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Transcript of Mid Term Press Conference by Ministers of State for External Affairs, Gen. (Dr.) VK Singh (Retd.) and M J Akbar (January 4, 2017)

January 04, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Respected Ministers of State Gen Dr. V K Singh and Shri M J Akbar, Foreign Secretary, Secretaries and other senior officials of the Ministry, friends from the media, a wonderful new year to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this Mid-Term Press Conference of the Government today. We at the MEA are all fully charged and ready to go in the New Year with preparations being completed for the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru later this week.

We have now crossed the midpoint of the government and the occasion befits an outlining of the key achievements and policies of the MEA. The External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj wanted very much to be here today but as you know she is still under treatment and the wishes of the Ministry are with her for a quick recovery.

We are very grateful that both the Ministers of State Gen V K Singh and Shri M J Akbar could be with us today. We will begin with an opening statement by MOS Gen V K Singh and then open up the floor for questions and answers. I would request the Minister now to deliver the opening statement.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen V K Singh: Good afternoon to everybody. It’s a pleasure to be here talking on what the Ministry of External Affairs has been able to do in the last two and a half years. Although we do a Press Conference every year, but since we have crossed that halfway mark we will also highlight the way the flow has taken place.

For the questions we have our esteemed colleague, the very erudite M J Akbar, who will also take on questions pertaining to some of the areas that we have distributed among ourselves.

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to each one of you. May this year bring you lots of success, good reporting, good coverage for whatever you aspire for.

Our External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj wanted to be here and personally wish you all and talk to you all but she is not allowed by the doctors to step out of the house yet and I am sure you would miss her wit and the engagement that she used to do.

Under the inspiring leadership of our External Affairs Minister for the last two and a half years, the MEA has not only shown itself adept at advancement of our foreign policy goals, but also as a Ministry which cares and has set a new template for the delivery of public services. Prosperity and Security are the two book ends on which we have framed our foreign policy.

What we have sought across the world are partnerships of prosperity through new synergies in our flagship programs from Investment and Infrastructure, from Railways and Transport, from Smart Cities and Skill India, from Digital India and Clean Ganga, the primary aim of our external partnership has been the growth and development of India.

Led by our Prime Minister, our Government’s efforts at engaging the diaspora has been a true game changer and at the same time we have consistently sought to go to the aid of Indians wherever they got into distress. Allow me here to go into some of the key aspects of achievements and initiatives and then of course we will tackle the questions that you would throw at us.

Sampark and Samvad

As all of you know, at each of the previous press conferences, we have begun with Sampark and Samvad – the fundamental basis on which this Ministry and our Government has conducted its engagement with the world. Each year we have sought to widen the circle of friends and partners – the visits of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, the EAM and ourselves to countries large and small have been geared to this goal. As the EAM had mentioned in her last Annual Briefing, our objective is to engage, at least at the Ministerial level, with all the 192 countries of the United Nations, and we are well on course to do so soon.

A key part of our sustained foreign engagements have in fact been back at home - through Summits and Conferences where India has played host. As recently as October, our Chairmanship of BRICS culminated in the Annual Summit in Goa, held in conjunction with the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit. Both were a resounding success for our diplomacy on the global stage, and this was followed by the Heart of Asia Ministerial in Amritsar, a multilateral that affirmed India’s commitment to partnering Afghanistan in its transitions. These conferences underlined the region’s aspiration for greater connectivity, a process in which India has played its due part.

Even before 2016, we had seen the IAFS-III Summit which, for the first time saw the participation of 54 African countries, which unveiled a dynamic and transformative agenda of resurgence between India and the nations of Africa. IAFS itself was preceded by two landmark Summits with the Pacific Island nations (FIPIC), one in Fiji and the second in India in Jaipur – these events were a testament to our outreach to many of the smaller nations and our willingness to build a new paradigm of South-South cooperation. In addition, the 10th Vishwa Hindi Sammelan last year in Bhopal was another landmark event, with 7000 delegates representing the largest ever participation, that strengthened our association with the Hindi speaking communities of the world.

There were other firsts too: EAM met all the Foreign Ministers of the Arab World in the new Ministerial format under the India-Arab Cooperation Forum. Rashtrapatiji’s visits to Palestine, Israel and Jordan followed by the Prime Minister’s journeys to UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have rejuvenated our age old ties with West Asia and the Gulf. The landmark Chabahar trilateral agreement between India, Afghanistan and Iran promises to be a game-changer for connecting India with our extended neighborhood, including Central Asia and Russia.

As you are all aware, one of the guiding mantras of our Government in respect of foreign policy has been the principle of Neighborhood First. In the last two years, we have seen a sustained demonstration of this principle not only when it came to formal diplomatic engagements but also at times of distress and need. Whether it was the water crisis in Maldives, or floods in Sri Lanka, or Operation Maitri – our largest disaster relief effort abroad – in Nepal after the earthquake, we have extended a helping hand to all those who needed it. The Prime Minister has travelled to almost all the countries in the region, while the EAM, my colleague and I have made journeys to all them. Many of the visits by the Prime Minister were in fact the first in many years – with Nepal after 17 years, with Sri Lanka after 28 years.

The landmark Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh is merely one example of an agreement that bears the mark of history. The inauguration of the new Parliament building in Kabul and the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, housing projects in Jaffna, a state of the art trauma center in Kathmandu, progress on power projects with Bhutan, practical cooperation in transit and connectivity with Bangladesh and the larger BBIN grouping, the trilateral highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project with Myanmar, lines of credit and scholarships for many countries in the region – all are testament to the paradigm of ties that India seeks in South Asia. Of course, this is predicated on safety and security in South Asia that is important if we are to see progress and development.

All the countries of the region, barring one, have demonstrated their willingness to stand together against the menace of terrorism that could undermine their collective hopes. India too, has shown that we will not back down in the face of assaults against the security of our people, the prosperity of the region and the interests of the international community. The aim of the surgical strikes that we conducted was to convey to Pakistan that we will not countenance continued terrorism as the new normal in our relationship. Our own good faith has been amply demonstrated time and again through repeated initiatives to normalize the relationship. However, as we have often stated, talks and terror cannot go together.

Our priorities in South Asia have not distanced us from our friends and partners in other parts of the world. The steady growth in our ties, overcoming ‘the hesitations of history’ with the US, has been a matter of satisfaction as much as the consolidation of our traditional partnerships with Russia, France, the UK and EU. We continue to expand the broad range of our ties with China, particularly through people-to-people connections and the expansion of Chinese investments to India, even as we seek common ground on concerns. Outside the P-5, our partnerships with nations such as Japan and Germany have been fruitful and mutually beneficial, as has been our continued engagement with countries of Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, and Central Europe. The conversion of the Look East policy to Act East policy, and the establishment of a separate Mission to ASEAN and the EAS, has reinvigorated our ties with the region, bringing closer the promise of an Asian Century.

Shaping the Global Agenda

Even as we have widened the ambit of sampark and samvad, India’s voice on the global stage has found new resonance – not only to support positive initiatives but to lead the way in proposing solutions of our own. From PM Modi’s first G20 Summit, where his intervention ensured that the issue of black money formed a part of the final document, India has sought new ways to articulate and advance its core interests.

With national security as a paramount interest, India has placed terror front and center of the issues on the global stage. We were able to decisively defeat attempts at the glorification of terrorists and terrorism. India’s efforts to forge long-term and effective counter-terror cooperation with countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, US, France, Germany and others have dovetailed with the growing consensus that we have managed to build on the critically important Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. India also played a key role in revision of the High Risk Area by the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.

India’s credible voice at the Paris COP-21 negotiations ensured the centrality of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and our right to development without compromising on the critical need to combat climate change. Keeping our promise, on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, India deposited its instrument of ratification. On renewable energy, India has led the way, building the International Solar Alliance, and in just a year, opening the framework agreement for signature. The opening of the ISA framework agreement for signature within 41 days of finalizing the text of the agreement is a record in itself.

India’s non-proliferation credentials were confirmed with membership of the MTCR in 2016 and our joining Hague Code of Conduct, even as we continued constructive engagement with our partners for membership of the other export control regimes.

The signing of the Memorandum of Association with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2016 has paved the way for India’s full-fledged membership of this key regional organization.

Even on the cultural side, India has articulated a new global consciousness. On PM Modi’s initiative, 21st June was declared as International Day of Yoga by the United Nations, a resolution co-sponsored by a record 177 nations and supported by all. Celebrated in virtually even UN member country for 2 years running, the IDY has gained unprecedented recognition, transforming India’s ancient practice into a global movement.

Diplomacy for Development

As I had mentioned at the outset, our diplomatic engagements have a direct relevance for our domestic development. One key indicator of our diplomatic success has been the increase in FDI into India. In 2014-15 alone, FDI inflows were at $45 billion, and for 2015-16 this has increased to $55 billion. Overall FDI inflows have increased more than 43% for the two year period as against the two years preceding this Government. We have moved up in a host of other economic indicators – having been ranked the most attractive investment destination by global agencies as per Ernst & Young, and jumping 32 spots in the WEF’s global competitiveness index.

The flagship initiatives of the Government have provided the conceptual basis through which partnerships have been forged. MEA has acted as the principal facilitator and enabler, catalyzing old partnerships and incubating new ones – making the pitch for India’s market opportunities which is then carried forward by line Ministries and partner organization.

In each of the key areas of our development, our efforts have crystallized through MoUs that have been signed or commercial deals that have been struck. Allow me to give you a few illustrative examples – Infrastructure Investment funds have been launched with commitments by major economies like UAE, USA, UK and Japan, complemented by private sector arrangements. In railways and transport, the High Speed Rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is well on track in addition to a number of infrastructure related projects with Japan.

The world’s first ever "masala” bond issued by HDFC and NTPC for infrastructure was listed on London Stock Exchange. 12 cities have been identified for Smart city partnerships with US, France, Germany and the UK, while sister city agreements share developments experiences. The Make in India program has attracted global attention, whether through Japan launching a $12 billion Special Finance Facility or through tie ups with Germany’s Fraunhofer society, or through defence agreements such as between India and Russia on the joint production of Kamov 226 helicopters.

Providing gainful through imparting skills training to 400 million people over the next decade through Skill India has advanced through partnerships with countries like Canada, Japan and under the aegis of India’s GIAN program, as has private sector partnerships in Digital India. PM Modi led new thinking on Energy Security through the Launch of International Solar alliance, while continuing to secure civil nuclear and Uranium pacts with Japan, UK, Canada, Australia and France, among others. $5.5 billion investments in major producing fields in Russia (Vankor) will also contribute over 10 mmt of crude to our energy security.

These agreements have also gone in hand in hand with measures to enhance effective investments such as the Amendment of Double Taxation Avoidance Convention with Mauritius.

Diaspora and Emergency Relief

The security of India has gone hand in hand with the protection and safety of Indians abroad. The welfare of our citizens, whether they are in Baghdad or Brisbane, has been the guiding priority of our Government over the last 31 months, and we have consciously placed it front and center of our foreign policy. We have let our actions speak louder than our words ever could – in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan and in the wider Gulf region, and Europe and the Americas. We have done so, not only based on the principle that Indians abroad must benefit from the protection of the Indian state but also on the broader notion that each human life is sacred. It is this that motivated the rescue of 1947 Foreign Nationals from 48 countries stranded in Yemen, and many foreign nationals from Nepal following the earthquake in Nepal.

At the same time, we have quietly plugged away at resolving long pending problems – the protection of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, harassment from unscrupulous employers, entrapment by devious agents, visas that are dishonored and contracts that are cast aside – the resolution of these problems has been a matter of personal concern for the Ministry. The power of social media has bought the Government closer to many of the individual stories of anguish and distress – you are already aware of the extraordinary work the EAM continues to do on Twitter – whether it is the case of Geeta, brought back from Pakistan or Judith D’Souza from Afghanistan, she has demonstrated that the foreign ministry can in fact touch every human life. The institutional mechanisms that we have created, from e-migrate to MADAD, and recently Twitter Seva have been adopted widely and will go a long way in ensuring our Missions abroad are a home away from home.

So, for the first time in many years there is a closer integration between the overall objectives of our foreign policy and our engagement with the Diaspora community, a fact that is attested to by the Prime Minister’s outreach through community events in his visits abroad, the merger between MOIA and MEA, and the inauguration of the first ever centre for the Diaspora in India – the Pravasi Bhartiya Kendra in New Delhi. We are also preparing later this week for the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bangalore, the culmination of a new format of continuous engagements and focused debate over the last two years. The Indian diaspora is set to scale up their contribution to the mission of remaking India through enthusiastic participation in ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’ and "Clean Ganga.’

Passport Services

Let me finally talk a little about an extraordinary achievement of the Ministry over the last two and a half years – the revolution in Passport services, implemented through the Passport Seva Project. I am sure that you yourself or someone you know would have had the experience of how easy it is to acquire a passport these days. Leading the way in good governance initiatives, the MEA has proved that even the task of delivering 3.91 crore passports over 2 and half years years can be done with efficiency, marrying state-of-the-art technology with people friendly services. The Passport Seva System has emerged as India’s largest e-governance initiative synonymous with speed, accuracy and transparency. Our network of Passport Services has been extended with the setting up of 88 Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs), including an additional 11 covering all the North Eastern States.

The expansion of centers has gone hand in hand with simplifying procedures and easing access. For the first time, a five day window is available for citizens to choose appointments of their convenience. During the last two years, most of the Police Districts have been integrated with the Passport Seva system digitally for expeditious Police Verification. We have launched a Mobile App, ‘mPassport Police’ for seamless and paperless generation of PVR. Over the past two years, 197 passport camps and 736 Melas have also been held to process large number of applications.

As you already know, citizens can now acquire a fresh passport under the normal category in a week, if their applications are accompanied by three basic documents. These three documents include copies of Aadhaar card, electoral photo identity card (EPIC) and PAN card, besides an affidavit in the prescribed format (declaration of citizenship, family details and no criminal record). We have just also announced a further liberalization in the passport rules for the benefit of the citizens.

Conclusion

For those of you who have been actively following our foreign policy initiatives, there can be no doubt as to what our diplomacy has achieved over the last 31 months. Whether at the bilateral, multilateral level or the public level (through the projection of India’s civilizational ethos through celebrations like the International Day of Yoga) India stands proud on the global stage today. Clearly, a new consciousness is emerging about our country, and what the country stand for.

I am sure that the years ahead will see an even greater flowering of our diplomatic endeavors and even more win-win international partnerships, truly exemplifying our guiding motto of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. Thank you very much.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Thank you, Sir, for that comprehensive overview of our foreign relations and the work of the MEA. The floor is now open for questions. Given that we have limited time, I would take questions in group of three and I would request that you identify yourself and the organization that you represent and keep your questions brief and to the point.

Question: The new administration is going to take charge in United States in a couple of weeks’ time. How do you look at the trajectory of India-US relations under the Trump administration? Are there any specific areas of concern for us and can we expect an early meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump?

Question: 2016 hasn’t really been a great year for India-Pakistan relations, Prime Minister Modi suggested the comprehensive bilateral dialogue but we saw the Pathankot terror attack. Thereafter the Uri terror attack and most recently the Nagrota terror attack. We have also seen most aggressive form of surgical strikes inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the infiltration has been on increase. We have seen open support to Syed Salahuddin, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar, but what is the way forward, how does the Indian government really look at the talks offer that has continuously come from Nawaz Sharif and his Foreign Affairs Advisor and also can talks and terror really continue in such an environment and lastly on counter-terrorism efforts do you see a much wider scope of engagement and cooperation between India-US, India-Russia, in respect to regional counter-terrorism efforts, importantly because we have seen in the last six months more of diplomatic isolation both at SAARC and other multi-lateral forums.

Question: 2016 was not a very satisfactory year in Indo-China relations with China veering towards one of our old allies Russia, how do we manage the Sino-Indian relations in 2017?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: Beginning with America. You asked about trajectory. We are very clear that the future of Indo-US relations will be in fact brighter than it has been in the immediate past. The reason is very simple. The strength of our relationship lies in the fact that is has bipartisan support. Why does it have bipartisan support? Because it is actually driven by the will of the people on both the sides which is the most important asset that you can have in diplomacy. This was very evident at the high point of our bilateral engagement which was our Prime Minister’s visit and in June you saw the reception that his speech got and he got at the US Congress. That was evidence of all that I am saying and all that I am projecting.

We have had a very warm and productive telephone conversation between President-elect Donald Trump and our Prime Minister. Already there has been a series of high level engagements with the NSA, with the Foreign Secretary and I think the future of this relationship is being prepared even as we discuss it at the moment. We are very confident that the elements of this relationship like the defence partnership, like our strategic complementarity, and our commitment to shared values and so on will drive our equation towards a far greater mutually beneficial state.

Now on Pakistan and Pathankot. I don’t think anyone who has been following our government’s behavior, our government’s intention, our government’s actions over the last two and a half years can deny the fact that we have wanted the best of peaceful good neighborly relations with Pakistan. This is evident on the very first day i.e. on the day of the swearing in and the intention to that extent has not changed but the issue that disrupted that effort in the beginning, that disrupted the effort made to revive that spirit, still persists.

Peaceful, good neighborly relations, what is the first word in that formulation i.e. Peace. You cannot have peaceful conversation in the shadow of violence, under the spray of bullets. Terrorism is not conducive to conversation. As our Prime Minister has said, as our EAM has said as often as she can, talks and terrorism do not go together, they cannot go together.

The people who have indulged in terrorism have to stop this - the only word that I can think of is - evil and then I hope that we can take the rational path forward towards being good neighbors.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: See, where China is concerned let’s look at our relationship as a whole and not as some parts which get thrown up from time to time for various reasons.

Our engagement with China under the framework of the Closer Developmental Partnership continues to expand and this is something which needs to be recognized. There have been high level visits on both the sides. There are more people to people contacts. On the economic front, there is greater Chinese investment which is coming in or people expressing interest from China to come and invest or they are at an advanced stage of negotiation. Now all these, which will result in industrial parks, probably even green field cities, need to be looked at as a part of our overall engagement with China.

You would also appreciate that by and large there has been peace and tranquility on the border too. It has been maintained, it has not been allowed to flare up or go beyond the recognized parameters on both the sides.

Well, certainly there are certain areas of divergence between us and China and as mature partners we need to look at these from a point of view where we can reduce the areas of divergence and increase the areas of convergence. And that is something which as a part of our initiatives, as part of our visits, as part of our engagement, we are trying to do.

I am only underscoring one thing that our engagement with China is driven purely by our national interest and ensuring that the two big countries of Asia create the Asian Century that everyone is talking about.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I will now move on to the next set of questions.

Question: After China blocked India’s bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group last year how do you see India’s prospects in being a part of this bloc this year?

Question: Surgical strikes, you know, were meant to convey a message that terrorism cannot be a new normal in the relationship with our neighbours. But more than three months have passed and we see terror incidents are continuing and border is very active. Now do we conclude that these surgical strikes have failed in their objectives?

Question: India seems to be losing on the terror front. On the one hand China had not allowed India to succeed on the issue of Masood Azhar and on the other hand India’s privileged strategic partner Russia is siding with China and Pakistan on the issue of Taliban. How do you weigh these developments?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: All of us present here know that India is not a member of NSG and therefore we cannot comment on the internal discussions that take place in the NSG. We do understand that a meeting took place in Vienna on November 11, 2016 where India’s membership was discussed. Consultations on the issue are ongoing in the group including our engagement with China on this issue and we are sure that with our record and credentials, we will be taken as a member as per the procedures within this particular group.

We are engaging everybody equally to ensure that our concerns, our credentials and the way that we have taken our various issues forward are understood by everybody.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: I am a little surprised to hear your question that actually says that our efforts on terrorism have somehow not been satisfactory. I think that one of the most important developments of the year has been the manner in which our message on terrorism, which has been personally enunciated by the Prime Minister and by all levels of Government after that, has been heard across the world. It was heard across the United Nations, it was heard across the Non-Aligned Movement, it was heard at multilateral bodies, it has been heard bilaterally in our engagements and everywhere there is an absolutely near consensus that terrorism in all forms is unacceptable, that sponsorship of terrorism is as heinous as terrorism itself and in fact you can see the evidence of that.

As far as the surgical strike is concerned that message was heard again across the world. You have two go back to the statements that came from capitals across the continents of the world. You have to go back to the reaction that happened in our region, again there was near unanimity that this is unacceptable. So I think on this issue at least our position has been widely accepted by the world and I think that in the coming year the world will be even stronger in its condemnation of this evil.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: Let me first say that we do not believe that holding meetings on Afghanistan alone is going to solve the problems in Afghanistan. Eventually it is about delivering benefits on ground which are seen by the people of Afghanistan. India’s own developmental record in Afghanistan is well known and it speaks for itself and that is how our relationship is so close. Any political settlement in Afghanistan has be Afghan led, it has to be Afghan owned and it is to be Afghan controlled. Nothing else is going to work in Afghanistan.

We have a clear understanding of this and that is how our developmental assistance has been to ensure that capacity building takes place in Afghanistan in areas desired by Afghanistan. We believe that eventually it is for the government of Afghanistan to decide who it wants to engage with and how does it want to engage and on what terms. Mere meeting of 3 - 4 countries and saying that we are going to work out something, which will not be seen on ground, is not going to make any difference.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Going on to the next set of questions.

Question: Russia has been our most important defence and strategic partner but of late we have seen growing proximity between Russia and Pakistan. Russia has openly expressed its keenness in joining China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Russia has agreed to build North-South gas project, so how do you see these developments actually? They have conducted military exercise also a couple of months back, so how do we see Pakistan and Russia getting together? What does it mean for India’s geo-strategic interest?

Question: Mera sawal ye hai ki Gulf country mein lagatar aap sabki engagement thi, PM gaye they UAE mein bhi. Us samay yah kaha gaya tha ki Dawood Ibrahim ki property ki list saunpi gai hai. Khabar ye aa rahi hai ki us property ko seize kiya gaya hai. Us baare mein kya bata sakte hain ki aap logon ko UAE mein safalta mili kyonki Dawood ek bahut bada terrorist hai?

Question: India and Nepal have a very unique relationship in the whole world as we have an open border and we have helped Nepal in all possible ways. But now reports have come that Nepal is going to hold military exercises with China. Given the complex relations between India and China, are you persuading Nepal to not to go to such exercises that will hamper India Nepal relations itself?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: Our relationship with Russia has stood the test of time and we are absolutely confident that it would stand the test of the future. It’s a very very deep relationship, it is a relationship that has been built across a wide panorama of shared interests. It has a very resonant history. We have a very strong defence relationship with Russia, we have a strong economic relationship with Russia, we have - on a great number of our strategic problems or issues - commonalities of both viewpoint and interest that has been displayed over and over again.

This year, in Goa, our Prime Minister had an excellent bilateral with President Putin. India and Russia meet at the highest level, at our Prime Minister and President level, almost 4 to 5 times a year. This is not very usual and this itself is an indication of how seriously we take each other and how important this relationship is to both of us.

Surely you do not believe that because of a very strong bilateral relationship, Russia cannot engage or consult with other nations, of course it can. And if it does so, it is perfectly within its rights but we are absolutely confident in saying that we do not believe that Russia will do anything that is injurious to our security interests and which is injurious to our national interest. The bridge of camaraderie is candor and I can assure you there is candor between both nations.

Now, on the Dawood Ibrahim story which appeared in a section of the press, of fifteen thousand crores worth of property having been seized. As you are very well aware that our relationship with the UAE has been absolutely transformed in the last two years and this transformation includes not only a very unprecedented economic content, but it also includes an unprecedented strategic content. And within that strategic content is a common view on counter-terrorism. As you know, our NSAs and security agencies talk to each other, talk to one another and each other. As for the specifics of this case, all I can tell you is that we do not discuss specifics of counter-terrorism cases.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: I am sure we all understand that our relations with Nepal are bound by history, geography, by culture, families and links which are such which cannot really be described in terms of how they fructified. We have a very strong relationship between the Indian Army and the Nepal Army. We have a very large number of bhutpurv sainiks (ex-soldiers) who live in Nepal and their pension goes from India. I am also Honorary General of the Nepal Army. Now, with this kind of a relationship which is so unique, it stands firmly on its own footing and in this we do not view relations through a third country prism.

Two countries doing exercise does not imply anything at all. We do exercises with China, will also do exercises with United States, we do exercises with France and we do with Russia. Does it mean anything? So let’s not view it that way at all.

Question: My question relates to the India-Bangladesh relationship. We all know that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be visiting Delhi very soon and before that Hon’ble Minister Mr. Akbar had visited Dhaka and had a wide range of discussions. One of the issues that is contentious even today as no consensus has emerged in the country itself is about the Teesta river water sharing. Whether this visit has a component of discussion on this issue at all or we are looking at beyond Teesta?

Question: What is the government doing about building relations with the Latin American region because that region could be helpful to India for food security, energy security but the region feels left out, so could you elaborate on that?

Question: Against India’s hope, roadblocks put by China has scuttled India’s chance for designating Masood Azhar as a UN terrorist, how are we going to deal with the Chinese attitude of siding with and protecting a terrorist and what would be our move going forward?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: Since my very esteemed and senior colleague spoke Nepali I’m hugely tempted to speak Bengali while answering the question, but I will stick to the language known to most of the people here.

Yes, I did go to Bangladesh where I had a very warm and fruitful meeting with Sheikh Hasina. It was again a meeting in which we spoke like friends and understood each other’s positions. She had certain scheduling problem which she found and in fact I can say this, she found that between the celebration of Victory Day in Dhaka and the possibility of fog in Delhi, her actual time spent here would be too squeezed and she would not be able to do a number of things that she wanted to do in addition to the formal dialogue that would take place including possibly I think a visit to Ajmer Sharif. And so these were the reasons and we hope that the new date is going to be negotiated very soon.

Yes, as your question said, there are issues on Teesta, they are well-known. We are trying our very level best to create an internal consensus on this issue by speaking to the people concerned, namely the Bengal Government. We hope that there will be agreement between the Centre and Bengal on Teesta and other water -related issues and because that is now probably the only perhaps significant outstanding issue among the great achievements of the last two and half years. Just think back to 2014 and many of the things that have happened in our relationship with Bangladesh would have probably seemed extremely difficult, if not impossible, but the two leaderships have worked together very hard, once again, once again I repeat, driven by the spirit of the people to end the obstacles to people-to-people relations and we are absolutely certain that the spirit that has been created by Prime Minister Modi and Sheikh Hasina will prevail and hopefully will enable us to solve the outstanding issue.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: Let me first compliment you for asking a question on Latin America. The distance is so far that lot of people shy away from asking. Let me add in the same breath that distance does not mean that you do not reach out and in the last two and a half years, I think we have reached out much more and more effectively than before.

You are aware that the Prime Minister’s first visit was to Brazil as part of the BRICS summit, after that he had visited Mexico where he had meetings with various leaders including the Argentine President. Our Vice President went to Venezuela and there have been numerous incoming visits from that region.

I have been to eight countries there myself. There have been meetings to ensure that the senior officials meetings and the JCMs which are institutional mechanisms, take place in time so that there is a greater interaction between institutionalized mechanisms that we have established. And therefore we find that the thaw that should have been visible, has been visible in our relationship with Latin American countries.

Overall, food security and energy have constituted key focus areas in our ties with Latin America. With Venezuela in particular, OVL has made further investments. These areas have gone hand in hand with the strengthening of business ties – a preferential trade agreement with Chile and fast-tracking of the India-MERCOSUR PTA are significant. India has established itself in the region, particularly in the areas of pharmaceutics, auto-parts, automobiles, textiles etc. The annual India-LAC Conclaves have enhanced trade and brought awareness about products’ market and opportunities, with the latest conclave in November 2016 in Mexico. Yoga is very popular in this region and there is a spiritual convergence too.

We have also had sustained engagements at the sub-regional level with Latin America. The third India-SICA Ministerial Meeting was held in Guatemala in May, 2015 and the 1st India-CARICOM Joint Commission Meeting was held in Guyana in June, 2015 followed by a Ministerial Meeting in New York in September, 2015. One of the important achievements and advancements of our relations is the India-CELAC Ministerial Meeting which was held on the sidelines of UNGA 2016 consequently for the second year, when a Joint Declaration for establishment of political mechanism was adopted.

Finally, in terms of development cooperation, India has played a key role in sharing experiences with our Latin American friends. Following PM's offer to set up IT Centres of Excellence in South America, action has already been initiated to set up such centres in Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Guyana, Suriname, Paraguay and Chile, with the centres in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Peru already set up. We have also scaled up our grant assistance programme to the region and come to the aid of our friends in distress – such as to Haiti after its devastating earthquake.

Overall I can say that Latin America forms a very important region for us and we are also concerned with the Caribbean because of the diaspora that exists out there. Overall you will see further improvements as the time goes by.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: We really do expect China to hear the voice of the world, not just the voice of India, on terrorism. And the voice of the world is heard over and over again, as I said it, on many fora. I particularly remember the speech that our External Affairs Minister Sushma Ji made at the United Nations General Assembly last year. It was really a high point of the UNGA last year and the central point of it was that if we do not recognize the dangers of terrorism, yes, we might hurt others a bit, but we wound ourselves far more.

Terrorism is the snake that bites the hand that feeds it and bites decisively. You can see the situation in a neighboring country. It’s a regrettable situation in all honesty. The fact that when Pakistan has to convert its own cricket ground into a foreign space, when there is such instability and uncertainty in that nation, who has created it? These are self-inflicted wounds and we hope that China, as I said as a responsible and mature nation, will understand that double standards are simply self-defeating, even suicidal.

China has its own terrorist problems. China recognizes them, China addresses them in our bilateral agreements. We hope and we are sure that China can be persuaded to see the depth and evil of this menace and we on our side are resolved that we shall never stop saying this. We will continue to point out the absurdity of the United Nations Security Council’s 1267 Committee, in which I think 14 out of 15 members agree on taking action against Masood Azhar and there is simply one holdout. We hope that this is the year when the holdout disappears.

Question: Time and again in the last 12 months we have heard in several forums at the highest level of leadership that Pakistan is a terrorist state. It is a mother-ship of terrorism. What is the logic of having diplomatic relationship with such a terrorist state, just to hand over the demarches which we hand over every month? And one of the key members of ruling BJP Dr. Subramanyam Swami has suggested that the only solution with Pakistan is to go to war with Pakistan and tear it into four pieces. What you have to say on this?

Question: I have a question on Father Tom who was kidnapped last year in Yemen. Actually in a recent media uploading on YouTube, I want to quote him that, "Hon’ble President and Prime Minister of India, I am very sad that nothing been done seriously in my regard. Reports have been in the news that everything has been done to get me released quickly, but in reality nothing seems to have happened.”

Question: Without going into the specifics of the reports of Dawood Ibrahim’s properties in UAE, surely you can confirm or deny whether there is any truth in the story at all. And there was a point in time when so much of noise was made about India taking up the Balochistan cause, what really happened to Mr. Bugti’s application?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: I think the engagement with Pakistan needs to continue as has been said, I think was first stated famously by Vajpayee Ji, that we cannot change our neighbors, we have to deal with them. We deal with them with eyes open but we don’t deal with them with minds closed. And in that respect, I think inflammatory talk doesn’t necessarily help. We hope that Pakistan will see the path of reason. We hope that Pakistan’s friends will persuade it to see the path of reason, but we have always believed that the only way forward is through peaceful dialogue. Let there be peace, and there will be a dialogue.

On Father Tom, I say this with all deference and respect, it isn’t that we have not done anything, we have done a great deal, as much as is possible. It is not easy to find solutions in the fog of such a complicated war. It is not easy to even find specific locations, but it needs to be said and perhaps reiterated that long before Father Tom went into this battle zone, into this war zone, we specifically advised him, our mission specifically advised him not to go there. However he took his own decision but ever since we got news of his becoming a captive, we have done everything possible, we have engaged with the relevant neighbouring powers at all levels. At the diplomatic level of course, but also at the level of agencies. We have, in our ministry, formed a core group led by Secretary (ER) which is monitoring this on a continuous basis.

There are many complications and issues involved in this. In fact, we are even reluctant because the question was asked and therefore I think we cannot but answer it, we are reluctant to discuss this and certainly Father Tom is not in a position to know all that we have done nor can he be expected to in that position, but we will continue to strive for his release. Let me just tell you that the bar on this problem and bar on this issue has been set by Sushma ji herself. Those who have followed her tweet know that our orders are very clear, that we must leave no stone unturned to get our Indian citizen back because security of every Indian is a prime concern.

On Dawood, the best answer I can give to this question is to repeat my previous answer.

Question: Sir, the fishermen in Tamil Nadu are looking forward to the release of their fishing boats and also please throw some light on the tracking system for the fishing vessels and the communication equipment that will be made mandatory.

Question: Nepal Prime Minister Mr. Prachanda when he had come here he had promised that he would address the concerns of Madhesis and other minorities in the country. Are you satisfied with the efforts being made the by the Nepali government to address this concern?

Question: What I wanted to ask and anyone of the ministers can take this question, I believe that this is the 25th year of establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. Now, the last time EAM had a press conference, she specifically mentioned that the Prime Minister would be travelling to Israel. When is that visit likely to happen? First half, second half, any indication?

Question: This is about India and Mongolia. Prime Minister paid a very historic visit to Mongolia in 2015 and there were hopes of better relations, but subsequent events and developments and comments and statements from the Mongolian side seem to suggest that India somehow didn’t stand by its friend, the context being Dalai Lama’s visit and how China retaliated. According to reports the Mongolian side sought Indian help which wasn’t forthcoming and the Mongolian Foreign Minister even said that Dalai Lama is not welcome, whether for religious purposes or otherwise. Your comments on this?

Question: 2016 saw the rise of anti-globalization and anti-free-trade forces across the world, mainly obviously with the election of Trump in the US and the triumph of the Brexiters in the UK. I was wondering how India views these trends and how the MEA is going to navigate this, particularly if those trends accelerate in 2017?

Question: Pichhale ek saal mein kaafi baat hui hai ki UAE ke sovereign fund hamare yahan invest karenge petroleum aur auto sector mein. Isi tarah se China se Software Technology Park ke establish karne ki baat hui hai. To ground par inmein se hum kya kah sakte hain ki kaun sa project aa raha hai aur rojgaar ke kitne avsar uplabdh honge?

Question: Is waqt Arab countries se hamare bahut jyada tallukkat hain aur isi waqt Syria mein jabardast crisis chal raha hai aur saath hi Turkey mein bhi aatankwaadi hamla hua hai. To is silsile mein Bharat Sarkar kya kar rahi hai?

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: Let me first say that you are aware that the ministerial level meeting on fishermen issue took place on 2nd January in Colombo and you must have seen the joint press communiqué that was issued.

The issue of releasing fishing vessels was discussed. The Indian side requested for immediate release, the Sri Lankan side agreed to consider the request in view of the progress being made by the Joint Working Group. We will share with you as soon as the response from the Joint Working Group comes to us and I am quite sure it will be positive.

The second part is on Confidence Building Measures agreed to by both the sides. It was agreed to explore the possibilities of introducing an effective tracking system on fishing vessels so that the communication equipment etc. are known to both the sides and the technology to be installed is being worked out in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and people who will provide the technology and I am quite sure that it will get finalized very soon.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: Yes, this is the 25th year and our relations with Israel are very warm, are very good as indeed our relations with almost all the countries we engage with. You have already seen that there has been a visit by the Israeli President, a State visit and that itself has already been the highlight of the past month. There is certainly the option that exists of finding an appropriate calendar for bilateral visits, but that is something that is still in the process of discussion and only when the discussion is complete can we have anything specific on that subject.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: Our consistent position has been that peace, stability and progress is in the interest of both India and Nepal. Therefore we have been supportive of all the initiatives of the government which will make various provisions to be more inclusive and beneficial to citizens of Nepal.

The amendment bill has gone on 29th of November and this is a very important step by itself. We hope that all sides will remain closely engaged on this issue so that we have peace and aspirations of all people are met.

On Mongolia, I will put it this way that no relationship should be viewed as a zero-sum game. Our relations with Mongolia stand on their own. The first ever visit of our Prime Minister led to a great amount of understanding and the type of aid that we have extended to Mongolia plus the type of support that we are giving in diverse fields has its own benefit and understanding.

Mongolian leadership has been highly appreciative and are I am quite sure that the way some people would have conveyed it negatively, needs to be discarded.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar: The word ‘trends’ itself actually gives you a clue to the answer. This is a time of great flexibility across the world as people are beginning to shape and reshape attitudes, policies depending on what has succeeded, particularly on economic issues, particularly on the pressures that are being developed as the consequences of yesterday’s great successes and globalization begin to kick in and the action, you know, is succeeded by reaction, so it is through this flexible phase, and I think what we will see this year is a very serious set of very serious high-level negotiations on - trade is probably the most complex of all negotiations and also takes the longest. Between the time the negotiation starts and the negotiation ends, the text has moved far away from context.

So, we will see definitely, as I say, a great evolution in this field. We have taken a very clear position on trade issues where we have kept our national interest at the center of our relationships and we will continue to pursue our national interest bilaterally perhaps multilaterally in whatever form it be, but as I said, India’s policies will be determined by the search for India’s prosperity.

Now, you asked this question about the Arab world - again I am going to repeat the word because I can’t think of another - there has been again a process of transformation. The level of commitment made by the UAE in direct investment is enormous and the past year has gone into converting that commitment into specific projects. We have moved very far towards achieving those targets and in a wide variety of fields.

On the issue of Syria, I had the privilege of going to Damascus. I had a very long meeting with President Assad and it was a reaffirmation of our ties, a reaffirmation of our ties at a time of great turbulence in the region and I think the consequences of that will be visible soon enough.

I am afraid that one of the things we did that did go a little below the radar, at least as far as I could see in the media, was that this year we had the first ever Joint Commission with Palestine, the first ever. And that was a wide-ranging consultation, a very good meeting, so as you can see that under our Prime Minister, the strength of his vision and the credibility of his reach, we have actually improved our relationships with countries across the region, going beyond what might be called binaries. Our relationship with Palestine has improved substantially. Our relationship with Israel continues to improve and I’ve often thought of an appropriate phrase for what is happening and I think if I may suggest one, that while the world is absorbed with doctrines like balance of power, our Prime Minister concentrates on the power of balance.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen Dr. V K Singh: Aapne UAE aur China ke baare mein poochha tha ki kya investments hui hain. China ki taraf se jo industrial parks Pune aur Vadodara mein ban rahe they un par cheezen kaafi aage badh gai hain. Machinery aur tools doosra sphere hai jiske andar kaafi badhottari ho rahi hai. Progress hua hai. UAE ki taraf se jo 75 billion dollars jo infrastructure ke liye promise kiye gaye hain, uspar dono taraf ke log baith kar ke decide kar rahe hain ki kis prakar se infrastructure ke andar aur kahan par uska istemaal kiya jaye.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I think with that we have come to a close of this Press Conference. I would like to thank both the Ministers for sparing the time to answer all the questions. And of course thank you to all of you for coming out in such large numbers for the MEA’s Mid Term Press Conference. I hope this has been a useful exercise which has given you a large number of inputs about the MEA’s work and our future agenda. With that I would like to thank you all once again.



(Concludes)
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