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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (March 22, 2016)

March 22, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening friends and welcome to this press briefing.

Let me begin with the terrible terrorist attack in Brussels. We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. We stand in solidarity with the people and Government of Belgium. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims. Terrorism is a global scourge and the attack in Belgium underscores once again the need to counter it unitedly. Our Mission in Belgium is closely monitoring the situation. They have already issued helpline numbers. As of now, we have no reports of any Indian casualties.

Let me now also brief you on the three visits that the Prime Minister is going to be undertaking fairly soon. His first visit in fact will be to Belgium. Prime Minister will pay his first official visit to Brussels on 30th March, 2016 for the 13th India-EU Summit at the invitation of the President of the European Council Mr. Donald Tusk and the President of the European Commission Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker.

The European Union is India’s leading trade and investment partner and biggest export destination. India and EU are also strategic partners since 2004. The 13th India-EU summit aims to deepen the India-EU strategic partnership and advance collaboration in priority areas for India’s growth and development.

The Prime Minister will also hold a bilateral summit meeting with Belgium at the invitation of the Belgian Prime Minister Mr. Charles Michel. India and Belgium enjoy close and friendly ties. Belgium is India’s second largest trade partner within the EU. The bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers will focus on further enhancing the economic partnership. The two Prime Ministers will also hold discussions on regional and global issues of mutual interest.

From Brussels, Prime Minister will proceed to Washington D.C. to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. I will now give you details on that. The Prime Minister will attend the 4th Nuclear Security Summit on March 31st and April 1st at Washington D.C. The first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington D.C. in April, 2010 followed by the summits in Seoul in March 2012 and the Hague in March 2013. Fifty-two countries and four international organizations are expected to attend the 2016 Summit.

The Nuclear Security Summit process has been instrumental in galvanizing leaders’ level attention on the global threat posed by nuclear terrorism and urgent measures required to prevent terrorists and other non-State actors from gaining access to sensitive nuclear materials and technologies. The 2016 Summit is expected to take stock of the progress of implementation of the previous NSS communiqué’s/ work plan as also outline an agenda for the future.

As per past summits, a number of countries may project the respective steps taken by them to strengthen nuclear security since the last summit, including in the form of submissions of national progress reports. India shall also be submitting its national progress report which will be made public at the summit. India has contributed constructively during the NSS preparatory meetings from 2014 to 2016 at the level of Sherpas. Prime Minister will be making some specific announcements and proposals with regard to nuclear security during his interventions at the NSS. These will also be made public in due course.

The programme of the Summit begins with an opening dinner for the leaders on March 31. The thematic discussions during the dinner would be on ‘Nuclear security threat perceptions’. Thereafter, the thematic discussion during the morning and afternoon sessions of April 1 would be on ‘National actions to enhance national security’ followed by ‘International and institutional actions to strengthen nuclear security’.

As at the Hague Summit, the concluding session shall be a scenario-based policy discussion. The Summit is expected to close on the evening of April 1. The Prime Minister is scheduled to also have some bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the NSS 2016.

India is committed to the success of the NSS process. India’s participation in all the NSSs from 2010 is a demonstration of our high level commitment in this regard.

From Washington, Prime Minister will fly to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is paying an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 2nd and 3rd April 2016 at the invitation of HH King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. This is the highest level visit from India to Saudi Arabia after the visit of the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Riyadh in 2010.

During the visit, Prime Minister will hold discussions with King Salman on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. India and Saudi Arabia share friendly relations based on close people to people contacts. The strategic partnership established through the Riyadh Declaration in 2010 envisions a deeper engagement in political, economic, security and defence areas.

In recent years, there has been significant progress in bilateral cooperation in such key areas of mutual interest. Saudi Arabia has become our fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade exceeding USD 39 billion in 2014-15. Saudi Arabia is also India’s largest crude oil supplier, accounting for about one-fifth of India’s total oil imports. Indians form the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and their contribution in the progress and development of their host country is well recognized. There are over 2.96 million Indian nationals presently working in Saudi Arabia.

My final announcement pertains to a course that the Centre for UN Peacekeeping is organizing for UN women peacekeepers. I am happy to announce that the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (CUNPK), New Delhi under the Army Headquarters in partnership with UN Women, is organizing the 3rdUnited Nations Female Military Officers Course (UNFMOC) from 21st March to the 1st of April at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi. The course is being attended by 40 lady military officers from 26 countries. Lady officers from the Indian Army would also be attending this two-week course.

With the growing understanding we have that women are the biggest victims in a conflict but that they also hold the key to successfully resolving conflicts in a society, the United Nations has been putting great emphasis on inducting more and more lady military officers in all the UN Peacekeeping operations around the world. To respond to this growing requirement for lady military peacekeepers, the CUNPK, Army Headquarters has partnered the UN Women to conduct the 3rdUNFMOC training course for women peacekeepers.

Incidentally, the first pilot course of this series was also held in New Delhi in March, 2015. The second course was held in South Africa. We are very pleased that the third course is once again back in New Delhi and is being conducted at the CUNPK.

This January CUNPK had also partnered UN Women to host the pilot international training course on conflict-related sexual violence which was attended by military officers from 35 countries.

The gender dimension is an important aspect of UN peacekeeping operations around the world. We are proud that India’s CUNPK is in the forefront of training in this important field.

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

Question: Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is in China. He has been given red carpet welcome there and there have been 10 agreements that include transit and trade treaty as well as railway, making of international airport in Pokhara and many things. After Prime Minister Oil came here to New Delhi and there were several such agreements in Delhi also, do you think that it is a challenging situation for India vis-à-vis China?

Official Spokesperson: Akhilesh, you know very well that our age-old ties with Nepal are unique and special; they are characterized by an open border, based on shared history, geography, culture, close people- to-people ties, mutual security and close economic linkages.

Since you have raised connectivity issues, let me take this opportunity to inform you about our connectivity with Nepal.

We have at present 26 Land Custom Stations with Nepal, of which 10 can handle commercial cargo trucks. Two Integrated Check Posts (Raxaul-Birgunj and Jogbani-Biratnagar) are under construction and two more (Sunauli-Bhairawa and Nepalgunj Road-Nepalgunj) will be undertaken in the next phase. Two rail links (Jogbani-Biratnagar and Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas) are under construction and three more (Nepalgunj Road-Nepalgunj, New Jalpaiguri-Kakarbitta and Nautanwa-Bhairawa) will be undertaken in the next phase. Insofar as roads are concerned, 605 kilometres of roads in Phase-I of the Terai Road Project are under construction of which 87 kilometres have already been built. Another 900 kilometres will be undertaken in the next phase. AnMoU on the Raxaul-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline was signed in August, 2015. The 600-megawatt Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar transmission line was inaugurated last month and India, as you know, is already exporting 330 megawatts of electricity to Nepal.

Two thirds of Nepal’s global trade is with India, and over 90% of their third country exports/imports transit through India. Millions of Nepalese live and work in India, and hundreds of thousands criss-cross the open India-Nepal border every single day.

Of course, Nepal as a land-locked country, is free to explore any practical option it wants. But our relations with Nepal have their own natural logic.

Now, we are not in the comparison business. And even if you are, do ask yourself, is there any other country in the world which can have the kind of relationship that Nepal has with India?

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: We have just had the visit of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. You heard himself state on record what his expectations were from that visit and how those expectations were more than fulfilled. I have nothing more to add beyond that.

Question: You said the Prime Minister would be visiting Riyadh and would be discussing regional security issues with King Salman. During those discussions, would he be raising the issues relating to the proposed formation of 34-nation Islamic Military Alliance?

Official Spokesperson: Let me tell you that there will be a detailed briefing on these three visits next week. There will be a detailed briefing by the concerned Joint Secretaries on those three visits. So, I think let us await that particular briefing.

Question: This is again related to PM’s visit to Saudi Arabia. He was in the UAE a while ago and he is now going to Saudi Arabia. He is planning to visit Israel also. Does he have any plans to visit Iran in the near future? And is there any possibility of India playing some kind of role in reducing the tension between the two major super Muslim countries?

Official Spokesperson: I am not going to get into that particular aspect. But yes, when Prime Minister met President Rouhaniin Ufa, an invitation was extended to him which Prime Minister accepted in principle. As and when the dates are finalized for a visit, we will let you know.

Question: Aapne kaha ki Washington mein NSS ke sideline meinkuchbilateralsbhihonge. Pakistan kePradhanMantribhivahanpar hongetohkya Pakistan kesaath koi bilateral possible hai?

Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye, abhi mere paasiskebaaremein koi jaankarinahinhai. Jaise hi koi jaankarihogi, main aapkobataaunga. Question: Has it been officially decided now that the Pakistani SIT will get access to Pathankot airbase?

Official Spokesperson: Let me tell you that we have today received visa applications for five members of the Pakistan Joint Investigating Team. The modalities of the visit will be discussed now that we have the composition of the delegation.

Question: Pradhan Mantri jab Brussels meinhongetohkyavahan koi diaspora event bhihai?

Official Spokesperson: Haan, diaspora event ekhai. Brussels EXPO meinhoga. KafiadhiktaadaadmeinBharatiyahain is samay Brussels mein, unkesaathPradhanMantribaatcheetkarenge.

Question:One clarification. Of this five-member team, three are policemen and two are military officers but their names have not been given to the High Commission.

Official Spokesperson: I do not have the details of those five members. As I said, our High Commission in Islamabad has just received these applications. If the visa applications have been received, then the visa applications are incomplete without names, addresses and photographs. Are you saying we have received blank visa applications? Question: We have been told that two military personnel will be coming but their names have not been given.

Official Spokesperson: A visa application means a visa application. A visa application is incomplete without those details. And it is for the Government of Pakistan to decide who the members of their JIT will be.

Question: Has there been any progress in shipping links with Bangladesh, coastal…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Coastal Shipping Agreement?

As you know, in my last briefing I had talked about the implementation of the decisions that were taken during Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015 and yes, I have an update for you.

The launch of coastal shipping operations under the Coastal Shipping Agreement signed during the visit has now happened. The Bangladeshi vessel MV Harbour-1 was formally permitted to sail from Chittagong to Krishnapatnam by the Director Generals (Shipping) of both countries. It was formally launched by Mr. Shahjahan Khan, Shipping Minister of Bangladesh on March 15, and is expected to commence voyage on March 22 from Chittagong port and reach Krishnapatnam port on 27th March.

The significance of the Coastal Shipping Agreement is that it enables small river/sea vessel operators to commence direct operations between India and Bangladeshi ports. This will greatly reduce cargo transit time between India and Bangladesh as the bigger vessels do not find it commercially viable to ply between India and Bangladesh and therefore our cargo goes via Singapore which obviously adds to both cost and time. So, hopefully now with this Coastal Shipping Agreement being operationalized, the links between India and Bangladesh are set to increase on the shipping side.

Question: Is it true that the Prime Minister will be signing an agreement with Barak Obama on nuclear companies, energy firms so that they are enabled to do business in India especially Westinghouse?

Official Spokesperson: Why would Prime Minister need to sign an agreement with President Obama, I do not understand. The umbrella has already been provided. Now, it is for the commercial companies, Westinghouse with NPCL etc., to close the commercial negotiations.

Question: This is again with regard to Pathankot SIT coming in from Pakistan. The EAM said that they will be here on 27th and start their work from the 28th. How long will the visit be, how is it split between Delhi and Pathankot, will they be here in Delhi, discussmatters with the NIA and then move to Pathankot? Can you give us some clarity?

Official Spokesperson: Actually Maha, I cannot give you clarity because all this will be the subject of the discussion between the two sides. To determine the full modalities, the itinerary, where all they will go, how they will go, what they will see etc., all that will be discussed. We were waiting for the delegation members’ names to be given to us. That has now happened. Now those discussions will commence.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson:As I said, that itself is an open question right now. It will depend on the discussions between the two sides.

Question: Considering that it is quite a crucial time for Indo-Pak relations, what would the level of Indian Government participation at the Pakistan High Commission National Day celebrationstomorrow? Will the EAM be attending it?

Official Spokesperson: No. It will be a senior Indian Minister.

Question:Could you name him?

Official Spokesperson: No.

Question: This is about the Nepal Prime Minister’s visit. As you mentioned, India has a relationship with Nepal that no country can compare. But we see that the transit and transportation agreement that is signed is the first-ever between Nepal and China and this is right after the so-called blockade. Do you think that these two things have a linkage to each other and do you think that this is a signal from Nepal’s side?

Official Spokesperson: I have already answered that question. As I said, as a landlocked country Nepal is free to explore any option that it wants, but no country can replicate the kind of relationship that Nepal has with India which is based on the logic of geography and very close people-to-people ties based on centuries of interaction and a very open border where million of Nepalis live and work in India. So, no other country can replicate that special and privileged relationship that Nepal has with India.

Question: The EAM has said that one lady crew member of Jet Airways was injured in today’s attack. How was she injured? Was she injured in the blast?

Official Spokesperson: She was injured because of the blast at the airport. Because Jet Airways operates from Brussels airport and the blast happened there, so, our Ambassador's impression is that she was injured at the airport.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson:I know I have seen press reports about two but we have confirmation only of one Indian. She belongs to Jet Airways. Question: But I heard that the blast happened at the arrival gate?

Official Spokesperson: The Jet Airways planes arrive and Jet Airways planes depart. So you have ground handling on both sides.

Question: About SAARC summit, can you give some impression about what kind of discussions happened on connectivity related issues and how to increase trade? Any suggestions given from the Indian side?

Official Spokesperson: Basically we pursued connectivity issues. As you know, that has been one of the most important items on our agenda as far as SAARC is concerned. Two agreements which were close to finalization which could not be finalized at the last summit, we discussed those. We discussed the SAARC satellite project. Pakistan has decided to opt out of that satellite project. So, it cannot be a SAARC satellite. It will be called a South Asia Satellite.

I think discussions were very good, were very positive. I think there is a lot of sentiment that South Asia is one of the least connected regions in the world and that needs to be changed. Based on the tone and tenor of the discussions that we saw happen in Pokhara, I think the future outlook is good.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: At least it is out of the SAARC satellite.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson:Nepal is very much there.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: As I said, I do not have a schedule of the bilaterals yet at NSS. We have kept some slots. I have the programme with me. It says some slots are there. Three or four slots are there. But what those slots will be filled with, I do not know as of now.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: I think she has been injured in the eye. She is getting treatment. It is not a very severe injury.

I think we have exhausted all the questions. Thank you all. (Concluded)
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