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Transcription of Press Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Kathmandu (May 12, 2018)

May 13, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Yesterday Prime Minister delivered his press remarks and there are a lot of things which are available on our website but to brief you on the visit as well as the discussion that has taken place since the arrival of Prime Minister yesterday, I have with me the Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale and Jt. Secretary (North). They will brief you on the visit.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Thank you ladies and gentlemen. The visit of the Prime Minister to Nepal is winding down. A very successful visit and as all of you saw at the joint press conference yesterday evening at which a number of important statements made, that there is a great deal of personal warmth and friendship between the Prime Minister and his Nepal counterpart.

This morning as you know Prime Minister went to Muktinath and then to Pashupatinath and has just met several other political leaders including former Prime Minister Deuba and Prachanda as well as leaders of Madhesi parties. This is part of the ongoing engagement that India and India’s leadership has with political leaders of Nepal. I think it is worth pointing out here that at the function at Janakpur yesterday, the presence of all political representatives of Nepal on the stage with the Prime Minister indicates the good relationship that India’s leadership and India itself enjoys with the Nepali political leadership and that India enjoys support along the entire spectrum of the Nepal leadership, I think this is an important point.

Prime Minister has more than once both in his individual meetings with Prime Minister Oli and his delegation talks expressed his appreciation for Prime Minister Oli’s personal attention to detail, both on his program in Nepal and on the substantive content of the discussion that have taken place.

As you know they met five times yesterday, twice on one to one meetings and three times on delegation talks including the dinner that Prime Minister Oli hosted for our PM and which a number of former Prime Ministers were also there.

Since yesterday’s Press Conference by the two Prime Ministers we have already shared a number of details about what the outcome of those discussions were, I won’t go into that in any detail but I do want to highlight few points.

Firstly, virtually all senior members of Prime Minister Oli’s cabinet were in one way or the other involved in this visit. The Defence Minister was in Janakpur and in the bilateral meeting yesterday, even the Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and the Home Minister were present. I think this is important because it is a message that goes across the entire government of Nepal.

Prime Minister Oli in particular noted that there was sincerity in commitment on part of the Indian side to strengthen this multi-faceted partnership and I think that is an important point that I wanted to underscore. But more importantly Prime Minister Oli told the PM that Nepal wants a partnership with India to harness the opportunities being offered by our economic growth and the growth of the Indian economy.

This was also the sentiment expressed by the way by President of Nepal to PM. So I think it is from our perspective important that Nepal looks at us as an economic partner and wants to partner with us in our growth. There was a very detailed review by both Prime Ministers and that was evident from the press briefing as well. On the specific projects and initiatives that we have undertaken between the two countries, both Prime Ministers also gave clear direction that we must now focus on expeditious delivery.

On the game changing initiatives that Prime Minister had announced in Delhi in April namely the Raxaul Kathmandu rail link, the inland waterways and the agriculture partnership, the Prime Minister in his discussion with Prime Minister Oli conveyed specific forward movement in all these areas. Within one month of Prime Minister Oli’s visit to India and this in particular was highly appreciated by Prime Minister Oli.

Both Prime Ministers also agreed that given the nature of our relationship formalities should be dismissed with. High level engagements should be, and I quote his words, "Sahaj and Saral” In other words the more frequent these high level exchanges can be the more shorter formality they are, the more productive they become. And President Bhandari also told Prime Minister that frequent high level visits strengthen people to people relations so there was a clear indication from the side of the government of Nepal that they value this political relationship, they value Prime Minister taking the trouble to come to Nepal within a month of Prime Minister Oli’s visit and they would like to see more of these sort of exchanges and not necessarily as state visits, they could also be informal visits.

Prime Minister Oli also reiterated and this is an important point, something that we appreciated that Nepal will be sensitive to our concerns and that Nepal’s territory will not be allowed to be used by anybody against India and PM reciprocated that sentiment. We also conveyed that we value our relationship with Nepal and that we not allow anything to happen which would pose difficulties to Nepal. So I think this was an important reiteration from the Nepali Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Oli also confirmed that Nepal will host the BIMSTEC Summit this year and also expressed Nepal’s commitment to the BBIN Initiative i.e. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative. Overall I think the highlight was when Prime Minister Oli said, and I quote, "friendly relations between India and Nepal will be developed to new heights” and for us that was an important statement. One that symbolized and suggested that the government of Nepal is forward looking and is interested in taking the relationship to new directions and on capitalizing on many of the initiatives we had announced in April.

Prime Minister had short meetings but good meetings with the other stakeholders, former Prime Ministers Deuba and Pushp Kumal Dahal Prachanda as well as with the leaders of two Madhesi parties. With all of them Prime Minister underscored what he had said yesterday at his press conference and that is, achievement of Nepal in consolidating democracy and in holding elections peacefully in so short span of time would in fact go down in history as one of the examples of how democracy should be implemented in any country.

He mentioned therefore to all of them that they are all the owners of this process, all of them, whether they are in opposition or they are in government, they own the process. The people who led the process, who established the democracy and now the task, as I recall the Prime Minister said, is to strengthen the process. And that India would be supportive in strengthening process and we would welcome working with Nepal in whatever ways we could to strengthen the process.

To sum it up therefore and I am not going into details because a lot of them were mentioned yesterday by the two Prime Ministers, I would say that two visits in two months of two state leaders sets the bilateral relationship on a very positive and forward looking path.

I would also say that we have, through these two visits strengthened our connections at multiple levels. I think the issue of relationship between two democracies was very evident during this visit and in Prime Minister’s comment to the press. Prime Minister’s visit to various cultural sites suggested that there would be a stronger people to people relationship and if I recall some of the leaders who called on the Prime Minister today in fact expressed their belief that Prime Minister’s visit to Muktinath and Janakpur would actually lead to enhanced tourism and pilgrimages from India which will be good for Nepal’s economy.

And the third, collective process development where we agreed to do essentially was to following the detailed review we undertook in the last two meetings between our two leaders, we agreed to bridge the commitment implementation gap which was there in some cases from both sides. And what we have decided or what the Prime Ministers have decided is to have an informal timeline for the next comprehensive review which will be in the month of September this year and in the joint statement which I presume will be issued shortly that will be mentioned. So in fact what the Prime Minister desired was that we address the issues and we address them within a timeline at least to ensure that progress is made on all the issues that both sides raised.

The intention that leadership on both sides made clear is that they want to make this very historical, very cultural, very age old relationship relevant to the times we live in, relevant to the 21st century. I want to end by saying that the Prime Minister is very touched by the reception that he has got not only the arrangements which Prime Minister Oli has made but the manner in which similar sentiments were expressed by President Bhandari, Vice President Pun, Foreign Minister Ghyawali and other leaders both whether they were in the government or the opposition. Prime Minister has one remaining engagement which is the civic reception and I believe that we are entirely satisfied with this visit and we now look forward to moving ahead on some of these projects. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. We have time for few questions.

Question: Prime Minister visited three temples, Muktinath, Janakpur and here in Kathmandu, is it right to say that the focus was on faith diplomacy in this entire trip?

Question: The press statement by both prime ministers yesterday very specifically mentioned one paragraph where Prime Minister Oli spoke about cross border trade and electricity, the concerns that Nepal has in terms of electricity that whether India will buy or not from third country funded projects such as China. The Prime Minster of India said something about assurances. I just want a clarity on what are the kind of assurances that India is giving to Nepal on that front?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: As far as first question is concerned, I think the visit was essentially a visit to strengthen overall relations between India and Nepal and the focus was very much on development of relations. In that regard I think the announcements that were made by both Prime Ministers yesterday on a number of development issues whether it is cross-border electricity or whether it is cross border connectivity, whether it is cultural or people to people relations I think the underlying objective of this visit was to build on trust with the Nepali leadership and to take this relationship into a forward moving direction.

Of course the Prime Minister visited a number of cultural sites. Prime Minister does so on may other occasions in many other visits but I think here the message was that a relationship is not just built between political leaders but between the people of the two countries and if there are any two people which have very very strong links at a cultural level I think it is India and Nepal I think that was the message Prime Minister was seeking to give.

As far as second question is concerned, yes cross border trade in electricity is an issue that has been raised by Nepal and not just by Nepal by other neighboring countries as well. I do not believe that this was raised in the context of any country specific investments, I want to be clear about that but I also want to be clear that what our Prime Minister has said is that we are looking into these issues, we have taken onboard or we will take onboard issues that have been raised by the government of Nepal as well as other neighboring governments but ultimately we have to see how that impacts on us and government policy as a whole. So at this stage what the two sides will do is to review the situation and to continue to have discussions.

Question Contd.: So there will be no electricity buy?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: No, in fact at the moment we are selling electricity to Nepal and that continues. In fact one of the important points which was worthy of note is this new Butwal Gorakhpur line and the important statement that Prime Minister Oli made that the Nepal side of transmission line will in fact be financed from their own resources while we will of course finance from our own. So we are quite pleased that this is a partnership in which both countries will share the burden and I think that is what we would like to see.

Question: When the question of …….. come naturally there come the name of one country. When we are discussing about connectivity they have massive plans for making roads inside Nepal, so did you talk to Prime Minister Oli who will control the movement on roads otherwise it could be security threat for India?

Question: Pradhanmantri ki ye yatra jisko aap safal kah rahe hain uski timing ko lekar Bharat mein bahut saare sawal uth rahe hain. Vipaksh ka kahna hai ki election ke samay jo planning ho rahi hai is yatra ki, kya aap bata sakte hain ki ye yatra kab decide hui, iski taareekh kab decide hui?

(This visit of Prime Minister which is being declared as successful, a lot of questions are being raised in India regarding its timing. Opposition is saying that the visit was planned during election time. Can you confirm when this visit was decided, when were the dates of the visits finalized?)

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: As far as first question is concerned, the statement or the view that Prime Minister Oli expressed that he is mindful of India’s security and will not allow Nepal’s territory to be used by any other country against India is, from our perspective, a significant statement. And obviously at that level discussions don’t take place in any detail on what these concerns may be or from where these concerns may come. So as far as we are concerned we are satisfied with the discussion on this issue.

Where connectivity is concerned, I think the question of control of roads is the sovereign right of the government of Nepal but as of this point what our focus is on building new connectivity with Nepal. Connectivity that actually links India’s hinterland in Nepal in new ways rather than in the current ways and I think that was where the focus was and where the focus is going to be hereafter as well.

Jahan tak doosra prashn hai, main aapko bata doon ki jab Pradhan Mantri ne Pradhan Mantri Oli ko telephone kiya tha unke election ke baad aur jab wo Nepal ke Pradhanmantri chune gaye they, usi samay baatcheet hui thi aur usi samay Prime Minister Oli ne kaha tha ki main chaahta hoon ki aap jald se jald Nepal yatra par aayein aur us samay is par kuchh charcha hui thi. Pradhanmantri Ji ne fir kaha ki pehle aap aaiye.

To isliye ye jo sequence hai ki pehle Pradhanmantri Oli aaye uske baad Pradhanmantri Ji gaye lekin main aapko bata doon ki jab koi bhi state visit tay hota hai to dono deshon ke convenience pe hota hai. Ye koi ek desh nahi kah sakta, koi ek Pradhanmantri nahi kah sakta ki main aaunga ya main aaungi is samay. Isliye aap dates par kuchh jyada focus na dein aur visit ke content par dein to ye acchha rahega.

(As far as second question is concerned let me tell you that when Prime Minister called Prime Minister Oli on his winning the election and being elected as the Prime Minister, things were discussed at that time and Prime Minister Oli had said that he wants that Prime Minister should visit Nepal at the earliest and some discussions were held on it. Then our Prime Minister said that he wants the Prime Minister Oli should visit first.

Hence this sequence of events that first Prime Minister Oli visited India and then Prime Minister went to Nepal. But let me tell you that when any state visit is confirmed it is as per the convenience of both the countries. No one country or prime minister can say that I will come at this particular time. Hence I would request you to lay more focus on the content of the visit rather than its dates.)

Question: Last time jab Prime Minister Nepal Bharat aaye to SAARC ka issue aaya tha. Humne unko clearly ye bataya Prime Minister ki taraf se ki is maujooda scenario mein SAARC ko resume nahi kiya jaa sakta. Kya wo request chairperson Nepal ki taraf se fir se ki gai aur hamara kya uttar tha?

(When Prime Minister Nepal visited India last time then the issue of SAARC came up. On behalf of Prime Minister we clearly stated our position that in the current scenario it is not possible to resume SAARC. Did chairperson Nepal again bring that request and what was our response to that?)

Question: Nepal ki is visit mein Pradhanmantri Oli ne demonetization ka bhi issue uthaya. What is our position on that?

(Prime Minister Oli raised the issue of demonetization during this visit. What is our position on that?)

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Jahan tak pahle prashn ki baat hai to main aapko bata doon ki SAARC ka mudda na unhone uthaya na humne uthaya.

Jahan tak demonetization ka mudda hai, main aapko bata doon ki abhi hamare Reserve Bank of India aur unke Nepal Rashtriya Bank ke beech mein baatcheet jaari hai lekin hamein ye samajhana chaahiye ki is samasya mein ye ek kaafi uljhi hui samasya hai aur kaafi samay beet chukka hai already jab se demonetization hua that November 2016 mei aur aaj hum 2018 mei hain to kuch technical issues hain is maamle mein aur wo issues dono central banks hi suljha sakenge. To abhi to baatcheet jaari hai.

(As far as first question is concerned let me tell you that the issue of SAARC was neither raised by them nor by us.

As far as the issue of demonetization is concerned, let me tell you that discussions between our Reserve Bank of India and their Central bank is still going on. We must understand that this is a very complicated issue and a lot of time has already passed since demonetization was carried out. From November 2016 it is now 2018, so there are certain technical issues in this regard which both the central banks can only resolve. Currently discussions are going on.)

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you all for joining. Thank you sir for this briefing, thank you Jt. Secretary.

(Concludes)

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