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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (December 02, 2021)

December 02, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good evening to all of you. Namaskar. Thank you for joining us for the Weekly Media Briefing. Before we go over to the questions I had a short announcement to make about the Maitri Diwas with Bangladesh. As you would recall, during the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March this year to attend the National Day of Bangladesh, it was decided to commemorate 6th December as my Maitri Diwas or friendship day. We may recall that 10 days before the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, India had recognised Bangladesh on this day 06 December 1971. India was one of the first countries to establish bilateral diplomatic ties with Bangladesh. Maitri Diwas has been commemorated in 18 countries around the world apart from of course, in Dhaka and in New Delhi. Many of you would ask for queries on which are these countries; the countries are Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Qatar, Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America, not in any particular order.

In New Delhi, the Indian Council of world affairs will be organising a special event on December 6, which will see participation from both countries. I want to emphasise that the holding of the Maitri Diwas is a reflection of the deep and abiding friendship between the people of India and the people of Bangladesh, that has been forged in blood and shared sacrifices. I think we'll take a few questions in the first round. Okay Sidhant, we will start with you.

Sidhant: Sir, my question is on President Putin's visit; any details you can give? It's happening on sixth on Monday. Also on the Two Plus Two as well, how the day starts and everything.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Anyone else related to this? If not, let me just share with you something, I think this would be a topical issue. Look, as we announced last week, the visit of Russian President His Excellency Vladimir Putin will take place on 6th December. He will be here for the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit. Actually there will be a series of meetings on that day. We foresee a very intensive engagement during the day and culminating with the summit. The day will begin with Raksha Mantri and his Russian counterpart, His Excellency Sergey Shoygu, co-chairing what is known as the Intergovernmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation, in the morning. While External Affairs Minister will have a bilateral meeting with his counterpart Russian Foreign Minister, His Excellency Mr. Sergey Lavrov. These meetings will be followed by the first meeting, the inaugural meeting of the newly instituted 2 + 2 dialogue mechanism at the level of the foreign and defence ministers. Both ministers are expected to discuss bilateral, regional and international political and defence issues within this format, as you know, we have with very few countries.

In the afternoon, the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit will be held and we look forward to welcoming President Putin to New Delhi for the summit. As I have said earlier, the leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. And the summit will of course, offer an opportunity to exchange views on regional, multilateral and international issues of mutual interest. A joint statement is proposed to be issued at the end of the summit, which will encapsulate the discussions, understandings and agreements signed during and also in the run up to the summit. As you know, this is an annual event held alternately in India and Russia. So you're well familiar with the format of that, but this is happening after some break and we will try to share with you more details as the event progresses or happens, on these various elements.

(Statement in Hindi) Jaisa ki maine pehle kaha tha Bharat mein Russian President Vladimir Putin, 6 December ko 21vi India-Russia annual summit ke liye ayenge. Uss din subah hamari pehli mulakaat hogi raksha mantriyon ke beech mein, jise hum inter-governmental commission kehte hai ussi samay videsh mantri apne Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov se mulakaat karenge subah. Uske baad donon deshon ke do-do mantra, ek vartalap mein honge, jisamein Bilateral or kshetriya or International political developments hain uske baare mein baat hogi. Ye pehla is tarah ki meeting hai, 2+2 format jise hum kehte hai or bahut kam deshon ke saath aisa format hai. Sham ko kah sakte hain Summit hogi, Pradhan Mantri ji or Russian President ke beech usmein jaise hamane apne Press Release mein kaha tha, hamare pure dvipakshiye relations ke baare mein or regional ya international issues par bhi baat hogi jaisa ki aap jaante hain hamare donon deshon mein strategic partnership hai aur ye ek mauka hoga unko fir se is relationship ko puri tarah se usske uppar discuss karne ke liye. Pichhale saal ye vartalap ho nahi pai, har saal hoti hai par pichhale saal jo ki ho nahi pai is baar isamen jyada mahatvapoorn banta hai, apeksha ye hai shaam ko ek joint statement issue karenge jisme vartalap or baki jo agreement vagairah understandings jo sign hone ki ummid hai usmein discussion or details hum tabhi de paaenge usmen or usi din aur bhi jo details hain, ham tabhi de payenge abhi ke liye main itna hi bata sakata hun.

Srinjoy: Sir just some logistical details. Is President Putin coming in on the 6th and leaving on the 6th? And does the same apply to Lavrov and Shoygu. And as for the agreements, the most important one seems to be the 10-year military technical agreement that is still under discussion, there are some differences in the language that have to be worked out. So Is that likely to be done in the next four-five days?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me do one thing, anything else in the Russian visit before I take some of the other hands?

Speaker 2: Sir, is there any possibility of any talk on the issue of Arctic because India and Russia had been cooperating on Arctic and what are the possibilities of further cooperation? Any agreement also regarding that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me just take the logistics ones first, Srinjoy. Look, I don't think it'll be appropriate for me to give out details of exact flight times, etc., that I will leave to the Russian side to do. I had indicated last week that the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister will be 5th to 6th. We expect them to arrive probably the night before because this is an early morning meeting. So yes, they will be here on the 5th and hopefully 6th and so on. On the Russian president's visit I would not like to get into the exact arrival details for security and other reasons. But yes, the summit, as I mentioned will be in the afternoon-evening session.

As regards the agreement, and as I've mentioned, we are having the inter-governmental commission on military technical cooperation. I wouldn't like to prejudge what could be the sign or what the state of discussions are and we will certainly try to share with you details as it happens. I would say the similar thing on the Arctic issue, it is an important issue on which India does attach importance, not just in the context of our relations with the Russia, but as I said let's wait for what discussions happen. I never like to prejudge somebody else what they are going to say, particularly at the head of state level or head of government level.

Speaker 3: Sir, mera sawal Gilgit-Baltistan ko lekar hai jahaan pe Skardu Airport ko International Airport ke taur par Pakistan ne shuru kiya hai. Ye samucha Airport jo hai woh pahale bhi Pakistan misuse karta raha hai aur tourism ke naam par is tarah se International Airport ko shuru karna hamare liye kaisa Concern hai or kis tarah bharat usko le raha hai? (Questioned in Hind; Approximate translation) Sir, my question is regarding Gilgit-Baltistan, where Pakistan has started Skardu Airport as an International Airport. The entire airport that is there has been misused by Pakistan in the past and to start an international airport in this way in the name of tourism, is it a concern for us and how is India taking it?

Maha Siddiqui: Sir Maha Siddiqui from CNN-News18. Sir with the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there are certain aviation curbs that have been put in place. Have any of the countries which are considered at risk raised any queries or questions about those protocols. Also, how are we deciding the address countries because there are 11 address countries, but Omicron has been reported in almost 20 countries now. Also considering that, South Africa has raised the issue of feeling punished for the aviation curbs globally, is there a thinking or a rethink globally on whether aviation curbs are actually helping or not helping in this situation?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: On the issue of Omicron, as you know, is a very evolving situation. As I came in, we just saw the briefing by the Health Ministry where two cases have been confirmed in Karnataka. You mentioned 11 at risk countries, that's actually not accurate. The first element of that says countries in Europe, including the UK, so that's a large number of countries, the actual number of countries will be much larger. This is a technical decision and I would say, based on facts and evidence by our health and regulatory authorities. As you know, there have been changes in this list. This list existed prior to Omicron. So I wouldn't say this is an Omicron related list at all, even in the earlier version of the regulations that were announced in October. This is based on the incidence profile of COVID-19 in that country and there is changes in this list depending on what actually happens on the ground. At this point there are 11 entries in that list. The first entry as I said, countries in Europe, including the UK. I'm not aware of any particular country, having raised the fact that they are on that list or not. But I do want to clarify since you mentioned it, that we don't have travel curbs as such, some countries have stopped flights from that region or countries they define vis-a-vis Omicron we haven't done that. We have instead intensified surveillance mechanisms and protocols for those who happen to come from at risk countries and not just limited to Omicron who have as you know, have to undertake on arrival RT PCR tests etc. and have to undergo seven day home quarantine. But I would refer you to health ministry guidelines which are detailed and I think are explanatory so I wouldn't like to mix the two issues. These are not flight curbs. And as I said I'm not particularly sure if somebody has said they should or should not be on that list. These are decided by on the basis of actual evidence of cases.

Aap jikr kar rahe the Gilgit-Baltistan ki, dekhiye iss mein main kuchh detail mein nahin kehna chahunga sirf ki aap jaante hain ki Pakistan Occupied Kashmir pay hamara kya najariya hai aur ye hamaare andruni mamlon mein dakhalandaji hai aur hum bilkul iss ko nahi mante hain. Par isamein ek development ya kisi specific development mein comment nahi karna chaahungaa, yahi kehna chauhnga sirf ki hamara position iss pe clear hai or consistent raha hai (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) You are referring to Gilgit-Baltistan, see, I would not like to comment on the specifics. Just that you know what is our stand on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and it is interference in our internal affairs and we absolutely do not accept it. But I would not like to comment on a development or any specific development in this regard. Just that our position on this has been clear and consistent.

Speaker 4: Sir, I have got two questions actually. One is on Russia, you know, the S-400 is of course expected to be very keenly watched and now that the parts have started arriving also. So are we now any sort of contact with the Americans on what because since they have already imposed it may be difficult for them to give a complete waiver to India. So are we sort of in touch? How are we intending to balance the impact of this S-400 vis-a-vis the Americans and on the Omicron, you mentioned the two cases in Karnataka. So what are the implications of this? What are you expecting that will it affect flights now going out from India but other countries impose curbs on us? What are you expecting on this front? Thank you.

Speaker 5: We have empathised with countries in Africa, about the new variant and any plans of exporting the vaccines there?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Hamare language me hota h loaded question kahte hai pahle aapne S400 ka aisa pechida question pucha hai aapne isme bahut saare statements diye hai. Okay. Let me just clarify. I'm not supporting any of those things you have made lots of comments. I feel like I'm in court saying I deny everything that I do not formally accept. Let me just reiterate, I think where we stand on this issue, the delivery of parts etc, I'm not aware of any of these, I'm not commenting on any of that. Let me just reiterate what I said I think last week or before, defence procurement is a matter of Minister of Defence, I would please request you to contact them. On the CAATSA you referred, as we have said, India and US have a special global strategic partnership. And we also have a very special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia. And as you're all aware, we pursue an independent foreign policy. This applies to our defence acquisitions, and supplies which are and will continue to be guided by our national security interest. I said this earlier on let me just repeat that on that.

On Omicron, I don't think the presence of two cases who are already being quarantined and who are being especially monitored indicates that Omicron is present in India in a large way. So I don't think any impression that Omicron is present in India is I think, perhaps a wrong thing. Two cases among the people who just arrived, have been tested, they've been isolated, their contacts are being checked, etc. So, I don't know, I don't like to speculate on how the world looks at it. I certainly think there are many countries where exactly the similar circumstances cases have been found. I don't wish to speculate, as I told you, we haven't imposed any travel restrictions as such or flight cancellations.

On Africa, you would recall I think it was a few days ago, particularly in the context after Omicron was discovered we issued a press release, which was quite clear about, as you used the word, empathise and that's probably the right word. We did offer at that point, our support, both in terms of exporting the vaccines, and other medical assistance that we could give, supplies assistance. We named a few countries, we also indicated whatever they requested had been cleared. We stand ready to supply essential life saving drugs, test kits, PPE kits, gloves, whatever else medical equipment, ventilators, whatever required depending on the situation. And we are also willing to look at deepening our medical cooperation or collaboration, whether it is on virus characterization, genomic surveillance, etc. We will let you know if such requests come and what takes place on that, but this will be naturally at the request of the countries concerned.

Speaker 6: Sir after we organised the NSA level meeting of the neighbours of Afghanistan, what is the follow up? What is the situation that we decided in that meeting? And also that, you know, we had requested Pakistan to give us land route to send wheat and other materials to Afghanistan what is the progress on that?

Speaker 7: Sir there's been some speculation that, you know, we may be considering reopening an embassy in Kabul and former Vice President Hamid Ansari also has pretty said that this is something we should do. So are you taking his advice seriously, what is the latest on the issue? Thanks.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, let me choose my words carefully now that you invoked former Vice President. Let me start with the other question. Look, I think the NSA level dialogue was an opportunity for countries who are in the region who have similar perspectives, to share views, to exchange ideas, to identify from a security perspective what is the way forward. It's not as if there is a follow up as this is not that kind of a bilateral mechanism. Issues were identified and I think India continues to be a part of discussions on Afghanistan, with various countries in different formats and I think that is the better way of looking at it rather than specifying, this is not about some implementing something. This was a discussion and you saw the outcome adopted by consensus, and we will continue to follow up on that in that context of what is a common perspective, I would say even on a global level, which the UN Security Council has said it, you saw a lot of it reiterated in the Delhi declaration etc.

Regarding the issue of Kabul, look, I am not privy, and I'm not going to comment on media reports like such things. I haven't heard anything particular that he has said otherwise. I have only seen some media reports. As you know, we have stated our position on this issue quite clearly in the past and consistently and I think UN Security Council resolution 2593 captures it quite clearly what the expectations with international community are there. We have also outlined at various fora, our engagement and our perspective, guided by our links with the Afghan people. I don't have any particular update on the issue of that you mentioned.

Yours other query was on the wheat thing. Look, as we mentioned last week, we had received a response from Pakistan. I think it was November 24 that we received the response. We had given our proposal I think, early October, October 7th, for humanitarian assistance access into Afghanistan, we had been looking to supply 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat and lifesaving drugs to Afghanistan, to Afghan people. Since then, we've had discussions with the Pakistan on the modalities of this supply. These discussions are ongoing. Let me reiterate our belief that humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities and as I said, since the discussions are ongoing, we will share further updates as in when we have them.

(Statement in Hindi) Abhi jaisa maine kaha ki hum is vishay pay pehle bhi keh chuke hain, dohra chuke hain ki hamari kya neeti hai or hamari global community ki tarah se apekshaen hai UN Security council ki Resolution 2593 mein kuchh kaha gaya tha, hamane bhi keh rakha hai ki kis tarah ke hamein kya apekshaen hain Afghanistan se. Abhi koi aisa koi development nahi hai hamare pass jisko main share kar sakta hoon is vishay par. Aur gehun ke baare mein, jaisa ki hamne pichhle saptah bataya tha, ki 24 November ko Pakistan ka jawab aaya tha, hamne 7 October ko kaha tha ki ham aapse vo access mang rahe hain 50,000 metric tonne gehun bhejne ke liye or kuchh jeevan rakshak davaon ki delivery ke liye. Uske baad se supply ke modalities/taur-tarikon par Pakistan ke saath batchit jari hai. Main dohrana chahta hoon ki manviya sahayata sharton k adhin nahi honi chahiye. Jaisa maine kaha ki baatcheet jaari h. Jaise hi koi update hoga hum aapko batayenge.

Speaker 8: The question is that, you know, you are requesting that this would be without any condition, but are you in talks with Taliban that if you send the wheat or any humanitarian assistance, how will they distribute it or we will put our agency or UN agency for distribution?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, as I said, modalities are being worked out. Once we have certain clarity on the modalities we will share with you. Okay, thank you very much for joining us today. That brings us to the end of this. Good evening. Namaskar.

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