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Transcript of the Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Tehran on Prime Minister’s meetings in Iran

August 30, 2012

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Thank you all for being very patient and waiting. Both our Ambassador and Foreign Secretary will make a brief opening statement each. After that, if you have any questions they will answer those. I will first ask Ambassador to make his opening remarks followed by which Foreign Secretary will make his opening remarks, so that you will get the entire picture of our activities.

Indian Ambassador to Iran (Shri D.P. Srivastava): Good evening.

India-Iran relations go back to more than two thousand years. You may be interested to know that while it is well known that Urdu has Persian parentage, not many are aware that there is a strong belief, that the roots of Farsi can be traced to Sanskrit.

Coming to the visit, this was the sixth Prime Minister’s visit. The earlier visits were bilateral. This visit took place on the margins of NAM Summit. Before the Summit segment there was an official meeting and there was a Ministerial segment. Foreign Secretary had a trilateral meeting with Iran and Afghanistan on Chabahar. Our External Affairs Minister met Dr. Salehi. During these two meetings the entire spectrum of bilateral relations including commercial, economic, political, consular, were discussed. Prime Minister had made a call on the President. This was followed by meeting with the Supreme Leader.

During these two meetings, both sides recalled our historical relations, cultural links, and the Prime Minister expressed our support to Iran’s Chairmanship of NAM. I will stop here and I will request Foreign Secretary to speak.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Ranjan Mathai): I would just like to add one word and then I will come to Pakistan because I know that is of interest.

PM’s meeting with the President of Iran was in fact a full-fledged official meeting with delegations, a full bilateral meeting. It was not in the nature of a courtesy call. PM made a call on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Uzma, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. I would like to mention that in that call – it is, I think important to reflect on this – the Supreme Leader of Iran spoke about the deep-rooted civilisational ties between India and Iran which go well beyond the state of our bilateral relations. I know that Akbar has given you some briefing yesterday. But I thought there were two-three remarks which were very very significant in that. He recalled his own readings of Indian history, his appreciation for Gandhiji’s struggle, and his belief that Nehru was in fact the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the wellsprings of that foundation really came from the beliefs and the struggles which were led by both Gandhiji and Nehru in India’s own Independence Struggle. So, that was the kind of background.

He also made a very interesting comment about contemporary India. He said, "We want sincere and deep-rooted relations”. Then speaking about his own experience he mentioned that he had been on a street called Ali Kabir Street here; he had seen members of the Sikh community who live in this country and who run businesses here. He had gone into one of those shops - this was many years ago - and he had been presented some books. So, he had some idea about the Sikh religion and the diversity of religions in India. He had in 1981 visited India and seen some of this for himself. He said that he believed that religious diversity was important and should not harm India’s national unity; sectarian feuds should be avoided; and there is a need for harmony among all groups.

He then made a very interesting statement. He said, "It is important and valuable to us in Iran for India to have stability and power”. I think this is the kind of background which reflects the deep-rooted civilisational ties between our two countries, and the deep understanding which the Iranian leadership has of the nature of Indian society, our polity and what we stand for.

I will now turn to PM’s meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari. PM and the President met. This was a meeting which took place at the Conference venue at 6 p.m. Iranian time today, so not so long ago. The two leaders recalled their last meeting in Delhi in April and both agreed that such meetings were useful not only for reviewing the state of bilateral relations but for giving an impetus to the ongoing dialogue process.

PM reiterated our desire to have a peaceful and cooperative relationship with Pakistan, and given the complexities of our bilateral relations, we have to be patient and move forward in a step-by-step graduated manner. Both leaders agreed that a step-by-step approach had the best chance of actually succeeding. They were both happy with the developments which have taken place in some areas of our bilateral relationship such as trade.

We have underlined our terrorism related concerns, and he pressed for an expeditious and successful conclusion of the trial relating to those involved with the Mumbai attacks, which is under way in Pakistan. And he mentioned that action in this sphere would be a major confidence-building measure, help in bridging the trust deficit, and help to build up public support for the kind of relationship we would like to see between the two nations.

The Pakistani President reiterated his country’s commitment to bring to justice those involved in the Mumbai attacks, and he agreed that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security, and referred in this regard to some of the difficulties faced in his own country.

Both leaders reviewed the state of bilateral relations, as I said, and they expressed satisfaction that the round of talks which had taken place at Secretary level had concluded; and that EAM’s forthcoming visit to Pakistan next month - in fact it is going to be in about eight days’ time - would provide an opportunity to take stock of the progress in the resumed dialogue and chart the course for the next round. They expressed confidence that some achievements have been made and they would be able, during the External Affairs Minister’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, to prepare a kind of roadmap for the way forward.

Speaking specifically about the progress in economic and trade relations, they both felt that there is vast potential for cooperation. The Commerce Secretaries of the two countries are scheduled to meet and take forward the process of completing the three agreements which had been decided on earlier. These, as you are aware, relate to customs cooperation, dispute resolutions and standards. There was an appreciation by both the leaders of the good work done by the Ministers and their Secretaries in this field.

President Zardari mentioned also that there is great scope for regional economic cooperation; and he believes Pakistan can be a catalyst in this regard. And Prime Minister welcomed this approach.

President Zardari reiterated his invitation to PM to visit Pakistan, and PM responded thanking him for the gracious invitation and said he attaches great importance to normalizing relations with Pakistan, and he would like to visit Pakistan at a suitable time, that is to say he would like a well-prepared visit.

PM concluded that a stable and prosperous Pakistan acting as a bulwark against terrorism in its own interest would be in the interest of the region. India wishes Pakistan well, and we are willing to meet Pakistan more than half way in making efforts to normalize our bilateral relations for peace, prosperity and progress in our region.

Prime Minister also had a meeting with Afghan President Karzai. Both leaders reviewed the state of bilateral relations and the importance that the two countries attached to further strengthening our robust bilateral ties. PM conveyed that he looks forward to President Karzai’s visit to India. We are discussing dates in November. The two leaders underlined the importance of developing a close economic relationship between our two countries, and they agreed on the importance of Indian investments in Afghanistan.

PM also congratulated President Karzai on the processes under way in his country, and wished him success in his efforts to complete the ongoing transition process. The two leaders agreed on the importance of opposing extremism in any form. PM assured President Karzai that India was a friend of Afghanistan, and India would stand by the people and Government of Afghanistan in this critical time of transition.

Finally, PM also had a meeting with the Prime Minister of Syria, who called on PM and he explained in detail the ongoing situation in that country, the efforts made by the leadership of that country to undertake a reform process and the difficulties it faced because of the continuing violence, which the Syrian leader said, is instigated from outside. PM reiterated what he has mentioned already in his NAM address, which is that India believes in a Syrian-led, inclusive political dialogue is the only way forward. And he also expressed support for the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been appointed as the Joint Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General and the Arab League, to undertake a process of good offices and mediation.

Official Spokesperson: We open the floor now to any questions that any of you may have on either what Ambassador Dinkar Srivastava said or the Foreign Secretary.

Question: Sir, was the issue of prisoners raised by the Prime Minister, in particular of Sarabjit?

Foreign Secretary: Not that I recall. I was present through the meeting. But during the discussions between the Prime Minister and President Zardari, Sarabjit Singh I do not think came up. But there was a discussion on the need for closer consultations. And the Interior Minister of Pakistan mentioned the need for a regular institutionalized dialogue on matters relating to his Ministry. He also suggested in that context, the need for regular exchanges on Border Management. There have been some incidents on the border. He referred to that. In that context, he mentioned the need for a more institutionalized dialogue. And Prime Minister agreed with this and said that this would be our intention also, to have a regular dialog between the Interior Ministry of Pakistan and the Home Ministry.

Question: I have two questions, first one on the question of 26/11. When the Prime Minister mentioned that it would be a great CBM if things would move forward, there is this argument which we hear from Pakistan that their Judicial Commission was not given proper access and that actually was not accepted by the court subsequently. These technical issues, how do you cope up on that because that argument keeps coming back from Pakistani side? Second, when Mr. Zardari says Pakistan can be a catalyst for regional economic cooperation, did he elaborate on it? …(Inaudible)…

Foreign Secretary: On the Judicial Commission, the Pakistani Interior Minister mentioned that Pakistan had made a request for the Commission to have permission to interview these three personalities. We have responded that this is a matter which is before our courts but we would be in a position to respond to them. As far as we the Government are concerned, we have taken a positive view of this request and we would be able to respond after completing the consultations within our country.

On the question of Pakistan as a catalyst for regional economic cooperation, the President did mention that there is a great scope for expanding trade and commercial relations between South Asia and Central Asia and it is in that context that he mentioned it.

Question: Sir, aap ne kaha ki Pakistan Interior Minister ne kaha ki Bharat ke counterpart se dialogue hona chahiye. Toh kya hum samjhen ki Home Ministry aur vahan ke Interior Ministry ke beech mein ek regular koi aisa mechanism hone vala hai?

Foreign Secretary: Ji, this is the intention, to have a dialogue at different levels. I am not saying it has to be at Ministerial level. For example, when I was answering the previous question I referred to the subject of border management. In that regard it was felt that it would be best to have the dialogue directly between the BSF and the Pakistani Rangers. In the same way, there is already a Home Secretary level dialogue with the Interior Secretary of Pakistan. What was felt was that you need these kinds of dialogues on a regular basis between the Ministries and agencies which are dealing with the kinds of issues which are the remit of the Home Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

Question: Sir, is there any estimated time when our Prime Minister’s visit is possible to Pakistan?

Foreign Secretary: As I said, the Prime Minister has said he would like to visit Pakistan but he would like to visit at a suitable time with a well-prepared visit.

Question: I have two questions. The Prime Minister was on the dais today. I do not know whether in Sharm el-Sheikh or in Cuba it is a normal practice as a founder member of NAM. Secondly, did Syria walk out? Al Jazeera and Reuters have done stories on that. Do you consider it …(Inaudible)… We do not have the information whether they have walked out or not walked out. Can you tell us for certain?

Foreign Secretary: I will answer the second question first. It is certainly not our business, but the Syrian delegation was sitting immediately behind us in the hall, and when we turned around we did not see them there during one of the speeches. So, clearly there was a walkout at one stage. But I do not want to make it an India issue at all. But I happened to be seated just in front of them. So, I noticed it.

As regards the seating arrangement and the fact that PM was on the dais, I was not present either at Sharm el-Sheikh or Havana. You would probably have been there. So, you have the advantage over me. What I know is that when the Iranian leadership was speaking to us prior to the actual meeting, we had actually no indication that this seating arrangement was going to be made. But they emphasized one thing that among the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, India was the only country present in Iran at the Head of Government level. This was mentioned as a fact in appreciation of our presence. Sorry I need to clarify that. When I say that, it is apart from Egypt which is already in the Chair. So, these were the two countries along with Indonesia and Ghana and former Yugoslavia who were the founding members of NAM. But this is a decision that the Iranian Conference managers took.

Question: Sir, Sharm el-Sheikh mein aur Havana mein, donon baar Pakistan aur Bharat ke netaon ke beech baat-cheet ke baad ek joint statement issue kiya gaya tha. Kya vajah hai ki is baar joint statement nahin hua hai? Kya baat-cheet aisi nahin rahi jis ke baare mein donon desh ek saath rahen hon, ya is baat-cheet ko aap bahut sakaratmak nahin maante hon, positive nahin maante hon?

Foreign Secretary: Nahin, aisi koi baat nahin hai. I think there are occasions in which when you have meetings and with adequate time, you do have joint statements. We have a large number of meetings which take place on the margins of international events in which you do not issue joint statements. So, I do not think there is anything to be read into the fact that there was no joint statement. I was in fact asked to come here to tell you what took place.

Question: Sir, United States ki taraf se aath atankvadiyon ko global terrorists karar diya gaya hai, jis mein se Bharat ke pramukh hain Sajid Mir tatha Saeed jo ki Hafiz Saeed ke bete hain, aur Ahmed Yakub. Kya India ki diplomatic jeet hai yeh global front par?

Foreign Secretary: I was told about this decision of the United States only a short while ago. We obviously welcome any steps taken to improve international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and the steps taken by the United States have certainly been in that direction.

Question: Sir, when you spoke about the need to expedite this trial in Pakistan, what was President Zardari’s response that? And is it any way linked when you mentioned that the Prime Minister would look forward to a well-prepared visit, some movement forward …(Inaudible)… on the trial?

Foreign Secretary: I would like to say that in regard to the trial the Pakistani President and the Interior Minister mentioned that they have had the processes taken up in the courts, and the courts had taken a different view and the trial had resumed. It was in this context that they mentioned the request for a repeat visit of the Judicial Commission, this time with the permission to carry out the interviews which they had wished to do last time with the right to actually examine the witnesses to have those discussions. So, that is the background in which he referred to the difficulties they are facing. Certainly we would like to see progress in this trial. But whether you are linking it directly to the Prime Minister’s visit, all I can say is that we repeat that we would like a well-prepared visit with a substantive outcome.

Question: Sir, this is a follow-up question. You said that they wanted to cross-examine key accused. Who are these three accused? Secondly, how does the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld Kasab’s execution impact this Judicial Commission’s visit?

Foreign Secretary: I think you are going into very great detail right now. I would only like to say that there are three – the Magistrate, the Doctor and one more, there is a third individual, they had listed – and they wished to interview, because they are the ones who had conducted the examination in India. That is the background. The issue of Kasab did not come up in this particular meeting.

Question: Sir, given the fact that the two countries are now paving the way for some sort of a way for some banking arrangements, were any fresh cross-LoC CBMs on the table, Kashmir discussed? On the visa agreement, it is kind of …(Inaudible)… watch we do not know of because there seems to be no difference. So, did that issue come up in the talks?

Foreign Secretary: I think the two leaders both felt that the meeting between External Affairs Minister and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan which would take place very soon and would be preceded by the meeting of the Joint Commission, which was probably why they did not discuss. But the meeting at the Ministerial level would provide an occasion to go into substantive issues on all the kinds of matters which you have just mentioned. So, this was not gone into in great detail. The banking arrangements, etc., was not gone into in great detail.

On the second question, as I said, we have already had one round of discussions, and in the next round of discussions we will have occasion to discuss this. As you are aware, this took place in two phases in the earlier segment. There was one discussion when I met the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. And separately there was a meeting at the Joint Secretary level on cross border CBMs including trade and cross border travel. So, in the next round there would be occasion to take this forward.

Question: Sir, sorry if I have not understood it correctly, what is India’s take on Pakistan’s demand to send a Judicial Commission once again?

Foreign Secretary: The Judicial Commission has already come. Earlier, there was some question as to whether our processes would allow that Judicial Commission to actually question the three individuals - as I said, one is the Doctor, one is the Magistrate, the third, possibly another Doctor, I would be able to confirm to you in a few minutes. So, the Home Ministry had last time simply said that the visit should take place. This time round, we will have to get a judicial clarification before it actually takes place whether this kind of a cross-examination is valid and is possible. In principle we have said that we would be open to a repeat visit. Now, once we get the clarification on whether they can undertake the kind of cross-examination they wish, then we will allow some questions.

Question: …(Inaudible)… clarification from and what is the timeline that you expect?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think there is a timeline on it but we are in discussions with the Home Ministry and they are in touch with the concerned judicial authorities.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. With that we end this interaction.

(Concluded)

Tehran
August 30, 2012



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