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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (November 17, 2016)

November 17, 2016

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Good evening friends and welcome to the weekly press briefing. I will begin with a couple of announcements. The first one pertains to Pakistan.

The Ministry of External Affairs called in a senior official of the Pakistan High Commission yesterday i.e. 16-Nov-2016, and made a demarche on continued violation of ceasefire along the Line of Control. You will note that this is the third such demarche this month following the ones issued on 2nd and 9th November.

We conveyed that despite calls for restraint, Pakistani forces have committed 12 ceasefire violations between 9 and 15 November 2016 during which Pakistan army deliberately resorted to caliber escalation by employing artillery and 120 mm heavy mortars against Indian posts.

These violent acts constitute a clear violation of the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003. Government has also protested the deliberate targeting by the Pakistan army of 14 villages along the Line of Control during the period 9-15 November which has resulted in 4 fatal and 25 non-fatal casualties besides causing extensive damage to public and private properties and the displacement of the civilian population.

We also conveyed our strong condemnation of the increase in concentration of terrorists observed along the Line of Control in the vicinity of Pakistani forward posts. During the last week alone, there have been 18 instances where terrorists attempted to infiltrate into the Indian side from the vicinity of Pakistani posts and also targeted Indian posts and patrols.

Finally, we reiterated the concerns of the Government of India about the safety and wellbeing of Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan who inadvertently crossed the Line of Control over six weeks back and we urged the early repatriation and safe return of the Sepoy.

My second announcement pertains to a very interesting outreach activity that we are doing.

As part of the various activities planned for the forthcoming Pravasi Bhartiya Divas in Bengaluru from January 07 to 09, 2017, the Economic Diplomacy Division of the MEA is organizing a national contest to identify India’s top 25 Social Innovators.

MEA will be conducting this nationwide search with the support of Atal Innovation Mission, NitiAayog.

The objective of the national contest on Social Innovation is to identify a pool of social impact innovators that have developed or are developing commercially feasible solutions to the socio-economic problems of the country.

This would facilitate the creation of a community of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, grant bodies and mentors to support the selected start-ups for commercialization and scale up. The key focus sectors for the National Contest on Social Innovation include:

· Clean-tech
· Education,
· Health,
· Housing,
· Public-transport,
· Skill Development & Livelihood,
· Waste Management,
· Water& Sanitation; and
· Women Empowerment.

The 25 best Innovative Start-ups with a Social Impact will be showcased to the Pravasis participating in the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas through an exhibition.

The exhibition will offer an excellent opportunity for the Indian diaspora and particularly those who represent angel investors and private equity interests to connect and interact with these social innovators and associate themselves with the entrepreneurship movement in the country.

That concludes my two announcements, the floor is now open for questions.

Question: Sri Lanka has raised Sri Lankan fishermen issue last month, so when will be the joint working group from both of the countries will form since we have a ministerial meeting in January 2017?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The dates for that have not yet been finalized but we look forward to an early meeting of that particular JWG because as you know we have agreed on a step by step approach to resolve the fishermen issue once and for all and I am sure the Joint Working Group, once it meets, will be able to take some concrete steps in that regard.

Question: If we can have any information or details on Foreign Secretary’s visit to United States and who from Trump’s possible team would he have met with?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I can confirm that Foreign Secretary is currently in the United States. This is part of periodic consultation. He is meeting members of the Administration and representatives from the US Congress. That is all the information that I have at this particular moment.

Question: Recently the delegation level talks between the fishermen association of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was held and that meeting was inconclusive. The demand of the fishermen is that they should be allowed deep fishing in the bogway and the boats captured by Sri Lankan army to be released. So is the government taking any steps regarding that? And till now how many boats have been captured by Sri Lanka?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As far as the figures are concerned, currently there are 4 Indian fishermen and 130 boats in Sri Lankan custody and there are zero Sri Lankan fishermen and 14 boats in Indian custody, so that is the status as far as the boats and fishermen are concerned.

As far as the issue of how this process will move forward, I already answered right now that when the Joint Working Group meets then they will be able to take this process forward. Basically, the talks that were held were forward looking talks. They did acknowledge that this is a complex issue which involves livelihood, it is not something which can be resolved overnight, but given the political will on both sides to take matters forward and eventually arrive at a solution that meets the concerns on both sides, I think, we will see some forward movement once the JWG meets.

Question Contd.: Today the Sri Lankan navy fired on the Pondicherry fishermen.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: We have seen these reports and we have asked our High Commission in Colombo to ascertain the details.

Question: After the demonetization a lot of expats are in a panic situation and they are approaching our embassies in various countries. What is Government of India doing to allow them to exchange their money?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Basically we have received three of four types of different requests on the issue of demonetization which pertain to the Ministry of External Affairs.

The first concerns the diplomats who are based in Delhi. Some of them have told us that diplomatic missions require higher level of funds and the existing limits will not be sufficient for them and if those can be increased for diplomatic missions. Some of them have said that they collect consular and visa fees, if they are collected in old notes how will that be deposited how will those be exchanged. That is the first set of issues which has been brought to our notice by the resident diplomats. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps has had a meeting with us and brought these to our attention.

The second set of issues is what you just raised i.e. NRIs having currency abroad. As you know there are specified limits as to the amount of Indian currency you can take abroad but within those limits if somebody has money abroad and is not travelling to India immediately, how will those persons get new notes in exchange of old notes.

The third set of issues is by the Money Changers Associations abroad and that is quite interesting because we do not have full convertibility but it shows the strength of Indian rupee that you have Money Changers Association abroad which are willing to dispense Indian rupee. So they have asked us the same question i.e. what do we do with the currency that we have, how do we convert those?

And finally, we have the cases of foreign visitors and tourists, particularly those coming for medical tourism, asking that they have particular requirements like for a hip-replacement surgery or whatever they need to have certain higher thresh-holds.

So what we have done is, we have referred these matters to the Department of Economic Affairs. The Department of Economic Affairs have now formed an inter-ministerial committee headed at the level of an Additional Secretary. A Joint Secretary from MEA is also a member of that committee and we await their guidance, their advice and their recommendations which can then be shared with these various categories who have approached us.

Question: Sartaj Aziz is supposed to come to India for the Amritsar round table. So how do we see it? Will this be a step forward, do you think this will break the logjam, how do we see this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Let me first confirm that we have not yet received official confirmation of Pakistan’s participation in the Heart of Asia Ministerial Meeting so any other related issues are hypothetical at the best at this stage. Let us first get confirmation of Pakistan’s participation.

Question: There are reports that Indian Badminton squad manager hailing from Arunachal denied visa by China. What is your comment?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: We have seen those reports. This matter has been brought to our attention now. Our Government’s position of differential treatment to Indian passport holders is clear and well known. We have conveyed this to the Chinese side. We expect them to address this issue in the spirit of reciprocity and smooth development of bilateral relations.

Question: Is there any move to review our nuclear doctrine especially no first use policy, because it is in the air?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As you are aware, India is committed to Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use of nuclear weapons. There is no change in our policy.

Question: Bhutan’s National Assembly has voted against the BBIN project. So does that mean that BBIN project will now be BIN and is Bhutan out of that?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement, as you know, was signed in Thimphu last year by the representatives of the four governments. It may be recalled that the National Assembly of Bhutan had endorsed the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement early this year and had forwarded it to the National Council of Bhutan for consideration. We remain hopeful that the Royal Government of Bhutan will be able to complete the necessary internal procedures for operationalization of this agreement at an early date.

Question: Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to bring up the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in the wake of Trump being elected and moving ahead to kill the Trans Pacific Partnership. Could you may be outline India’s stand on those negotiations especially ahead of the upcoming meeting next month?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Commerce Minister is on record on RCEP, we remain fully committed to RCEP negotiations and early signing of that agreement and its operationalization because we believe it’s in our larger national interest. When the entire ASEAN community plus the six partners are able to have a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, it will open up avenues for greater trade in both goods and services.

Question Contd.: …..(Inaudible)…..

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said, this is more in the domain of the Ministry of Commerce and if you refer to the statement of Hon’ble Minister of State for Commerce & Industry, you will see the concerns that she has outlined.

Question: There have been some reports from a Washington based think tank which has given the fail grading to China vis-à-vis the nuclear proliferation track record since they have been helping Pakistan in building nuclear reactors. So how do you see this position vis-à-vis Chinese position on India’s entry to NSG?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As far as our position on the NSG is concerned, our desire to be a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group, it is fairly well known. We have had ongoing discussions with the Chinese in this regard and as I had mentioned in a previous briefing that we hope that eventually China will see the logic of India as a member of NSG which will only strengthen global nuclear non-proliferation.

Question: Almost a week after we inked the landmark nuclear agreement with Japan, there still remains some confusion about a)- whether the separate memorandum that we signed with Japanese counterpart has any legal validity? I’d be grateful if you clarify that and linking to this b)- are we willing to, if there is no legal validity to this memorandum, is there something we are also willing to consider with any other future nuclear partner we might sign an agreement with?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I think the very fact that you are asking me this question one week after the conclusion of the nuclear deal means that there is still some confusion on some aspects, so let me take this opportunity to clarify matters.

The Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, in fact, has a specific article i.e. Article No. 14, devoted to termination and cessation of cooperation in certain circumstances. This is not new and similar, in fact, almost identical to the provisions in the US agreement.

Any suggestion that the termination clause in NCA is not binding on India is factually incorrect. All clauses of NCA are binding on both parties.

The circumstances of termination by their very nature are not specifiable in the NCA. I would recommend a comprehensive reading of the entirety of the provisions to understand the hypothetical possibilities as well as the mitigating circumstances and consequences.

India appreciates the special sensitivities of Japan on nuclear issues. It was felt that a note on views expressed by the Japanese side in the above context could be recorded. Such a record, to be balanced, also needed an accurate depiction of India’s position.

The Note on Views and Understanding reiterates the commitment that India made in September 2008. No change is envisaged from those commitments and no additional commitments have been made by India.

What must be appreciated is that the NCA opens up new avenues of civil nuclear energy cooperation with international partners. This will help rapidly expand the non-fossil fuel segment of energy production and contribute to India keeping its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Question: Has NavtejSarna submitted his credentials to Mr. Obama or does he have to wait till Mr. Trump takes charge? And TaranjeetSandhu, when is he going to Colombo?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Last time when I had spoken to the then Ambassador-designate to Washington he had said that his credentials were made in the name of President Obama so I am hopeful that he would be able to present them to President Obama. As far as our current DCM’s move to Colombo is concerned, I think it will be fairly soon.

Question: This is about the International Solar Alliance. I believe there is a framework agreement which is open for signature at Marrakech so any details on that? Which are the countries which have already signed, or any details at all?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The Framework Agreement on the International Solar Alliance was opened for signing on 15th of November 2016 on the sidelines of the COP-22 in Marrakech, Morocco. 19 countries have signed the Framework Agreement to date and these signatories include, first and foremost, India, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Republic of Guinea, Mali, Nauru, Niger, Tanzania, Tuvalu, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau, Fiji, Vanuatu and Liberia.

This is a commendable achievement in that the ISA Agreement Framework has been opened up for signature within less than a year since the announcement was made to set up the ISA in November 2015 in Paris at the COP-21.

More countries are expected to sign the Framework Agreement in the coming weeks. France and the United States are also expected to join after completing some internal formalities.

The ISA as a legal entity will come into existence once 15 countries ratify the framework agreement.

The ISA will have an Assembly which will meet once every year at the Ministerial-level. There will be a Secretariat that will be manned by a Director General. Currently, the interim-Secretariat is being run by MNRE.

The ISA is a treaty-based inter-governmental organization and will be headquartered in Gurugram, India. India has offered a contribution of Rs 175 crore (around US $27 million) for creating the ISA corpus fund and for meeting the cost of the ISA secretariat for the initial five years.

I think this tells you how significant a progress has been made on the ISA which will remain a treaty based organization.

I do not see any other questions. In that case this press briefing comes to a close.



Thank you all.
(Concludes)
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