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Transcription of Media Briefing on upcoming visit of President to Greece, Suriname and Cuba (June 12, 2018)

June 13, 2018

OSD (PR), Shri Abu Mathen George: Good afternoon friends and thank you for joining us in this media briefing on the Hon’ble President’s upcoming visit to Greece, Cuba and Suriname. We have with us Jt. Secretary for Central Europe, Mr. Subrata Bhattacharjee, Jt. Secretary for Latin America and Caribbean, Mr. Partha Satpathy and the Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik. To begin with JS (CE) will brief you on the visit to Greece, followed by JS (LAC) briefing on Cuba and Suriname legs of the visit. I will then request the Press Secretary to give his own remarks after which the floor will be open for questions.

Jt. Secretary (CE), Shri Subrata Bhattacharjee: Good afternoon friends in media. On the first leg of President’s three nation tour Rashtrapati Ji will be in Greece from June 16 to 19. This will be state visit at the invitation of the President of Hellenic Republic His Excellency Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji will be accompanied by Minister of State for Steel, Shri Vishnu Dev Sai and two Members of Parliament from Lok Sabha Shri Dinesh Kashyap and Nityanand Rai and senior officials. Rashtrapati Ji will depart Delhi on Saturday 16 June and reach Athens that day on late afternoon.

On the first day there is nothing substantive, a visit to temple of Poseidon, place of archeological importance. Next day on Sunday there would be some visits of historical and archeological importance and more importantly in the evening he will attend a community reception and he will address the diaspora there.

The main day of the visit will be on Monday i.e. 18 June, 2018. That day Rashtrapati Ji will visit monument of Unknown Soldiers and lay a wreath there. Thereafter he will be given ceremonial welcome at the Presidential Mansion which will be followed by his meetings with Greek President.He will have two other important meetings, one with Greek Prime Minister and the second with the Greek leader of opposition. Thereafter there will be a visit to Phaleron Commonwealth War Cemetery. This is also of special importance to India because 74 soldiers of undivided India sacrificed their lives in the campaign in Greece during Second World War. Their remains were laid to rest at this war cemetery.

In the evening Greek President will host a banquet in the honor of Rashtrapati Ji. Last day i.e. on Tuesday June 19, Rashtrapati Ji will attend India-Greece CEOs breakfast meeting. This will be gathering of Indian and Greek CEOs, about 30 leading Indian businessmen have already confirmed. After that Rashtrapati Ji will give a talk on India and Europe in a changing world. This will take place at a leading Greek think-tank called Hellenic Foundation for Europe and Foreign Policy. Thereafter he will depart for Suriname.

Coming to the substantive part of the visit, as you will be knowing, India and Greece have traditional long standing ties which go back to antiquity. We all have read about King Alexander and King Porus, those links go back to 2500 years. These links continued thereafter in the sense Greek troops helped Chandragupta Maurya in founding the Mauryan Empire. Archeological findings of coinage and writings are a testimony of flourishing trade contact between Mauryan kings and the Greek rulers. Gandhar art and culture is a living example of fusion of Indian and Greek influences. Megasthenes, the ancient Greek historian who is also known by his book ‘Indica’ was the Greek Ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Subsequent Greek rulers also have sent Ambassadors to Mauryan rulers. In the modern times diplomatic relations were established in 1950. We opened the embassy in Athens in 1968. So this year is the 50th year of establishment of Indian embassy there. 2020 will be the 70th year of establishment of diplomatic relations.

There has been regular and high level ministerial exchanges between the both countries. If we talk of high level visits in the last decade President of India paid visit to Greece in 2007 that was the last State visit from India. From the Greek side, Greek Prime Minister came here in 2008 and Greek PM Papandreou visited India in 2010 for the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

Last year November we had Foreign Minister of Greece and who had meetings with External Affairs Minister. This year in April Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat visited Greece. So we have fairly close ties in the ministerial and other exchanges and official level discussions go on.

Both countries are committed to democracy, rule of law and pluralism. Our bilateral trade currently stands at about $ 530 million, this is quite substantial considering the developments in international trade matters and economy. India participates fairly regularly Thessaloniki International fair. Some of the Indian companies have established their presence in Greece mostly in the infrastructure sector, pharma and Steel. As many as 10 Greece companies have their presence in India mostly in the sectors like IT and construction.

There is more scope for building stronger economic ties in sectors like agriculture, shipping, tourism which offer great scope. Movie shooting is yet another area because Indian Bollywood movies have been shot in Greece and both sides, the Indian film industry as well as the Greek tourism industry are aware of such potential and they are working together both to promote tourism from India to Greece and as well as to promote Indian movie shooting.

Greece is of course home to more than 12000 Indian diaspora. On other multilateral issues, I will say that Greece and India see many issues from same perspective. Greece supported our membership to bodies such as MTCR, Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement. These issues will of course be discussed more during the visit. That is all I have to say about the visit, I will be happy to take questions later.

OSD (PR), Shri Abu Mathen George: Thank you sir. I now request JS (LAC) to now brief on the next leg of the visit.

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: Thank you, Namaskar. After Greece, President goes to Latin America. Latin America as you know is a significant piece of real estate and global geography. 33 countries with whom we have relations. Important UN group called GRULAC operates in that region. Of course the SIDS group also has a very significance presence there.

So therefore the visit of the President in this region has to be seen in this context. It is also a buildup, from the attention that MEA has been giving and the Government of India has given this year i.e. 2018 to the Latin American region. As you know Vice President had already visited three countries in Latin America. MoS also visited a couple of countries in Latin America, now the President is going to visit Suriname and Cuba and thereafter the momentum of visits at the high level to Latin America will be sustained till the end of the year.

The first leg of the visit to Latin America will take place in Suriname. It will be from June 19 to 21. Suriname as you know is a very significant country for India from the diaspora perspective. We have a large Indian diaspora in Suriname. The first arrivals in Suriname were almost 145 years back. That incidentally is being celebrated around the time when the President arrives in the country.

The visit to Suriname is at the invitation of the President of Suriname. It is also recognition of warm and friendly relations between India and Suriname and this has been reinforced with the ongoing economic, social, political, diplomatic collaboration that has been on with the government of Suriname. India shares warm friendly relations with Suriname and as I said this is anchored by the significant presence of Indian diaspora which contributes around 37 percent of the population of the country.

Cultural interaction and people to people contact goes back a long time, almost 145 years since the arrival in 1873 which was the first arrival of the indentured labor into Suriname. Therefore Rashtrapatiji’s visit to Suriname is a historic event and it will be first ever visit of a Head of State since diplomatic relations were established in 1975, that is when Suriname got its independence.

In recent years there has been great dynamism in our relations. Vice President of Suriname Ashwin Adhin has visited India a few times and interacted at the highest level of our leadership. On multilateral matters India and Suriname share and have common views especially with respect to our position on UNSC. Suriname supports our membership in an expanded UNSC including support to the G4.

During the visit some significant MoUs will be signed, around 7 to 8 in number. Some of them are still in the final stages of negotiation. One of the most significant would be in the area of elections. Suriname, as you know, is a functioning democracy and through this Memorandum of Understanding with our Election Commission best practices for strengthening democratic practices, democratic institutions, and democratic modalities will be easy in first.

In addition to this we have some MoUs in the area of health and medicine, information technology, establishment of relations between diplomatic institutions and an MoU on archives. This is very important because archival history of Suriname is linked to in India so that collaboration is also very significantly viewed and information technology.

Suriname is the founding member of the International Solar Alliance and the instrument of ratification will be handed over during the visit of the President. In this spirit we are looking at developmental assistance in the area of solar energy for Suriname. A couple of lines of credit will also be signed during this time mainly for power transmission and maintenance of hardware already available in Suriname.

We are also going to announce a few projects for empowerment of women and for uplifting IT literacy among school children, this would be a separate collaboration where financial grants will be given. The groundbreaking ceremony of the Vivekananda Cultural Centre will be done by both the Presidents. This is our Cultural Centre which is being built in Suriname but the land has been donated by the government of Suriname so it is a collaboration between the two governments.

A very important thing is that the International Day of yoga would be celebrated in Suriname. President himself along with the President of Suriname and other dignitaries will be partaking in this significant event. The visit, as I told you, is taking place in the backdrop of 145th anniversary of arrival of Indians in Suriname. It adds to the warmth of the atmosphere.

Indian culture especially music, dance and other forms of our soft power will be on display and it will add to the warmth and intensity of the relations during the visit. In Suriname we will have a number of significant things happening apart from the 145th anniversary celebration and establishment of an Ayush Chair in traditional medicine. We will be discussing medicinal plants farming in Suriname. It will be to enable Suriname to become a platform not only for itself but for the Caricom countries for Indian Pharmaceuticals. Admission of Ayurveda as an alternate system of medicine would be a significant outcome through various MoUs that have been signed in this area.

Indian Sports, wrestling is very popular in Suriname so therefore some Indian coaches and we can see some Dangal like success story hopefully in Suriname. The visit will be utilized for developmental assistance to Suriname and also to acknowledge Suriname’s position in terms of resources oil, gold and various other minerals and express our interest in helping Suriname exploit and developed resources.

After Suriname president moves to Cuba. Cuba as you know we have historically had very strong and friendly relations with Cuba. President will begin his travel to Cuba by paying homage to the site where Fidel Castro is buried. Thereafter he will go to Vienna for his official interaction. He will be meeting with the new President of Cuba as you know he has just taken over in April and therefore this occasion is a very important one for us to not only reaffirm our friendship but also develop a new line of close interactions at the highest level with the political leadership of Cuba.

President of Cuba who has initially visited India in 2015 and our ex Vice President had visited Cuba in 2013. So this is a follow up of those visits. Of course it is a first Presidential visit to Cuba. Again on the multilateral fora we share commonality of views. Cuba does support our position and our presence in an expanded UN Security Council and has supported us in various elections to UN bodies.

Cuba as you know is an important player in international issues especially on climate change, sustainable development, things which we also hold very dear to our heart and both countries are founding members of NAM that again is a platform where we engage with the developing world and Cuba too does engage with the developing world. Cuba has a history of cooperation and development in the South South Cooperation Arena which we too do and therefore there is a reinforcement of interests there.

We have been rendering some kind of development assistance to Cuba through lines of credit and grant. We had provided some assistance during the disaster Hurricane Irma which has happened through medicines and agricultural equipment and all that. We also have some lines of credit in the areas of renewable energy, wind power and we will be offering some more developmental assistance in the area of solar power because Cuba is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance and therefore this would be again our way of expressing our gratitude for this situation and also support Cuba’s efforts in non-conventional and renewable energy.

Four MoUs are expected to be signed during the visit in the area of biotechnology. Biotechnology is, as you know, a domain where Cuba has done exceptionally well especially on high end high-tech medical innovations including vaccinations, cancer treatments. There are some collaborations between Indian companies and the Cuban Center for Research in this area especially on cancer and vaccinations. So we will be signing an MoU in the biotechnology.

We would also be signing an MoU in the area of Homeopathic medicines, traditional systems of medicines and medicinal plants. So the focus, as you see, is on health and health care and alternate systems of healthcare. Cuba as you know has been doing a tremendous job of training medical doctors across the developing world and they have some innovative schemes on public health and therefore India as you all know is the pharmacy of the world, so therefore this is a good synergy between the two countries and therefore the focus in this area.

As I mentioned there will be developmental assistance being discussed and we are hoping to sign some in the area of renewable energy and wind energy. Thank you and I am ready to take questions.

OSD (PR), Shri Abu Mathen George: Thank you sir. Now I request Press Secretary to the President to give his remarks.

Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik:Thank you. Good afternoon friends. As you may be aware this is President Kovind’s fourth international visit since taking over as President of India. This is also his third visit in the calendar year 2018.

This is his first visit to countries outside Africa. His previous visits, all three of them have been to African countries. This visit takes him to actually three continents i.e. Europe and the two Americas. This is also his final visit in his first year as President. Ten countries in his first year’s presence which concludes in July 2018 is representative of a very busy diplomatic program for the country, for the government and of course for the President as well.

Of the 10 countries he has visited including two of the three countries in this visit, six countries were such where no Indian President has previously gone which again represents President Kovind’s urge and determination to open up new geographical spaces that have previously been left unexplored and to continue India’s process of reaching out to the global south in Africa and as my colleague said in Latin America as well.

There are several highlights of these visits which my colleagues have spoken about. The President is particularly happy that he will be in Suriname on International Yoga Day and participating in the commemoration of the Yoga day with the President of Suriname which is a bit of unique event that two Heads of State will together at an International Yoga Day event.

In Greece and Suriname and in Cuba he looks forward to substantive conversations and agreements with the Presidents of those countries as well as with the governments. In Greece he has a major speech at the think-tank my colleague referred to which is on the theme of India and Europe in the changing world. In Cuba he looks forward to meeting the new generation of the Cuban leadership. The new President has just taken over. That is all I have, thank you.

OSD(PR), Shri Abu Mathen George: Thank you sir. We have time for a few questions. As you all are aware of the rules, please be brief, introduce yourselves and ask one question only.

Question: Is visit ke dauraan do mahatvapoorn cheezein jo hain, ek to yoga ko lekar jaisa ki President khud Suriname mein rahenge. Yoga ka message kis tarah se President ki taraf se tamaam deshon ko jar aha hai aur is visit mein bhi usko include kiya gaya hai. Doosara sawaal mera Cuba ko lekar hai ki health ke aspect ko khastaur par Charon MoU mei shaamil kiya gaya hai. Khastaur par biotechnology ki agar hum baat karein to Bharat kya Cuba se haasil karega, kya milega hamein is kshetra mein?

(Two important things during this visit are that President will be himself present in the Suriname at the time of International Yoga Day. How this message is being conveyed to the world by the President as it has also been included in the visit? My second question is related to Cuba, we can see health aspect is present in all the four MoUs. If we talk about biotechnology, what would India gain from collaboration in this field?)Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik: Dekhiye International Yoga Day Bharat ki ek pracheen sanskriti ko celebrate karta hai aur jab se UN ne ise adopt kiya hai Bharat ke liye bahut ye bahut badi safalta maani jaati hai, diplomatically aur culturally.

Rashtrapati Ji jahan bhi rahte 21 June ko wo International Yoga Day mei participate karte, agar Bharat mei hote to Bharat mei karte. Coincidently wo Suriname mei hain aur Suriname ke Rashtrapati ne bhi International Yoga Day mein participate karne ki apni anumati de di to ek saath dono Presidents participate karenge.

Rashtrapati Ji waise yoga karte hain apni personal life mein aur yoga ki jo mental aur physical benefits hain iske bare mein kai baar unhone apni speeches mei bola aur baat bhi ki hai. Wo kaafi khush hain ki Suriname mei wo us din rahenge.(See, International Yoga Day celebrates an ancient aspect of Indian culture and UN adopted this, it was a very big cultural and diplomatic feat for India.

Wherever President would have been on June 21 he would have participated in the International Yoga Day, had he been India he would have participated here in India itself. Coincidentally he is in Suriname and the President of Suriname also accepted to participate in the International Yoga day celebrations hence both Presidents will participate in it.

In his personal life also President practices Yoga and he has discussed physical and mental benefits of Yoga in his speeches and discourses. He is very happy that he will be in Suriname on that day.)

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: On the question of Cuba, yes as I said there will be a MoU on biotechnology. Cuba, as you know, is a pioneer in some areas of biotechnology including vaccinations, some kind of novel cancer treatments. There has been some collaboration with Indian companies including Biocon on the fruits of these biotechnology outputs. The attempt now is to give it a platform and a structure so that the collaboration can take not only between the institutes but also manage to get our private sector involved.

This is a spin-off of research and development efforts in Cuba and our own biotechnology research and development efforts, so we are hoping some degree of synergy here and outputs from this can feed into the global south south cooperation. So that is one of the main focus of this cooperation in biotechnology.

Question: You named a lot of MoUs which are going to be signed in Suriname. I want to know as far as diaspora is concerned, are there anything particularly that is being taken up for the diaspora in terms of investment and economic incentives, both ways.

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: The engagement is with the government of Suriname and all our efforts are to buttress this bilateral cooperation which has been strong and ongoing for a number of years. Specifically if you say diaspora centric activities, well the Vivekananda Cultural Centre is a monument to the Indian soft part and will provide a platform for engagement of Indian soft power with Suriname in general and specifically also for the diaspora that has been there.

As you know some of them speak very chaste Hindi there and a number of classes have been ongoing in Sanskrit, Hindi, Yoga, Classical fields of dance. All this will come under one roof in the Vivekananda Cultural Center. The notable thing is that is the piece of land on which it will be built has been gifted by the government of Suriname. So therefore all the activities will not only benefit the entire population of Suriname but also the diaspora present there.

We have MoU in the area of election. Anything which buttresses democratic systems there, buttress the country, information technology and then of course diplomatic institutes would provide some leeway for training. This has been ongoing and has been reinforced with ITEC educations slots which are provided to Suriname. But now with this MoU between the two diplomatic institutes, it will get institutionalized.

Of course the MoU in traditional medicine is again al alternate form of medicine in Ayurveda and in all other traditional systems of medicines of India. So overall, yes, it will strengthen our bilateral relations with the country and also address our concern and our attention to the Indian diaspora.

Question: Agar hum Latin America aur India ki baat karein to chaahe wo tourism ho, chaahe wo medicine sector ho ya exchange of culture ho, dono mein synergies bahut hain. Kya in MoUs mein economic ke lihaaz se aur tourism ko badhaawa dene ke lihaaz se kuchh baat aage badhane waali hai?

(If we talk about Latin America and India then whether it is tourism, medicine or exchange of culture, there are a lot of synergies between the two. Will there be something in the MoUs to take forward the relations in the field of economy and enhancing tourism?)

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: Certainly, all these MoUs do enable an environment in which exchange of our soft power, which is as you rightly said very well recognized in Latin America, accelerates. In every country, in Suriname and Cuba, visa is not an issue. Visas are available on arrival and generally it is not difficult. Of course distance is a factor but that again has been breached through better connectivity, I won’t say it is the best, but better connectivity.

In terms of cultural cooperation, this is again reinforced the presence of President of India on the Yoga day will definitely send a signal throughout the Latin America where incidentally the number of schools which practice yoga are probably exceedingly high than any other part of the globe.

So yes, overall it will accelerate our inflow and out flow of people both from their and from our side and to that Indian diaspora helps. It is a big diaspora and therefore that traffic is always there.

Question Contd.: To make it smooth and easy.

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: That is the whole attempt. Bilateral cooperation, it enhances and enables smoother transition and we certainly hope this will happen.

Question: My question pertains to the Vivekananda Center. How different its operations be from the Indian cultural center which I believe there is one in Paramaribo already? Will it be a think tank or is it only a cultural center?

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: There is an existing cultural center, this will give it a more institutionalized presence. Most of the activities that are taking place will be translated into the Vivekananda Cultural Center. Of course the expansion of cultural activities has no limits, probably depends upon the innovation of our Ambassador there and the interest of local population and the government there.

But definitely once this structure comes up there will be regular place in terms of auditorium facilities, in terms of meetings facilities and in terms of programming facilities. So we do expect more enhanced and active interaction in the cultural sphere.

Question: What is the position of these three countries on India’s candidature to United Nations Security Council?

Jt. Secretary (CE), Shri Subrata Bhattacharjee: Greece has been supportive of India’s claim for UNSC permanent membership.

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: Both countries are supportive of India’s candidature and this has been ongoing support and we expect this to be reiterated once again.

Question: You referred to NAM. In international realm for last two decades probably the relevance of NAM has been in question. So are we reviving it now?

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: I did expect something on these lines when I mentioned it. I am not going to debate on the position of NAM. It is just to indicate that yes both are founding members of NAM and both are strong votaries of the Non-Alignment Movement and both practice their own foreign policies which is devoid of pressure from countries.

So the occasion does provide both countries to reiterate their mutual support and support for the organization. Thank you.

Question: I am not interested about the visit to the Latin American countries. What I am interested in is there are important countries in Latin America apart from Suriname and Cuba like Argentina, Brazil, Chile etc. why not these countries have been visited?

Jt. Secretary (LAC), Shri Partha Satpathy: Visiting some countries in Latin America does not exclude the other countries. It is a question of programming and how to program it within a brief period of time. Engagement with Brazil has always been intense. It continues under the platform of BRICS and IPSA and we will see more of it at the multilateral for a wherever it takes place. G20 interactions will take place in Argentina, Prime Minister might visit in November. So therefore this visit has been kind of decided, as I said, with the focus on Indian diaspora countries, the Caribbean region and therefore is again an expression of how closely we are paying attention to the critical area.

OSD (PR), Shri Abu Mathen George: Since there are no more questions, this briefing is over. Thank you sirs for this extremely exhaustive and comprehensive briefing. Thank you all.

(Concludes)

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