without causing undue financial burden.

Question:Given that the two companies that are already supposed start those first nuclear reactors in India are tied up with Japanese companies, are these deals really going to have to wait for the Indo-Japan civil nuclear deal to be completed before we complete ours, and are we going to ratify the CSC now?

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): Let me take your second question first. We have signed the CSC and we are committed to ratify the convention. On your first question about the supply chain situation with regard to Westinghouse and GE, there are alternatives available, and we do not think that the absence of an agreement with Japan is an obstacle to taking forward civil nuclear cooperation with the United States.

Question:Madam, the Americans have been crying that they did not get a level-playing field. Have you been able to give them a level-playing field in civil nuclear cooperation today? And here onwards it would really depend if their companies are able to sell you reactors at a price which is comparable to other reactors? Techno-economic cooperation is the way forward?

Foreign Secretary: We have always had a level-playing field. I do not see what the issue is over here. I will ask Amandeep to elaborate on that if he wishes.

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): On the techno-commercial aspects, that is something for our companies to see. These reactor projects have to be viable in terms of both capital cost and per unit energy cost, and that is something that our companies will work out. But the other two hurdles, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, the policy hurdles, we have cleared them today.

Question:Foreign Secretary, you mentioned about the participation in the jet engine technology. Is it going to be the existing programme that we have, the Cauvery engine programme, or is it going to be a new one that we are going to be identifying?

Foreign Secretary: I am going to request our Ambassador to take that question.

Indian Ambassador to USA (Dr. S. Jaishankar):We have had a discussion under DTTI and we have agreed to explore the development of jet engines in India. So, it is much broader than the Cauvery programme which is of a much longer standing.

Question:You have identified four defence projects. Can you tell us what would be the arrangement for this development and production? Would it be a joint venture of 50:50 partnership, or what would be the work share of India in it?

Indian Ambassador to USA: Of the four defence projects, all four involve joint development and joint production. Two of these are with American companies, two of them are with US government. They have to work out the modalities because they have just had a DTTI working group meeting a few days before the visit. The purpose of DTTI is to identify a technology which is unique and which is viable to produce. So, if it meets those characteristics, then you go forward. So what they have done is using those two parameters they have picked these four. They are called pathfinder projects because the experiences of this will guide us on how we take this forward. So all of them involve joint development and joint production.

Question:Madam, can you tell us the exact difference between the last ten years of defence trade initiative agreement which we had which Pranab Mukherjee when he was Defence Minister did and what you are doing now? What are the exact major differences and how it will work?

Indian Ambassador to USA: There is some confusion here. What was done ten years ago was a defence framework agreement. A defence framework agreement deals with all aspects of our defence cooperation. That framework agreement was expiring this year. What we have done is, we have negotiated a new defence framework agreement for the next ten years. As of now, until it is signed, of course it will be made public when it is signed. The DTTI is an initiative which is within the defence framework. So, there is no precedent to DTTI. It is a new initiative. It was announced a few years ago but it has really become operational now. So, the big change is that we have taken that big step towards operationalising an initiative. And in this case of specifically identifying projects and agreeing on important areas where we would have working groups to explore potentialities.

Question:Sir, mera saval yeh hai ki America ke taraf se logistics support agreement ke upar baat hi hai? Agar hui hai toh Bharat ki taraf se kya reaction hai us par, yani military base istemal karne ke liye?

Indian Ambassador to USA: No, there has been no discussion on this visit because President Obama’s visit took note of the fact that we have finalised the defence framework agreement, there was appreciation of the fact that the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative had progressed, had identified specific projects, had agreed to create working groups. So, that was the focus of discussion. There was no talk of logistics support agreement.

Question:Sir, we saw the rapport between the leaders today. Did the breakthrough happen because of theChai pe Charcha? My point is, how much of a role did the political leadership play in crossing this impasse?

Foreign Secretary: I would say the political leadership played a key role. I think it was under very specific political direction that we set out to find a solution to the concerns that were expressed. And this is why we have arrived and made progress at all substantive outcomes that you see. There was a clear intention to reinvigorate the relationship and take it forward.

Question:Mera saval Foreign Secretary se hai. Madam, yeh joh poori baat-cheet hui hai, terrorism ko lekar ke koi specific baat-cheet hui hai kya, khas taur par Pakistan ke pariprekshya mein? Kyon ki abhi kuchh din pehle yeh baat aayi thi ki Pakistan ko America ki oar se chetavani di gayi hai. Toh kya koi specific baat hui hai, koi ek arrangement discuss kiya gaya hai Jamat-ud-Dawa ke silsile mein ya koi aur specific cheez aap bata sakein.

Foreign Secretary: As one of our most important strategic partners, we always discuss the entire range of issues of concern. And I can conform to you that the issue of terrorism was very much discussed and was addressed at some length by both the leaders.

Question:Madam, America se pehle kitne deshon ke saath hotline par sampark hai abhi?

Joint Secretary (D&ISA): Dekhiye yeh joh hotline ka mechanism hai, leader level par toh yeh pehli baar hum kar rahein hai. Lekin lower levelpar Foreign Secretary aur unke Pakistani counterpart hain unka hai, aur DGMOs hain unka bhi hotline hai. Is tarah se leader level par yeh pehli baar hua hai.

Official Spokesperson: We were talking about, what he said was, at the level of the President and the Prime Minister. There are other mechanisms at different levels. Like for example, Foreign Secretaries between India and Pakistan, India and China at different levels. So there are, but what he indicated was that at the level that he indicated, that was first.

Question:The execution of a Japanese hostage about which the visiting President has expressed concern has raised very serious and very legitimate concerns about our own 39 Indian nationals who have been held in captivity for a while. And the last I heard was when the External Affairs Minister made a statement on the floor of the House saying that we are making every effort to trace them alive and bring them back home safe. What is the status of our search into this?

Foreign Secretary: You will appreciate that I will not go into to details on a very sensitive subject at this point in time. The status remains precisely the same. That is we are involved in looking out for them, and in bringing them back safe and alive.

Question:Madam, this is regarding terror. We heard the President and the Prime Minister speak about security cooperation. But in terms of Pakistan and terror safe havens in Pakistan, was that really discussed? There was no mention of Pakistan in the statements made by the leaders.

Foreign Secretary: You will find in the joint press conference of the two leaders there has been a very specific reference to terrorism. And then I would also direct your attention to the joint statement, which you probably have not seen till now, which lists out in great detail the various terror groups.

Question:Madam, were there any discussions on the visa curbs and also the fears that Indian companies have Immigration Bill?

Foreign Secretary: I can confirm that the Prime Minister raised this issue with President Obama, he pointed out that you have hundreds of thousands of Indians who are working in the United States and who are looking at visas and immigration reform, and that these concerns should be addressed. He did raise it.

Indian Ambassador to USA: If I may add one more point to it, Madam, the issue of totalisation was also discussed because that is also deriving from visas. So, both the impact of visa hurdles and obstacles to business as well as totalisation, both were discussed. They were both discussed in some detail.

Question:Actually I wanted to know what were the specific US concern that were addressed in this understanding reached on nuclear deal.

Official Spokesperson: We will come back in the end if there is time for that. Let us finish all the other issues.

Question:Apart from nuclear, was the issue of import of LNG taken up? And were imports from Iran also discussed?

Foreign Secretary: Let me repeat the when leaders of two nations meet, especially from countries such as India and the United States which are strategic partners, all issues of regional concern and of mutual interest are discussed. This would include also the issues that you have mentioned.

Question:Is there any discussion on what will be India’s role in Afghanistan?

Foreign Secretary: The situation in Afghanistan was discussed and the fact that India has a very real interest in what is happening over there and in this particular period of transition. India and the United States agreed to work closely together in seeing how further to support the Afghan economy and our interests in having a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Question:On the solar mission, US had concerns about a domestic content requirement in the National Solar Mission. Has it been addressed?

Indian Ambassador to US: What was discussed was that there was very clear US interest in participating in the 100 GW solar programme. It is obviously up to the US to participate in a manner in which it is consistent with their outlook. The feeling was that the ground situation permitted the US to participate in these programmes. So, when you will see the joint statement, there are fairly positive paragraphs at the prospect of the US participating in the solar programme and also the possibility of US financing the parts of the solar programme.

Question:It is related to that question when you said the President expressed his interest in partnering in the 100 GW programme. Was there a specific commitment for either technology or financing, or just an interest in partnering.

Indian Ambassador to US: The Joint Statement, again you will see, will address the issue of both partnering, collaborating, financing, but it does not go down to specifics for this region. At the moment these are broad goals. There is a broad mission. Ultimately when money is committed, for example if you see in September we had a very specific commitment between Exim Bank and IREDA. It was an Exim Bank-IREDA agreement for so much money. So, we are not at a point where specific projects have come up for approval, but there was very clear, strong interest on the part of the US. It was clearly seen as something both in the context of clean energy, climate change, that they should be supportive of this.

Question:Madam Foreign Secretary, we heard President talk of a new vision for Asia-Pacific and also the Prime Minister mentioning of the importance of the region for both countries. How does one interpret in the context of the rebalancing that the US is talking about and where does that put this thing?

Foreign Secretary: I think that the documents have not yet been released. And when you read them you will see that it sets out a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. Basically it talks about the various aspects in which India and the United States can collaborate and cooperate in promoting regional development, in promoting connectivity and in working together for the benefit of the people of the region. And one very important aspect of this vision statement is the fact that the United States has welcomed India’s interest in joining APEC.

Question:Madam, the US President used the Hyderabad House venue today to send a message to India’s very strong partner Russia. He named President Putin to deliver that message in Ukraine. How do you perceive it, an Indian venue being used to send that kind of a message? It is now making headlines world over.

Foreign Secretary: You are talking about a question that was posed by an American correspondent to the American President. So, he answered. You are aware of our strategic partnership with Russia, and that remains.

Question:Prime Minister spoke about more frequent summit meetings. Are we exploring the annual summit mechanism?

Indian Ambassador to US: We are exploring more frequent meetings.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you. With that we come to the end of this interaction. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.


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