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Transcript of Media Briefing on Prime Minister's visit to Belgium, US and Saudi Arabia (March 28, 2016)

March 29, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good afternoon friends. As you are aware, on the 30th of March, Prime Minister will be departing for a visit to three countries. He will be going to Belgium. From there he will proceed to Washington D.C. to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. And on the return leg, he will visit Saudi Arabia.

To brief you on these three very important visits, I have with me three of my colleagues, Ms. Nandini Singla, Joint Secretary (Europe West); Shri Amandeep Singh Gill, Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs); and Shri Mridul Kumar, Joint Secretary (Gulf). We will start this briefing in chronological order, in the order in which Prime Minister will be conducting the visit. So, first I will request Nandini to brief you on the details of Prime Minister’s programme in Brussels. After that, I will have Aman brief you on Prime Minister’s programme in Washington D.C. and then Mridul will brief you on the Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh.

Joint Secretary (Europe West) (Ms. K. Nandini Singla):Good afternoon. Prime Minister’s visit to Brussels in Belgium on 30th March will be his first official visit to Belgium. The visit will be significant in that there will be two separate visits and two separate summit meetings in the space of one day. One is the Prime Minister’s first bilateral summit meeting with Belgium and the second would be the 13th India-EU Summit meeting and both of them will take place the same day that is 30th of March. It will therefore be an intense day of meetings and engagements for the Prime Minister. The summit meeting with Belgium will be in the forenoon of the 30th. Prime Minister will reach in the morning on 30th, and in the forenoon he starts his official engagement with Belgium.

As you know, Belgium although a small country headquarters the European Union. It is an influential and rich EU member state. It has a strong high-tech export oriented economy where 75 per cent of the economy is contributed by the services sector. Belgium has several competencies of our interest, such as port logistics, infrastructure, renewables, pharmaceuticals, chemicals etc. I am sure you all know that almost 84 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp in Belgium. Antwerp is today the world’s largest diamond trading centre with a turnover of over USD 54 billion. I am mentioning this because Indian traders own a large part of this diamond trade in Antwerp and one of the meetings the Prime Minister will be having there is a meeting with the diamond trading community of Antwerp.

We have very friendly relations with Belgium along with a very robust economic partnership. In fact, Belgium was one of the first Western countries with whom we established diplomatic relations right after we became independent in 1947. Next year, that is 2017, will mark the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

Belgium has supported us on many of our political and strategic objectives. They have supported our quest for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. In 2008, they supported us in the NSG waiver. Very importantly, Belgium is India’s second largest trading partner in the EU after Germany. Equally importantly, and probably it may come as a surprise to you, India is Belgium’s second largest export destination after the United States outside of the EU. Most of this is trade in diamonds. In fact, more than 80 per cent of our trade is diamond trade.

In terms of PM’s programme in Belgium, I would like to highlight that the programme covers all important strands of our strong engagement with Belgium - political and strategic, Parliament, trade and investment, science and technology, culture and the Indian community.

We all know that India and the EU are the world’s largest democratic entities. We also have vibrant engagement with Parliaments of EU and Belgium. So, the Hon. Prime Minister will begin his engagement that day by interacting with some European and Belgian Members of Parliament.

On the cultural side, he will meet Indologists, people living in Belgium and close by who have a keen and abiding interest in India. He will then proceed to the historic Egmont Palace where he will be received by the Belgian Prime Minister His Excellency Mr. Charles Michel and accorded a ceremonial welcome.

The two Prime Ministers will have a restricted meeting where they will discuss bilateral issues and cooperation on global issues. This will be followed by a luncheon meeting hosted by the Belgian Prime Minister where our Prime Minister will interact with leading Belgian businessmen and CEOs as well as the Heads of the three federal regions of Belgium. You know that Belgium has one of the most decentralized Governments in the world with a lot of powers actually given to the regions in Belgium. The Heads of these three regions called the Minister Presidents will also be present at the lunch. This will give an opportunity to PM to encourage Belgian foreign direct investment into India and encourage Belgian participation in our flagship initiatives like Make In India, Clean India, Digital India.

After the lunch, there would be an interesting technical activation ceremony and the two leaders will be technically activating the largest optical telescope of its kind in Asia located at Devasthal near Nainital. This is a big thing because it is a product of Indo-Belgian collaboration. India has collaborated with a Belgian company called AMOS to produce this infrared steerable optical telescope which is the first of its kind in the whole of Asia. It is an example of what our two countries can achieve in the area of high technology when we work together. After the technical activation, the leaders will make press statements. I have already mentioned the meeting with the association of diamond traders in Antwerp.

Now what are the objectives we are looking at in the summit level meeting with Belgium? We are looking to enhancing India-Belgium cooperation in areas of priority for us and areas of mutual interest such as counterterrorism. The recent attacks in Brussels will of course be a very important part of the discussions. They will be the starting point of the engagement. We will discuss advancing cooperation in renewable energy, biotechnology, shipping, ICT and taxation. We will also discuss how to step up cooperation in global and multilateral issues and also how to step up high level visits between both sides.

As I mentioned before, Belgium has a very sizeable Indian diaspora of about 20,000 people. So, the visit is also an opportunity for the Prime Minister to meet with them and interact with them. So, we are also looking at a community event in Brussels. That was about the India-Belgium summit, and if you permit me Sir, I will move on to the India-EU summit.

In the evening of the 30th of March, the Prime Minister will attend the 13th India-EU summit. As you know, this will be the first summit between the leaderships on both sides. In fact, both leaderships took charge around the same time in May, 2014. The India-EU bilateral summits started in the year 2000. In 2004, we established the strategic partnership. India is one of the 10 strategic partners that EU has today. The last summit was held in New Delhi in 2012.

As you know, despite all the challenges that you read about in newspapers, the EU continues to be global economic powerhouse as the biggest economy in the world with the GDP of USD 18 trillion. It continues to be the world’s largest exporter and importer of goods and services, contributing to 16 per cent of world trade. For India, it is our largest export destination and trading partner. Our two-way trade including services amounts to USD 126 billion. It is also the largest source of foreign direct investment in India. USD 69 billion, which contributes to 26 per cent of the total FDI, comes from the EU. EU is also one of the biggest repositories of advanced science and technology in which we are interested.

As you know, the EU is also an influential player globally. Two of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council are EU countries. Four of the G7 countries are EU counties. The EU participates in the G7 and G20 meetings. It also negotiates in the WTO. It leads on several issues like human rights, climate change etc. It is also a world leader in establishing global norms and industry standards. Whether they are pollution norms, environment norms, food safety, health standards, the EU norms by and by we see become global norms.

So to summarize, there is a lot that we have at play in our engagement with the EU and we have over 30 institutionalized dialogues today with the EU in practically every sphere of human activity. We have a truly multifaceted strategic partnership. Now what do we hope to achieve through this summit meeting? First of all we aim to reinvigorate our engagement with the EU. We seek to advance the India-EU strategic partnership by deepening and expanding our cooperation in a way that the relationship has an across-the-board strategic content to it and in a way that responds to present day realities and our priorities.

We will seek to urge the EU to become a bigger partner in our priority flagship development initiatives. We look at this summit as a summit that lays the groundwork for stepped up cooperation between our two sides because the leaderships have coterminous mandate. Trade and investment will be an important part of our discussions too.

In terms of the programme, PM will interact with the President of the European Council Mr. Donald Tusk and the President of the European Commission Mr. Jean Claude Juncker. PM had met both these leaders recently at the G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey in November last year. So, the conversation will build upon that interaction. This will be followed by the signing and exchange of agreements and a working delegation-level dinner where both sides will take stock of our bilateral cooperation in a range of areas. This will include political and security cooperation, trade and investment including the India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, popularly called BTIA, sectoral cooperation in specific areas like renewable energy, water, urban development, education, skilling, ICT, research, innovation, culture. We have a truly multifaceted engagement. So, this dinner will have an agenda that covers all these elements. The leaders will of course also discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest.

In terms of outcomes, we will of course issue joint statement but we will also have a document that lays down a roadmap for the next five years, what all both sides undertake to do in different areas and sectors like political, security, trade, investment, energy, environment. You will see it when it is released. The leaders will also announce new initiatives and joint declarations in different areas of common interest. You will also get to know about it soon. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you Nandini for that very comprehensive briefing on the India-Belgium and India-EU partnerships. I will now turn to Aman to brief you on Prime Minister’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit.

Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs) (Shri Amandeep Singh Gill):Thank you Vikas. Good afternoon everyone.

Prime Minister would be attending the 4th Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. on March 31st and 1st April. You are all aware that we have consistently upheld nuclear safety and security in the context of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Likewise, our strong and principled positions on international terrorism are well known. It is therefore natural for India to join other nations in combating the threat of nuclear terrorism. Prime Minister’s participation at the summit underlines the priority we attach to strengthening nuclear security.

To give you an overview of the programme of the summit, the summit will begin with the leaders-only dinner at the White House on March 31st. The leaders of the 53 countries and the four international organizations that participate at the summit would gather at this working dinner to share their assessments of the threat of nuclear terrorism. Prime Minister will share India’s assessment of the threat.

The next day, on April 1st, there would be three plenary sessions. At the first plenary session, there would be a focus on national actions to enhance nuclear security. As you might be aware, the discussions at these summits are interactive. So, there are no written, read out statements. India’s written National Progress Report would be circulated at the summit and the Prime Minister would intervene in this discussion on national actions to underline some of the important measures we have taken to strengthen nuclear security.

This first plenary would be followed by a working lunch where the focus of discussions would be on international institutional actions to strengthen nuclear security. The focus would be on international follow-up through institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations, the Interpol, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the G8 Global Partnership.

This aspect of institutional follow-up has been an important focus of the Sherpas’ meetings over the past year and a half and the Sherpas have prepared for the summit five draft action plans that focus on follow-up on nuclear security through these institutions. These action plans contain guidance for work in the post-2016 scenario on nuclear security within all these institutions in accordance with their respective mandates and their respective procedures.

Now, in this regard, you are well aware that India places importance on the IAEA’s central role in international cooperation and technical and policy guidance in the area of nuclear security. You might also be aware that India has made strong contributions to the IAEA both in terms of human resources and financial resources over the years, and we have also made a strong contribution to the UN on nuclear security and on counterterrorism. India’s resolution on measures against WMD terrorism has been adopted by the UN General Assembly by consensus since 2002. The summit would therefore provide us an opportunity to highlight our recent, ongoing and proposed contributions at all these institutions.

The third and final plenary discussion at the summit would be a policy discussion on nuclear terrorism based on a hypothetical scenario. You would appreciate that at this point, we cannot share more details of this scenario. Let me just say here that this scenario would allow the leaders to have a realistic and a thoughtful conversation on and around the challenges posed by international terrorism in particular the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. The summit would then conclude with the adoption of a brief communiqué and the five action plans that I have highlighted earlier.

Let me close these opening remarks by underlining India’s main expectations from the summit. India expects that the summit would contribute further to raising high level awareness of the threat of nuclear terrorism and the need to strengthen international cooperation against terrorists and nuclear traffickers. We also expect that the summit would help bolster legal, institutional and enforcement measures to strengthen the security of nuclear material, radioactive sources, associated facilities and technologies.

We also expect the summit to uphold confidence in the safe, secure and safeguarded extension on nuclear power which would be a critical requirement of reaching national and international goals on non-fossil fuel energy. To underline this point I want to mention that in these two words, nuclear terrorism, the problem is not with the word nuclear material, facilities or technology, the problem is with the associated aspect of terrorism which we need to focus on.

Thirdly, we expect that those who have not done so would sign up to and implement the legally binding instruments related to nuclear security. The International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment, and obligatory reporting under the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 which was adopted in 2004 and which has prohibitions and obligations related to non-state actors and export controls.

Finally, we expect that the competent institutions in particular the IAEA which will soon be holding its second ministerial conference on nuclear security in December 2016, would be provisioned with adequate resources, both human and financial, to uphold international cooperation and to support as required national efforts to strengthen our nuclear security. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you Aman. From Washington D.C., we now move to Riyadh and to Joint Secretary (Gulf) Shri Mridul Kumar to brief you on Prime Minister’s very very important visit to Saudi Arabia.

Joint Secretary (Gulf) (Shri Mridul Kumar): Thank you Vikas. Good afternoon. Prime Minister is visiting Saudi Arabia on 2nd and 3rd of April at the invitation of His Majesty King Salman. This is the first bilateral engagement of Prime Minister with King Salman but they have met separately on two occasions, on the sidelines of G20 meetings in 2014 and 2015.

There has been a regular exchange of visits between our two countries. The last visit of our Prime Minister was in 2010 when Dr. Manmohan Singh went to Saudi Arabia and Riyadh Declaration was issued which elevated our partnership to a strategic level. From the Saudi Arabia’s side also, in 2006 King Adullah came here and that was a landmark visit because it took place after a long gap of five decades. In that visit, we issued the famous Delhi Declaration which provided the bedrock of our relationship in this century.

Subsequently, the present King Salman when he was the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia visited India in February, 2014. He was also the Defence Minister. During that visit we signed a very important agreement on defence cooperation which provided a key impetus to our strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia.

If you look at the importance of Saudi Arabia, it is very well known. Saudi Arabia is the largest GCC country. It is also providing one fourth of the total Arab countries’ GDP and half of the GDP of GCC countries, huge resources of oil and natural gas. It has massive reserves of foreign exchange running into almost USD 700 billion.

If you look at India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, there are four key aspects of this relationship. One is energy, then community, we are talking about Haj and security cooperation. Saudi Arabia is definitely a key partner for us in regional and global matters. We have very good functional working mechanism with Saudi Arabia. The Joint Commission meetings have been taking place on a regular basis. The latest one took place last year. We have working arrangements on labour issues. We have ministerial dialogue on energy cooperation.

Saudi Arabia is our fourth largest trading partner. You will be surprised to know that our exports are exceeding USD 11 billion to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also one of the biggest suppliers of energy to us. Almost 20 per cent of our crude supplies come from Saudi Arabia. Last year we imported about USD 21 billion of crude.

If you look at our community which is again a very key aspect of our ties, this is the largest expatriate community abroad. About 2.96 million Indians live there and they send over USD 10 billion in remittances every year. Another key aspect of our ties with Saudi Arabia is the annual Haj and Umra pilgrimage. Over 1,34,000 Indians go for Haj pilgrimage every year and almost 3,00,000 pilgrims go for Umra.

A new aspect of our relationship has emerged in the last, I should say, six-seven years which is a very intense and close security cooperation between our security agencies. I have read from newspapers a lot of key operatives handed over by Saudi Arabia including Abu Jundal and recently Abdul Aziz alias Gidda reported by the press.

I mentioned to you about the 2014 agreement with Saudi Arabia in the field of defence. That agreement also we are taking very seriously and this is another area of emergence and importance to us. Obviously, this very important visit will allow discussions on all issues of bilateral importance, regional and multilateral importance.

If you look at Prime Minister’s programme, he will be reaching Riyadh on 2nd in the afternoon, and his prime host will be King Salman. His first engagement will be visit to Masmak fortress. This was a fortress which is a testimony to the history of modern day Saudi Arabia. In 1902, King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia took over that fortress in a sudden attack, and from there the entire history of the third State of Saudi Arabia started.

Soon after, PM will go to meet with our Indian community members. This is a very important aspect of our ties with Saudi Arabia. In the evening, he will be visiting the L&T workers residential complex. You might be aware that L&T is currently engaged in construction of Riyadh Metro Project. It is a massive project. One of the lines has been constructed by them. The total project cost is over USD 600 billion out of which USD 2 billion are being done by L&T. So Prime Minister will be visiting the residential complex of our workers.

Next day on 3rd April, he will be going to the Tata Consultancy Services’ All Women IT Centre. It is a very happy thing that he will be doing because this centre provides employment opportunities to Saudi women and this is empowerment of Saudi women. When the Centre started two or three years back, there were 80 people in that Centre. It has now grown to over 1,000. Eighty per cent of the workers there are the local Saudi girls. You will also be happy to know that over 60 per cent of graduates from Saudi Arabia are females. So, this provides a very good opportunity for the local Saudi females to find a job opportunity. By the way, this is the first BPO operation by any company in the world in Saudi Arabia, more so for women. So, it is a very important statement that we will be making there. Soon after, Prime Minister will be meeting with the select top Saudi business leaders.

The official ceremony at the Royal Court will start in the afternoon when King Salman will be receiving the Prime Minister in an official ceremony. There will be lunch hosted by King Salman in which the key Saudi Ministers and other leaders will be present, followed by a delegation-level meeting and signing of agreements. There will be occasions to meet with some other Saudi leadership also. And in the evening, late in the afternoon, Prime Minister will be leaving Saudi Arabia for India.

In terms of our expectations, it is very evident that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is extremely important. If you look at any aspect of our ties, they provide 20 per cent of our energy supplies. So, we have to make sure that this supply continues. And this is one of the key agenda points that Prime Minister will be discussing with King Salman.

That other important aspect of our ties is the Indian expatriate community; and to ensure their well being, to ensure their welfare will be on the agenda. The Ministry of External Affairs has recently announced the opening of two Indian workers resource centres in Jeddah and Riyadh on the lines of what has been done in Dubai a few years ago when the President went there. This is another welfare mechanism that we have created to look after the huge community spread over an area which is two-thirds the size of India.

The Prime Minister will also be discussing ways and means to promote bilateral investment ties. In the last visit of the then Crown Prince Salman to India in 2014, there was an understanding that we will continue to work to enhance our investment ties in the private sector. So, there will be discussions on that.

You are aware that Haj is a very important issue for Indian Muslims. We will request for continued Saudi cooperation for smooth Haj operation in 2016 also.

There are a lot of Indian companies present in Saudi Arabia. I mentioned to you that the Prime Minister will be visiting two companies - L&T and TCS. There will be occasions to request for greater involvement of our companies in Saudi infrastructure projects. Saudis are undertaking almost USD one trillion of infrastructure projects for the next five years and we will request Saudis to look at the competence of Indian companies in this regard. Of course, there will be some agreements signed during the visit.

I will sum up by telling you that the Gulf is a very critical area for us if you look at various aspects for ties there. Last time when I briefed the press I was talking about seven million Indians living in the Gulf. Today the figures have reached eight million. It is ever increasing numbers. If you are looking at energy supplies, almost half of our crude supplies and almost 80 per cent of our gas supplies come from Gulf. Gulf provides almost USD 35-40 billion remittances to India. The new areas of cooperation which have emerged very recently and on which there is a clear understanding between India and our Gulf interlocutors are: security, counterterrorism and defence areas.

So if you look at the entirety for ties with Gulf, this is a message that Prime Minister is making to the Gulf leadership that the new Government is very keen to continually engage the leadership in a political dialogue. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you Mridul. I thank all my colleagues for this very comprehensive briefing on Prime Minister’s visits to these three important places. I am sure that you have no questions, but if you still have some questions, please ask.

Question: What is the status of FTA between India and EU? Do you think it will be finalized during this summit?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): The agreement that we are negotiating with the EU is called the BTIA (Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement). It is not an FTA. As you know, we have been negotiating this with the EU for some time now. There was a meeting between our Commerce Minister and her EU counterpart, the EU Trade Commissioner, on the sidelines of the OECD Trade Ministers’ meeting in June last year, and both sides agreed to talk at various levels to see how the few outstanding issues could be resolved and we could advance to finalize the agreement.

Consequent to that, some of you might have followed, in January there was a meeting between the chief negotiators in Delhi where we reaffirmed our interest in finalizing the BTIA as Government of India. And following that, in February that is last month, our Commerce Secretary visited Brussels with the Chief Negotiator. They had discussions with their counterparts in detail. And we are engaging with the EU on how to move forward on the BTIA.

Question: Vikas, is there any formal proposal yet either from New Delhi or Islamabad for that meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi or are we looking at a pull-aside?

And Aman, in terms of the nuclear terrorism especially the kind of situation that we are seeing inside Pakistan and the Af-Pak situation, what are India’s concerns really about nuclear security in the neighbourhood, in Pakistan?

Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs): Focus in the Nuclear Security Summit has not been on specific geographies as such. But as India we are concerned about the security of not just nuclear material and radioactive sources around India and globally but also the security of nuclear facilities, the existence of insider threats, the existence of networks whereby technologies, information can be trafficked. So those concerns are well known, and the summit process provides us with an opportunity to work with other nations in a cooperative spirit to raise nuclear security standards around the world because a weak link in the chain can be found in any geography in any location.

Official Spokesperson: It is customary for world leaders to have bilateral meetings on the sidelines of major international events. I am sure Prime Minister would be having some bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. Many of these meetings are still work in progress, they will depend on the schedules of the two leaders. So I am not in a position to tell you any of the bilaterals which have been scheduled till now.

Question: This is for Amandeep. Can you tell us something about the status of our plans to join the NSG and the other three nuclear global outfits; and will this likely figure in any talks Mr. Modi may have with Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit?

Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs):Issues related to the export control regimes, nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation are not on the agenda of the NSS. But you know that this is an important issue for India. We are interested in membership of all the four export control regimes. We believe that India’s membership of those regimes would strengthen the international nonproliferation objectives. We are engaged with the regimes as collective entities as well as with the individual members of those regimes with a view to reaching that objective as soon as possible.

Question: My question is for Ms. Nandini Singla. As you are aware, the biggest crisis facing the European Union right now and its largest economy are the Syrian refugees. There has been a very sharp political. I would call it a divide, a social divide and all that kind of thing. Since you did not mention it, is the advent or the onslaught of refugees if you like, one of the subjects that is going to be discussed? If so, what is on the agenda exactly? Does India want to help? Can India help? Have you been approached for any kind of cooperation on the front of soft diplomacy? I would go one step further and extend that to Joint Secretary Mridul Kumar. One of the criticisms coming out of Europe is the fact that the Gulf States have shown very little interest in assisting the Syrian refugees? Will there be some sort of a synergy between these two visits?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): Yes, you are right. I think the refugee crisis is one of the biggest crises that the EU is facing right now. It is facing others too - there is the Brexit, there is the Euro Zone crisis. And after the Brussels terror attack, frankly terrorism is at the top of everyone’s mind in Europe today. So, I am sure all these strands will be woven into the conversations between our leaders. As for India being asked to assist or to play any particular role, I do not think we have been asked to do so.

Question: Madam, this is a question for you. On the BTIA, there are yet concerns for the Indian industry. The areas like data exclusivity, intellectual property rights, the dairy sector are concerns for the Indian industry if we agree to the European Union’s demands. You are saying that there is progress in the talks for BTIA. Are we able to resolve these concerns before the BTIA is finalized?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): You have mentioned some of the areas where we have concerns and these are exactly the areas on which dialogue is happening. You must appreciate that the EU has similar concerns too on their side. It is not a one-way street. So, when we talk about BTIA negotiations, we are talking exactly about discussing these very issues. If you ask me what I mean by progress, it is frankly movement forward on these very issues because at the end of the day we have to come to an agreement that is not only fair and balanced but an agreement that addresses core interests on both sides.

Question: Aapne abhi apne poore statement mein baar-baar yeh zor diya hai ki 20 per cent energy ka jo export hai bharat ke liye who mahatvapoorna hai. Iske peechhe meri nazar se kuchh reports guzri hain aur maine kuchh mixed reports padhi bhi hain, toh kya aisa kuchh aashanka jata rahe hain ya usko aap zyada zor de rahe hain ya mahatvapoorna bata rahein hain, us par aapne baar-baar zor kyun diya, usse juda savaal hai mera.

Joint Secretary (Gulf): Dekhiye, aashanka toh kuchh nahin hai lekin kisi bhi relationship mein kuchh key points hote hain. Agar aap Saudi Arabia aur GCC countries ke saath hamaare taalluqaat dekhein to usmein mukhya kendra bindu jo nikal kar aata hai woh energy supply ka hai. Aap yeh bhi maanenge ki humaare achhe, bure time par GCC countries ne hamaari teil ki supply kabhi nahin roki hai. Yeh running water ki tarah hai. Jis din paani ki supply ruk jati hai us din uski keemat ka ehsaas hota hai. Toh yeh cheez hum hamesha agenda par rakhna chahte hain ki jab bhi hum GCC countries ke saath milein ya Iraq ke saath milein, hum zaroor teil ke sambandh mein baat karein. Aashankaayein koi nahin hain, vyavadhaan koi nahin hai. Lekin yeh itna mahatvapoorna paksha hai jisko aap neglect nahin kar sakte.

Question: You talked of security of Indian nationals in the GCC region. You know the March 4 attack on the Missionaries of Charity home in Aden which took place when the Saudis were bombarding the area. Today a priest is reportedly crucified though we are awaiting confirmation. Will these issues also figure in your talks with the Saudi leaders?

Joint Secretary (Gulf): I am not aware of the news about crucification of Indian priest in Yemen though obviously there was a terrible attack in Yemen on the elderly home in which some of our nuns and a father were there. You are aware that we have a running advisory since almost one and a half years now, we have requested Indian nationals not to go to such areas, and definitely there have been repeated advisories on Yemen and this comes in that context also - the safety and security of our nationals in GCC countries. You are talking about Yemen, Yemen is by the way not a GCC country. So, if you are looking at Saudi Arabia, our nationals are not only increasing in number, they are very well contributing to the local economy and they are sending a lot of remittances. As I mentioned, it is almost USD 10 billion. But definitely, continued welfare, well being of our nationals in these countries remain very high on our agenda.

Question: The terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State is probably a crosscutting theme to the Prime Minister’s trip to all these three countries. My question is to Nandini and Mridul. When we talk about European Union, we have individual counter terror cooperation with individual countries. But at the EU level we have some institutions. Are we going with some new ideas specially focused on Islamic State because it poses a different kind of threat and requires a more focused response? Similarly with Saudi Arabia, for the past few years Saudi Arabia has been fairly cooperative in handing over some of our fugitives and all that. With Islamic State what is our strategy? How do we plan to expand counter terror cooperation with Saudi Arabia?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): Yes, with the EU we actually have a Joint Working Group on counterterrorism. And it is not just on counterterrorism, we actually have dialogues on security issues and various aspects of security including cyber security. In the light of recent terror attacks, understandably there is a renewed focus and emphasis on cooperation in counterterrorism. This will be certainly on the agenda for discussion. What will also be on the agenda for discussion is how do we deepen and expand this cooperation with the EU as an entity? As you rightly point out, we have these mechanisms and modalities with EU member states bilaterally. A big part of this summit would be to see how our institutional relationships with the EU can compliment, supplement and strengthen our bilateral partnerships in such priority areas with our key EU partners.

Joint Secretary (Gulf): I mentioned that we have excellent cooperation between our security agencies with Saudi Arabia. If you are looking at various aspects including money laundering, terrorist financing, narco terrorism etc., there have been collaborations between our two agencies. I also mentioned that Abu Jundal 2012, Abu Sufiyan December 2015, Abdul Jeddah February 2016, are some examples in which Saudi security agencies have looked after our very core interests on security matters.

Question: My question is to JS (EW) and JS (Gulf). Can you give us an idea of the scale of the diaspora meets that are going to be held in Brussels as well as in Riyadh compared to the events that were held in Dubai, London or Kuala Lumpur? How many people are expected to attend?

Official Spokesperson: He is in the comparison business.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): Unfortunately, I do not think we can really compare. In Belgium, as I mentioned, we have a diaspora of about 20,000 people, 10,000 out of those are Indian nationals. About 2,500 people work in the diamond industry, 1,500 professionals, 800 students. So it is a mixed kind of profile of the Indian community there. The PM is open to seeing as many as would turn up at this event. It is very difficult to give a precise figure or say that we are expecting so many people. As you understand, this depends on several factors and factors that we do not necessarily control.

Joint Secretary (Gulf): Saudi Arabia is not a good example to draw comparisons. There is problem of plenty here. It is the largest expatriate community abroad. So in terms of numbers I cannot make comparisons. But of course we have looked at the profile of our community and accordingly we have structured number of engagements of our Prime Minister with different community components. For example, when I talk about TCS it is a very niche area, white-collared professional community; when you are talking about L&T workers, again you are addressing a different category of people. Indian community interaction will also be there. So instead of one-only event, because the community is so big and so diverse, it has to be a variety of events and these events are being factored into Prime Minister’s programme.

Question: I would like to know whether India will be looking for cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the area of anti-radicalisation. Are they already cooperating on this issue and on what platform and in what ways?

Joint Secretary (Gulf): Saudi Arabia has been in the forefront of this particular issue. Though there is no direct interaction in terms of de-radicalisation but obviously this remains big time on our agenda.

Question: Will India be hoping to sort of mend its ties with Italy during its summit with EU, especially after the Italian Marines’ arrest etc., and also because there were reports that Italy had blocked India’s application to the MTCR last year?

Official Spokesperson: The MTCR thing I have already commented in my past press conferences. So I will get Nandini to respond to the other part.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): As far as our bilateral relationship with Italy goes, we do not really see it as mending our ties because we have always wanted a vibrant, robust partnership with Italy. We see Italy as a key EU partner country. With regard to the Italian Marines issue that you alluded to, as you know Italy has referred this dispute to the UN Arbitration Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, and you might also know that India has joined this arbitration process. We have already participated in one of the hearings last year in Hamburg and we continue to do so. As you know, under any such international arbitration process, the parties commit to abide by whatever decision the Arbitration Tribunal gives. Therefore, this issue is not really a bilateral issue any more. It has been taken out of bilateral ambit to an international arbitration process, a process to which both parties stand committed.

Question: Mridulji, Saudi Arabia ki yatra par PM jaa rahe hain. Aisa maana jaata hai ki Saudi Arabia IS ka sympathizer hai, voh soft corner rakhta hai IS ke prati. IS ka khatra Bharat ke liye badhta jaa raha hai aur badi Indian community hai vahan par. Toh kuchh is tarah ka mechanism ho, Pradhan Mantri ka concern kya hoga?

Joint Secretary (Gulf): Jahan tak mujhe gyaat hai Saudi Arabia ne kuchh countries ka coalition banaya hai terrorism ke khilaf. Jo aap mujhe baat bata rahe hain voh mere liye toh ek nayi khabar hai.

Question: Pakistan has always sought to draw a link of sorts between nuclear security and the Kashmir issue. In fact, a few months ago we had reports that their Defence Minister had told Pakistani reporters that they had even miniaturized nuclear weapons to attack Indian strike formations in case of a conflict. So this hypothetical scenario that you mentioned, will it also involve conflict between two nuclear armed neighbours or states?

Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs): Not at all. You are actually talking of a very different situation and a very different issue. The issue of nuclear security is about protecting nuclear material and nuclear facility from malicious actors. So, it is about the bad guys getting in whereas nuclear safety is about material getting out through an accident and otherwise. The scenario that you are describing is something that is related to nuclear weapons, their deployment, possible use of nuclear weapons etc. So, this has nothing to do with the Nuclear Security Summit.

Question: This question is for Ms. Nandini. We have seen issues about pharma consignments getting seized on transit to EU. Recently, EU has also made some changes in their trademark policy that has hampered our generic drugs exports. Will that feature prominently in PM’s discussions?

Joint Secretary, (Europe West): Trade and investment is a very big part of our engagement with the EU. As I said, EU is our largest trading partner, it is our biggest export destination. So, we have a lot of issues to talk to the EU. The issue that you mentioned is certainly one of them. There are many others but this is one of them and it will come up in the discussion for sure.

Question: During the last visit of President of India to Belgium, there was some discussion on cooperation in shipping sector. Will there be any formalization of those discussions in the form of an agreement during the visit of Prime Minister?

Joint Secretary (Europe West):
You are very right. Shipping is one of the priority sectors for collaboration with Belgium. Belgium has this unique fact which is that from any point in Belgium, less than 200 kilometres is a big port. That is one of the biggest hubs for shipping and port development. As far as an agreement on this is concerned, we actually finalized one with the Flanders region after the President’s visit. In fact, we have set up a state-of-the-art training facility for port officials, not just from India but also for neighbouring countries, at the JNPT in Mumbai. That has taken off and we are looking at building further on that. So even if there is no formal agreement that we are signing during this visit, there is a lot that is already happening in this sector between our two countries.

Question: There is much anxiety among the expatriates in the Gulf especially in Saudi Arabia due to their various measures like Nitaqat? Will this be a talking point during Prime Minister’s visit there?

Joint Secretary (Gulf): I have been mentioning right in the context of our expatriate community in Saudi Arabia, there has been an increase all through. I have seen this trend in the last four years. Today, it is the largest expatriate community. It is doing very well for themselves as well as for their host country. Obviously, they remain a very important organic link between our two nations. So, there will be naturally some discussions on their welfare mechanisms etc., between the two leaders. But I do not see any major troubles at present that are being encountered by our very well growing Indian community there.

Official Spokesperson: This concludes the press briefing. Thank you all.

(Concluded)


New Delhi
March 29, 2016
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