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Transcript of Media Briefing in Washington by Foreign Secretary (June 26, 2017)

June 28, 2017

Speaker 1: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We are privileged to have amongst us the Foreign Secretary of India as well as Ambassador of India. To conduct the proceedings I now request Spokesperson Shri Gopal Baglay to start the briefing.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you and a very good evening to all of you as promised we are here after the meeting of the Prime Minister and the President of United States. Without further ado I would request the Foreign Secretary to brief you. We are running short of time because our scheduled departure is in a few minutes so after the Foreign Secretary’s remarks we will be open for a few questions.

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Good evening. As you are all aware we have just finished the program for the day. IT was the last event of a very eventful visit. We had this evening the Prime Minister received at the White House by President Trump and Mrs. Trump. There was a 40 minute one on one meeting between the Prime Minister and the President.

This was followed by delegation level talks which was roughly for an hour then there were remarks to the press. First lady was gracious enough to host a reception thereafter. Before the reception, the Prime Minister also had a brief meeting with the Vice President at his office. And then the President and the First Lady, in what clearly was a great gesture, took the Prime Minister for a tour of the White House including the residential quarters.

Finally, the last even was the dinner which was hosted by the President and the First Lady. There was a lot of conversation over dinner including on policy issues and this was also roughly perhaps a little bit more than an hour.

In terms of my description of the atmosphere, the chemistry I think it was probably the fairest word to use words that are, very warm, it was a very open, very cordial, there was a great deal of ease between the President and the Prime Minister. They had, as you would recall, three phone calls before the Prime Minister came to US. This is the first time when they are meeting but they were really very comfortable with each other.

In terms of the discussion, a lot of the discussions were on very strategic issues and took a strategic perspective on the relationship on how the leaders saw the world. It was also very detailed, it was very extensive and it was very focused on certain themes that I would describe to you.

The Prime Minister clearly saw the President as a force of change and there were some exchanges between them on their political perspectives. In terms of the policy discussion I think the over-arching theme was how India and USA were mutually supportive of each other in a changing world.

This has many facets to it, the most obvious was the strategic convergence between India and the United States. SO there were discussion on defence and security issues, discussions on connectivity. A number of issues and regions came up for very detailed discussions and exchanges including counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean region, the Middle East, a little bit of East Asia and issues like the NSG and the UNSC.

The economic facet was the second faced. What we saw was that as a result of the innovation and the increased and enhanced growth that we expect from the Trump administration clearly USA will be the premier engine of growth in the global economy. There was also a recognition that today India is a major engine of growth and appreciation of the structural reforms that the Prime Minister had undertaken and seen through as well as the fact that has made it easier to do business in India.

Some talk on the tech side, on innovation, entrepreneurship and in fact specifically on the digital partnership between India and the United States. The third focus of course was on values and the world that India and USA both wanted to see, and here terrorism was identified as a key challenge to which the two countries would be responding, both separately and together and with other nations. I would like to give a little bit of more detail on that.

The fourth issue was the people to people relationship, the fact that we have such a strong community here, such an effective bridge between our two countries. What a unique bonding there has been. Both leaders made references to their exposure to each other’s society. President Trump referred to the fact that he had visited India as a private citizen, Prime Minister also spoke of his early visits to the United States before he became Prime Minister.

This was the broad themes, format, facets of the relationship. Again I would stress to you that there was very visible chemistry between the two leaders and you could see that they were talking with each other very comfortably.

Before the Prime Minister went to the White House this morning, he received Defence Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson. At the White House the discussions were joined by a number of other Cabinet Members and senior administration officials which of course included the Vice President in addition to Secretary Tillerson and Mattis, the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, USTR Lighthizer and NSA McMaster, Mr. Jared Kushner and Dina Powel and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. So you can see all the senior figures of the administration were there, most of them were there during the discussion and some of them joined when the dinner started.

As I said one very major issue which was discussed was how India and USA will counter the threat of terrorism. I think we tried to capture the essence of that discussion through a joint statement. Once I am through with this most of you would be able to read it but let me just give you the key details of that. I think there was a recognition today that terrorism is a global scourge and it must be fought in every part of the world. and that USA and India would do this together.

Earlier this morning the State Department did the designation of Syed Salah Uddin of the Hizbul Mujahidin as a specially designated global terrorist, I think that is a strong signal coming out of the administration that it was committed to ending terror in all forms. It was agreed that we would have a new consultation mechanism on domestic and international terrorist designation listing proposals.

There was an extensive discussion on terrorism, what is its epicenter, how is it affecting the region particularly where India is located. I would highlight to you that the two leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan based groups. In addition to this leaders also agreed to expand the intelligence sharing and operational level counter-terrorism cooperation.

Now moving on from terrorism to larger defence and security, this was really an occasion for us to send a message that India was a reliable and dependable partner that was fully reciprocated on the American side and there were discussions on Indian Ocean, on the issues from Africa to Australia. The range of security challenges that arise also on the Middle East specifically in the context of security. Much closer home a lot of discussion was there on Afghanistan and I think many of you are aware that there was a policy review that has just taken place here, so some of that also came up for discussion.

On defence cooperation there was a sense that the combination of convergence and regular exchanges on policy, the fact that we were major partners today in exercises with each other. And that today we have common equipment that India had on its inventory on a number of platforms of American origin. All of these really underline the fact that India and USA saw each other as major defence partners.

On Afghanistan we brought out India’s commitment, the fact that last year we made a further commitment and how that is shaping up today and Prime Minister also expressed our appreciation of the sacrifices that America has made to strengthen democracy, pluralism in Afghanistan.

On Indian Ocean, as I said the emphasis was on the importance of the rule of law, on the requirement to follow international norms and ensure freedom of navigation. You will also see in the joint statement the common position that the two countries have on the issue of connectivity that underlines the transparent development of infrastructure utilizing responsible debt-financing practices while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, rule of law and the environment.

On the economic side, most of the discussions were at the delegation level talks and some over dinner. I would some up by saying that it was a very productive discussion as an assessment that the economic changes in both countries are creating new demands and once you have this high level of comfort between India and the United States, the other partner is well placed to meet those demands, is in fact the natural partner to whom you turn to for such demands. Some of the examples which came up was, many of you know that the civil aviation sector in India is today probably the fastest growing civil aviation sector in a major economy and I believe the number of domestic travelers has crossed 100 million in India. So you obviously have a demand for new aircrafts from a number of airlines so its quite natural that many of these orders would be placed on the United States.

You also heard some appreciation from the President himself of the fact that these orders were coming to American companies. Second example would be in the field of natural gas, the fact that from next year LNG from USA will start flowing to India in fact we expect that in next few years it would in excess of 40 billion dollars and a number of other examples were discussed. I would say that today there was a sense that both countries should encourage in each other that effort to be the natural and preferred partner when it comes to economic issues.

As you would expect on such an occasion there was discussion on trade matters. Some of it was very broad like about market access, regulatory issues and barriers. I think both leaders underline the emphasis of free and fair trade. There was some details which came up but overall I would say it was a discussion which really led the other party to believe that their issues were being looked at seriously. We also had issues which US was looking at seriously and the other way round. I should again add that before the visit we had discussions both with Commerce Secretary Ross and with US Trade Representative Ambassador Lighthizer.

Moving on from the economic side I would highlight the energy basket, discussion as I said on LNG and Gas, on solar. The leading role of the United States as an innovator on the solar side. On clean coal, the fact that there was a lot of interest on that because US has very impressive clean coal capabilities that we thought we could work on and also on nuclear.

You would find most of that reflected in the joint statement and our expectation is that, we were told that by the end of the year Westing House will rework its current situation and really will be back in business.

On the innovation side, there was discussion on the digital partnership. The Prime Minister believes that just as democracy was the great political contribution of the United States in the last century, Innovation is the major contribution of the US in the contemporary times. How to improve the enabling environment and some discussion on the exchanges that take place between India and USA.

Here I would draw your attention to the fact that the Prime Minister yesterday had a meeting with a number of CEOs. 20 CEOs of major firms met him, many of whom were associated with the digital world and frankly everybody is associated with digital world in some form or the other even the manufacturing world also.

You had Tim Cook of Apple really saying that Apple today is hosting hundred thousand apps which had come out of India. Importance of the digital partnership was one issue which came up.

This should broadly give you a sense of what were the themes of the discussion, what were the flavor of the discussion and again as I said, it was a very comfortable discussion, very freewheeling between the two leaders and Cabinet Members. Everybody spoke their minds very candidly and it was really, what I would say, one of the most productive visits in the United States.

Indian Ambassador to USA, Mr. Navtej Sarna: I really just wanted to say that having been involved in the working of the program from day to day, I just wanted to underline that the While House really took a lot of care to craft a very special program for the day and as Foreign Secretary mentioned there was a dinner, then there was a tour and also the fact that the first lady hosted a sort of pre-dinner reception and was present for large parts of the day, so were the other family members as some of you saw them. So I think that shows the fact that they really wanted to go out of the way to enable the right atmosphere for the discussions was very obvious.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay:
Thank you very much Foreign Secretary and thank you very much Ambassador. We have precisely five minutes now so I will open the floor for may be 4 or 5 questions. Please be brief. We will take all the questions together and then I will request Foreign Secretary to answer. Those who did not ask in the morning session will be given preference.

Question from PTI: Did you see any commitment from the US side to act or take tough action against Pakistan because there is no doubt about the save havens existing there and also did the UP elections changed the dates, was he planning to come earlier?

Question from ANI: Is there any confirmation regarding the invitation of Prime Minister to come to India and is specific occasion in India?

Question from India Global Asia: Mr. Secretary you have covered many visits of Prime Minister, my question is as far as our Indian-American community is concerned, their issue is H1B visa and Prime Minister is very famous in America because of our community?

Question from Times Now:
Adding to what has just now been asked, I want to understand even though you say that both the leaders called on Pakistan to stop terror but the very fact that the statement that was read out by President Trump did not mention cross-border terrorism, hence my question, do you think India has been able to achieve what it was seeking to achieve when it comes to countering terrorism and isolating Pakistan?

Question: You mentioned that both countries called on Pakistan to end terrorism, over the years there has been a feeling that there is need to cut the military aid to Pakistan further. Did you see Donald Trump expressing anger with Pakistan for not reigning in terror groups and did you get a sense that military aid to Pakistan would be cut further? And if I could pack in one small question about Srinivas Kuchipotala, did the issue of racial attacks against Indians even though it might be an aberration, it might be one-off incident, did the security of Indians abroad come up in the discussions?

Question: On the designation of Syed Salahuddin today and the fact that the statement, a phrase was used that Kashmir valley is being turned into a graveyard for Indian forces, did that context come up? Is that indicative of the fact that the United States is now giving moral authority to India and India’s fight in Kashmir Valley and what is the sense and understanding, did this come up in the discussions?

Question from India News: Mera bada chhota sa sawaal hai ki Pakistan waale issue ko lekar kal PM ne kahaa thaa ki surgical strike humne kari hai aur kisi bhi country ne usko lekar react nahi kiya, kya us surgical strike ke baare mein kisi bhi tarah ka koi discussion ya mention hua?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:
What I’ll do I’ll plaster the questions because there are a lot of Pakistan related questions and then may be come to the invitation, community related questions.

First of all, dates of the visit were very straight forward affair. As you know Prime Minister was busy with the elections in India so the question of planning before March did not arise and then we have to find what was the common calendar. It happened on 26 June, if it was convenient it could have happened a week before or a week later, I think it was nothing other than convenience.

Let me now come to the Pakistan issue, I think what is the key sentence and I do realize that you have the disadvantage of not seeing the joint statement because it has just came out, it’s not entirely our fault. There are two sentences, "They called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.” Now that is a pretty clear cross-border reference to me. But just in case if you want cross-border explicitly, the next sentence gives you that. It say, "They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan based groups.” I think you can’t get it clearer than that.

The other issue which I want to bring up was in terms of military assistance to Pakistan. Look, there was a broad discussion on Pakistan, it was broad, it was also extensive. On certain issues it was very detailed. Now exactly what action US would take consequent to that discussion that is for the US administration to indicate. So it is not something which they are going to tell us that tomorrow morning we are going to do that, but what we had was very much converging view point of what is the problem, let’s diagnose the problem and it’s not just India’s situation. I think a lot of discussion was also related to what was happening in the case of Afghanistan and in fact there are a number of other countries who have also raised this issue saying that their terrorism concerns also emanate from the same source. So what US does as a follow up to this conversation that really in fairness is for the American officials at some point of time, to answer.

In terms of the Syed Salahuddin designation, I think you should take the step for what it is. It is, in a sense, fixing responsibility, highlighting a problem. Please read it along with the fact that I am giving you a sense of what the discussion were, so there is a context to it, there is a signaling out of it, it is focusing on a particular group and a particular individual and you all know the details etc. So I think none of us can really miss that message.

The issue of the surgical strike did not explicitly come up and on the H1B visa issue, there was a lot of discussion both yesterday with the business as well as today with the administration including at the levels of the leaders.

About the digital partnership, I think when the joint statement will come out you will see references in that to the importance both of the digital partnership, and somebody else asked the question about the importance of the Indian-American community. People do recognize that Indian-American community has played an extraordinary role as a bridge in building this relationship and so I think when you value something it is very obvious that you would take care of what you value.

The last issue, invitation to President Trump to visit India. Yes, Prime Minister extended both, when he was speaking at the Rose Garden but also at the end of his discussions. The President accepted it but you know again I don’t have a specific time.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay:
Thank you very much Sir. I think, with that.

Question: Climate Change accusations by Mr. Donald Trump were very strong one. Did they come up for discussion anywhere in any manner or was there any clarification on that issue?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: There was a discussion on energy mix, on economic growth, balancing growth and environment etc. That issue did come up and again when the joint statement comes you will see how we have captured that. I would say that Joint Statement is very accurate capturing of what actually happened.

(Concluded)
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