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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on upcoming visit of Prime Minister to USA (September 19, 2019)

September 20, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good afternoon friends. Welcome to this special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to the United States from September 21 to September 27. With me on the dais I have the Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale, Secretary (West), Shri Gitesh Sarma, Jt. Secretary in charge of United Nations Political, Shri Sanjay Rana, Jt. Secretary (Americas), Shri Gaurang Das. We will begin with initial remarks by the Foreign Secretary and after that we will open the floor to questions.

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Good afternoon friends. Prime Minister will make a visit to the United States from the late afternoon of the September 21 until the forenoon of the September 27 and the two cities in his itinerary are Houston in Texas and then in New York where the General Assembly and the United Nations are located.

The visit has three main pillars to it. First the multilateral engagements at the United Nations, second the bilateral component of the visit in the United States covering political meetings, interaction with the business community and with the Indian diaspora and thirdly the bilateral meetings that he will have with world leaders in New York

So let me just outline the broad elements of the program. The Prime Minister’s first stop is Houston and as soon as he lands he goes straight into his first business event. His very first engagement is a round table with several chief executives in the energy sector. Companies like BP, Exxon Mobil, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and so on. Energy of course is the major new component in the Indo-US trade mix. We import approximately $4 billion worth of oil and gas from the United States and this interaction that Prime Minister will have with the energy majors of the United States is essentially not only to show that we are an important market but also to discuss investment and other possible opportunities in the economic area.

On September 22 morning, the highlight will be the Prime Minister’s address to the Indian community. This is the third address he is doing in the United States. His first was at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2014, the second at the SAP Center at San Jose, California in 2015. This one where we are expecting over 50 thousand people from the diaspora will be the largest that he has done in the United States and we are delighted that President Trump of United States as well as the senior democratic leadership of the United States will also be at this event.This includes several elected Congressional representatives from both parties and I think their presence there reflects the high standing and influence of the diaspora in the United States and the bipartisan support that Indo-US relation enjoys in the political leadership of the United States.

After this community event Prime Minister is also expected to have a separate interactive session with the Members of the US Congress. After that he will leave for New York.

On the 23rd the Prime Minister has several multilateral events in the New York beginning with the Climate Summit organized by the UN Secretary General in the forenoon of the 23rd. Prime Minister is an early speaker and at this event he will showcase what India has done to address Climate Change issues and also our expectations and aspirations from the international community to address this very pressing problemThis event is followed by another event also hosted by the UN Secretary General which is on Universal Health Coverage. The Government’s program of Ayushman Bharat is the world’s largest healthcare initiative and Prime Minister will be focusing on showcasing that at this event.

A third event on the 23rd of September is leader’s dialogue on Strategic Responses to Terrorists and Violent Extremist Narratives. This is a dialogue jointly hosted by His Majesty, the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the President of France and the UN Secretary General and Prime Minister has been invited to speak at this event. Other speakers, there are other Heads of State and Government, very select, who have also been invited and these include the President of Kenya and Indonesia, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Chancellor of Germany and so on. This is an important event so these are three events on the 23rd that the Prime Minister will attend in the multilateral format.

On the 24th of September there will be a lunch hosted by the Secretary General of the United Nations and in the late afternoon we organize our event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in the UN. This event is titled, ‘Leadership Matters – Relevance of Gandhi in Contemporary Times’ and we are delighted that the Prime Minister will be joined by some Heads of State and Government who will also express in their own world the relevance of Gandhi in contemporary times. These include the President of the Republic of Korea, the Prime Minister of Singapore, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister of Jamaica as well as the UN Secretary General Mr. Gutteres.

Three launches are going to be done at this event as well. The first is the Gandhi Solar Park which is the installation of solar panel on the rooftop of the UN headquarters from a grant of $1 million that India has given renewable energy and to showcase our commitment to the use of Solar Energy.

The second is the remote inauguration of the Gandhi Peace Garden at the State University of New York Campus at Old Westbury where a 150 trees have been planted in honor of Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary and third is the release of a UN postage stamp on Gandhi Ji. The last event on that day is the award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ‘the Global Goalkeeper’s Goal’ award. This is at the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts.It is given every year to a world leader for achievement in a specific SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) and the previous winners have been Prime Minister Solberg of Norway and President Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia. This year the Gates Foundation is honoring the Prime Minister for his leadership in the field of sanitation through the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

On the 25th of September morning begins with the keynote address at the opening plenary of the Bloomberg Global Business Forum after which Prime Minister will have a conversation with Mr. Bloomberg and this will be followed by an investment round table that we are organizing i.e. the Government of India and Invest India together at which 40 major companies will be present including companies like JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, American Tower Corporation, Bank of America, MasterCard, Walmart and so on. The objective of this is to get feedback from industry about their business plans in India and to demonstrate government’s business friendly approach in attracting investment into India.

On the 27th of the September the Prime Minister will address the General Assembly. This will be the first time the Prime Minister will address the General Assembly in the High Level Segment after 2014. In 2015 he did visit New York but he did not engage in the high level debate, he was there for the release of the SDG goals.Besides these multilateral meetings Prime Minister will have several bilateral meetings with leaders across all continents. He will co-chair two important pluri-lateral leader’s meetings, both of which Prime Minister attaches importance to. The first is on the 24th, this is India Pacific Island States Leader’s Meeting. 12 leaders of the Pacific Island states. The following day i.e. 25th the India CARICOM Leader’s Meeting. These are 14 members of the Caribbean community therefore he will interact in these two pluri-laterals with as many as 24 Heads of Delegation of the participating countries and he also, at the moment, intends to have about 20 other leader level bilateral meetings including the meeting with President Trump. The details of these meetings are not being shared at the moment because the program is still developing but we do intend in New York to give regular briefings after the meetings. Besides the Prime Minister’s meetings the External Affairs Minister will also be in New York and he has an entirely different schedule where he will have several meetings with Foreign Ministers. The Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs will also be in New York for his own meetings as well as to engage groups such as NAM, the Commonwealth, CICA and BRICS. So the purpose is really to ensure that Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister and Minister of State cover as broad a spectrum of the UN membership as possible in those three or four days that they are in New York.

This is the Prime Minister’s first visit to the United States after reelection of the government and the Prime Minister is going to the UN General Assembly with solid achievements in the previous five years in Sustainable Development Goals. Our intention therefore in participating this year in all the pluri-laterals is to showcase the progress that we have made in issues relating to Climate Change, Universal Health Coverage, Renewable Energy, Sanitation and so on as well as I said to convey expectations from the other countries and to understand their aspirations in this regard.

But besides showcasing whatever we believe we have achieved on the SDGs Prime Minister is also of the view that it is also important to play the role that is expected of India in shaping the global agenda on many of these issues, both political and socio-economic. And in this context the Prime Minister will again reiterate a position that India has been saying for some time and that is multilateralism is at the center of the global politics and it should remain so but there has to be a reformed multilateralism.

Arrangements that existed or were determined half a century of more ago cannot be sustainable in the 21st century and therefore multilateral system which is reformed, which reflects the new reality, which reflects the fact that India has 1/7th of the world’s population, which reflects that many countries that were not independent in 1945 today play a bigger role than they did earlier, these must be reflected and this is what Prime Minister’s intention will be in all his meetings, both multilateral and bilateral.

South-South partnership is important particularly with the small island development states, these are vulnerable in terms of Climate Change. We have been doing a number of activities with them bilaterally, this is an occasion to showcase this multilaterally. We will also announce a new initiative that government will take. This is the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. It is a virtual network that the Government of India is taking the initiative in to ensure that we have a group of countries with experience, technology, the financial capability to help countries build back better after a natural disaster has devastated the infrastructure in these countries.There is, it is generally felt, a lacunae in this area because while countries rush to provide relief very few rush in rebuilding infrastructure and the Prime Minister feels India should take the lead in this matter since we have some expertise and capability in this area and we also have the wherewithal to attract other countries to build this coalition with us.

Obviously the Prime Minister will highlight the global relevance of Gandhi Ji in the 21st century, the universality of his message and the bilateral meetings will cover all continents, all regions from our neighborhood, immediate neighborhood, Prime Minister will meet with many of our neighbors as well as countries as far as Latin America. With the United States the engagement is with multiple stakeholders, obviously with President Trump, with Congressional leaders, with business leaders and with Indian community. And after Prime Minister leaves New York the External Affairs Minister will stay back for a full-fledged visit to Washington DC to engage the United States and to meet with various political and economic figures there.

The Prime Minister will depart from New York immediately after addressing the UN General Assembly in the forenoon of September 27. So that in a nutshell ladies and gentlemen are the broad program elements and the approach that the government is taking to this visit by the Prime Minister. I’d be happy to answer any questions in this regard. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much sir. Small suggestion, please do not ask whether the Prime Minister is going to meet this leader or that leader, the response will be more or less the same, so please do not waste your question on that.

Question: Do you see any forward movements as to trade issues are concerned with US because the tariff issue was there and I understand that in spite of the fact that the steel and aluminum were the two commodities we have been able to export more aluminum after the tariffs were imposed.

Question: Jo maujoodaa paristithiyan hain khastaur par hamare region mein terrorism ko lekar isase pahle bhi Pradhanmantri us par baatcheet karte rahe hain ki ek conference duniya ke tamaam deshon ka terrorism ko lekar hona chaahiye. Aur jo terrorism ka mudda hai Pakistan ki taraf se terrorism jo badhaaya jaa rahaa hai uska mudda hai, isko kitna tavajjo Pradhanmantri apne visit mein denge, UNGA se lekar bilateral aur multilateral engagement mein ye agenda kitna shaamil hoga aur kis tarah se shaamil hoga?

(Considering the current scenario especially with regard to terrorism in our region, Prime Minister has earlier also raised the issue that there should be a global conference on terrorism with all the countries of the world. How much importance Prime Minister Modi will give during his visit, how will it be included in the bilateral, multilateral and UNGA engagements and at which scale?)

Question: Both Saudi Arabia and United States have blamed Iran for the attack on Saudi Aramco. You have visited Iran as well, this is an issue which will probably figure when Prime Minister Modi and Donald Trump will meet. What will be India’s position, do we support US stand on from where this attack has originated?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: In so far as discussions between the leaders in New York are concerned I obviously cannot prejudge the outcome. You are aware that during the last meeting in Osaka the two leaders discussed several issues including trade issues and this is one of the issues where we feel forward movement should be taken which is mutually balanced and which addresses the concerns of both sides. I have no doubt it will figure in the discussions but as to the eventual outcome that is something we will have to wait for.

Jahaan tak aatankvaad ki baat aati hai, pehle to Article 370 ka mudda to ek internal issue hai. To is par UN mein charchaa nahii hogii aur hum charchaa nahii karenge. Doosari baat ye hai ki Pradhanmantri is baar jab UN jaa rahe hain to hamaare bahut saare mudde hain development ke issues hain, climate change ke issues hain, aur bhi bilateral aur multilateral issues hain. Unmein se ek mudda jaroor aatankvaad kaa hai lekin is par focus nahii rahega. Focus rahega ki Bharat kaa is international platform par hamaaraa kyaa kirdaar ho sakta hai, kya role ho sakta hai aur Prime Minister is maamle mein apna vision prastut karenge.

(As far as the issue of terrorism is concerned, first please note that Article 370 is an internal issue. So there will be no discussion on it and we will not discuss it. Secondly, during the visit of Prime Minister to the UN there are many issues like the issue of development, the issue of Climate Change and many other bilateral and multilateral issues are also there. Among the many issues terrorism is definitely one of them but the focus will not be on it. The focus will be what could be the role of India in this international platform and Prime Minister will present his vision in this regard.)I think the Official Spokesperson has already expressed our position on the attack on the oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. I have no further comment to make on the matter.

Question: Would nuclear energy be a part of dialogue during the energy round table and what is the status of negotiations for the sixth nuclear power reactor to be built by the American companies in India?Question: The recent letter that was written by 44 US Congressmen on the issue of GSP which asked basically partial reinstatement of GSP subject to progress in negotiations but when the GSP announcement was made, the statements that came out from India almost made it sound that it was a matter of pride for us including statement by the Commerce Minister. So is India really looking back on GSP, are you negotiating for that, is there any progress that you would like to elaborate on?

Question: On his way back from California to DC President Trump said that there could be a major announcement in Houston. Could that be trade related or GSP related and also two instances of meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the UNGA as well?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
Jahaan tak nuclear energy ka sawaal hai, jo meeting Houston mein ho rahaa hai wahaan saare jo major companies hian wo oil and gas ke kshetra mein hain, nuclear energy ke kshetra mein nahi hain to ismein main samajhataa hoon ki charchaa nahi hogi. Jahaan tak un 6 power reactors kii baat hai uspar baatcheet chal rahii hai, abhi koi immediate announcement nahi hai uske baare mein.

(As far as the issue of nuclear energy goes the meeting that will be held in Houston all of the participating companies are into oil and gas sector and not in nuclear energy, so I think it will not be discussed there. As far as those six power reactors are concerned, discussion are still on that subject and there will not be any immediate announcement in that regard.)

We have seen the letter written by these 40 odd Congressmen. It has always been India’s position that GSP is a unilateral decision given by countries to other countries based on certain criteria. We are a developing country, we meet those criteria. I do not recall our ever stating that we are not interested in GSP. To my recollection the United States unilaterally withdrew that concession from us. So our position on the matter is clear. We believe that GSP is something which is important for our industry but ultimately it is for the United States to take a call on.I am not aware of the particular statement that you are referring to but since President Trump has made this announcement, you might ask him what it is about.

Question: ……. Inaudible……..

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
The meeting is in New York on the 24th of September. The Houston leg is related to the participation at the Indian diaspora community event.Question: I understand there is a lot of appreciation for India’s position in the US that Jammu & Kashmir is a bilateral issue but my question is specifically about President Trump. Even after the G7 meeting where things seems to have fallen in place, nine or ten days later he again repeated his offer to mediate on Kashmir issue. So I was just sort of wondering why it is becoming so difficult for us to convince President Trump that all these public utterances are actually not in India’s interest. They actually end up undermining our interest internationally.

Question: Pakistan mein beete kuch dino mein jis tarah se alpsankhyakon ko lekar ghatnaayein huiin hain, kaii Hindu ladkiyon ko agwaa kiyaa gayaa, torture kiyaa gayaa. To kya UN ke manch par Bharat us masle ko uthaayegaa kyonki UNHRC mein Pakistan bhi Bharat ke maamlon ko uthaataa hai?

(In the last few days the way there have been incidents related to minorities in Pakistan, many Hindu girls were kidnapped and tortured. So would India raise this issue in the United Nations as Pakistan continuously raises India related issues with the UNHRC?)

Question: Aisi reports saamne aai hain ki Pakistan ek bade paimaane par Houston mein aur New York mein Pradhanmantri Modi ke daure ke dauraan protest karne kii planning kar rahaa hai, wo kuch Khalistani groups se bhi touch mein hai. To kya is mudde ko humne America ke saath uthaayaa hai kyonki humne pahle bhi dekhaa hai ki UK mein kis tareeke se Indian High Commission par attack huaa thaa?

(There are reports that Pakistan is planning for big protests in Houston and New York during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they are also in touch with some Khalistani groups. So have we raised this issue with America as we have seen the attack on Indian High Commission in UK earlier also?)Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: I think the Prime Minister has made it very clear in front of the media during the meeting with President Trump in Osaka that what India’s position is on this matter. I do not wish to add anything further, that is a very clear and comprehensive statement. India does not see a role for anybody in mediating on this matter.

Jahaan tak minorities ka mudda hai, jab-jab ye ghatnaayein hoti hain Bharat is mudde ko uthaataa hai. Isko UN manch par uthaayenge yaa nahii, ye main abhi nahii kah saktaa aapse lekin ye maamle ek human rights related issue hai.

(As far as the issue of treatment of minorities in Pakistan is concerned India raises such issues. Whether we will raise this issue in the United Nations I cannot say for sure at this moment but these are human rights related issues.)The speech in the UNGA is much more about the global role and global expectations and so on. I am not sure that it will go into such detail but this is a matter we have raised repeatedly and our voice has been heard even on the recent incidents relating to the forced conversion of a Sikh young lady.

As far as the issue of protests is concerned, we have seen such reports in the media. I have no doubt that those who handle these matters have discussed this with the US side. I am confident that United States, within the laws that prevail in that country, will take care to see that there is no disruption to the event or any threat to the security of the Prime Minister.

Question: You mentioned that both the External Affairs Minister and Minister of State will be in the US along with the Prime Minister and you also said that they will be engaging with NAM, CICA and BRICS members as well as covering a broad spectrum of UN members. What will be on the agenda, will it be Kashmir?Question: Will there be any progress on 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum and what will be the progress on medical devices, we have been listening to reports and also tweets that US Ambassador have been taking some of the meetings?

Question: Can we expect some concrete decision in energy sector with the US like what we have signed with Russia, a five year agreement in energy sector considering prevailing situation in Gulf region?

Question: About the stalled negotiations on UNSC reforms, is there a move in the current assembly to take it forward from what was the situation four years back?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
When I said there is broad spectrum of countries going to be covered by the three i.e. the Prime Minister, the External Affairs Minister and Minister of State, my intention was essentially to say that there are number of countries which our leadership is not able to visit because of paucity of time or any other reason. The United Nations is a place where these leaders come together at the level of Prime Minister or President or Foreign Minister and so on. So the intention is that these three people will cover as many countries as possible to discuss issues of mutual interest and mutual concern. Obviously what is of mutual interest will differ depending on the country with which we are speaking with.

I don’t wish to comment on specific issues relating to trade as you know Government of India’s position is that imposition of tariffs under 232 is unilateral action by United States and should be withdrawn, that is our position. So this is also part of the discussion as are medical devices and a number of other trade issues on both sides, these are already under discussion at the official level. So beyond that I think Commerce Ministry is the appropriate ministry to handle questions in this regard.

I don’t think any concrete discussion in terms of a five year cooperation program will emerge because that was an inter-governmental arrangement between India and Russia. This is essentially a business event at which CEOs top American and other foreign companies will be there to talk to Prime Minister about what prospects for investment and trade are available in the oil and gas sector. So this is a business event. The one that was done in Russia was a G2G agreement.

On UNSC reforms, as I said, part of Prime Minister’s agenda of reformed multilateralism is that the Security Council must be reflective of current realities. But this is a view which requires consensus within the United Nations membership and of course while India will continue to make its case we will have to assess as to whether and to what extent there is traction on this matter in the UN. Our own position however is clear, we believe that by any yardstick, whether it is by population, the size, the economy, our participation in UN Peacekeeping operations, our contributions to Sustainable Development Goals and so on, India is a befitting candidate for permanent membership in a reformed UN Security Council

Question: Pakistan ne Pradhanmantri ke US daure ke liye fir se apna airspace use karne ke permission nahii diyaa. Kyaa Bharat usko antarrashtriya star par uthaane kaa kahiin soch rahaa hai, International Aviation Organization etc.

(Once again Pakistan has denied use of its airspace for Prime Minister’s US visit. Is India considering the option to raise it at the international level like with the International Aviation Organization?)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
Humne to react kiyaa hai kal.

(We have already reacted to that yesterday.)

Question: You just mentioned a short while ago that the Article 370 is an internal matter and we will not discuss it at the UN. So how do you reconcile the statement with the situation where Pakistan is going to almost make that the focus of its efforts at UN to embarrass India, so how do you reconcile it with that?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: So far as airspace is concerned, it is rather unfortunate situation where a country denies overflight to the Head of State, Head of Government of another country. But this is true when the country in question is a normal country. Now we have made our position very clear, we hope that Pakistan will realize the folly of its actions. As far as going to any international organization is concerned we will take a look at that. So far there is no intention to do so but if they are in violation of regulations of international civil aviation organization, that is a possibility we can certainly consider.

As far as what Pakistan is going to say at the UN is concerned, that is really not for me to comment upon. If they wish to dwell on this issue in the speech by their Prime Minister then they are welcome to do so. Our Prime Minister will focus on what the United Nations General Assembly’s high level segment is meant to focus which is, as an important economy, as an important country, as a responsible member of the United Nations Prime Minister will flag what we are doing for development, for security, for peace and our expectations and aspirations of other countries. And I really would like to leave it at that.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. This concludes the special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to the United States.Thank you all for joining.

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