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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (December 16, 2021)

December 16, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I have a few announcements to make. The first is the visit of Foreign Minister of Tajikistan to India. At the invitation of External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, His Excellency Mr. Sirojiddin Muhriddin, will be paying an official visit to New Delhi on 18th to 20th December 2021. Apart from his meeting with External Affairs Minister on 18th of December, where of course the ministers will discuss bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest, and they will also undertake a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation. The visiting Foreign Minister is also expected to meet other dignitaries during his visit. There has been an active exchange of visits between both sides during the year. EAM had visited Tajikistan on three occasions during this year for a bilateral visit, as well as participation in the heart of Asia Conference in March, the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in June, and the SCO Council of Heads of State Summit in September. Raksha Mantri and National Security Adviser visited Tajikistan in June for SCO meetings. From the Tajik side, Secretary of the Security Council visited India in February and again in November for the Regional Security Dialogue. The visit of the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan will sustain the momentum of high level exchanges and further strengthen the strategic partnership between our two countries.

My next announcement is regarding the third India Central Asia Dialogue. External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar will be hosting the third meeting of the India Central Asia Dialogue in New Delhi from 18th to 20th December 2021. Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, apart from India, of course, will participate in the meeting. The second meeting was organised by India in October 2020 in digital video conference format.There has been ongoing engagement between India and the five Central Asian countries over the last few years. India considers Central Asia as part of its extended neighbourhood. EAM visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan this year, and he also met with the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan in October this year. As part of the third meeting of the India Central Asia dialogue on 19th December this year, the ministers are expected to discuss further strengthening of relations between India and Central Asian countries, with particular focus on trade, connectivity and development cooperation. They will also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest. The Foreign Ministers of the Central Asian countries are expected to pay a joint courtesy call on Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. The holding of the Annual Meetings of the India Central Asia dialogue is symbolic of the interest on part of all member countries for greater engagement between them in a spirit of friendship, trust and mutual understanding.

My final announcement is regarding the second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture. The Ministry of External Affairs is organising the second Atal Bihari Vajpayee lecture on 24th of December 2021. The lecture this year will be delivered by Dr. Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute of Australia. Foreign Secretary will preside over the event. This is the second edition of this lecture series, which was instituted in the memory of former Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister, late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Shri Vajpayee played an important role in shaping India's foreign policy,and this memorial lecture is a flagship event of MEA to recall his contributions. The event will be live streamed on the ministry's digital platforms. Okay, I think with those announcements, I'm happy to take questions.

Sidhant: Sir, my question is on the dialogue which is going to take place on 19th December. How much the focus will be on Afghanistan, because the Central Asia is worried about the fallout from Afghanistan, and also when it comes to the use of Chabahar port because India has been in the past pitching for Chabahar port as connectivity from Central Asia to India?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As I always say and you heard other people from this forum say, we are not in a position to prejudge what they will say or not say. But I would think that given the interests of the members of this dialogue, regional developments will certainly play an important element of their conversation. As regards the Chabahar port itself, I think connectivity is an important element. And I think there will be a discussion on how we can strengthen connectivity between Central Asia and India. Whether it will exactly through Chabahar or other modalities and as you know, there are multiple ways we are looking at this, let's wait for the dialogue to happen. We had a couple of rounds of dialogue and they've been very useful in strengthening and bringing our countries together on issues that I had just mentioned.

Madhurendra: Madhurendra from News Nation. Sir, mera sawal Rus, China or Bharat ke beech possible dialogue ko lekar hai. Kya RIC format mein is tarah ki kisi batchit ko lekar Bharat involved hai? or kab tak expected hai ye batchit?(Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir, my question is regarding possible dialogue between Russia, China and India. Whether India is involved in any such conversation in RIC format and when is this conversation expected to take place?

Speaker 1: Is India willing to accept Russia as a peacemaker between India and China? I mean, third party sir.

Speaker 2: Sir, RIC exists of course as a format. Are we heading towards a RIC Summit?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
I think I will answer it in a common part. Aapne poochha Rus, India, China ke bare mein. Dekhiye jaise aap ko pata hi hoga, abhi hall hi mein, I think November 26 ko, ye issi format mein videsh mantri level pe virtual meeting hui thi. Uske aage mere pass abhi kuchh nahi hai, koi subsequent development isske baad mere pass aapke saath share karne ke liye nahi hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) You asked about Russia, India, China. As you would know, recently I think on November 26th, there was a virtual meeting held at the Foreign Minister level in this format. Beyond that I don't have anything right now. Nor do I have any subsequent development to share with you.

As I just mentioned, the RIC format exists, as you also said, RIC format exists. We have had foreign minister level meetings recently in the virtual format on 26th November. I don't have anything beyond that for you at the moment on any subsequent development that’s being referred to. I think we have very good relations with Russia. And I don't know whether categorising them in the way you have is something that I would be comfortable with. So I'll leave it at that.

Speaker 3: Sir, in the light of what the Russian President said, obviously amongst the two of the three members, there is a very definite move towards the Summit.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me clarify again, I am not in a position to comment on media reports. I don't have anything particular beyond RIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting that happened or for you any subsequent developments, as I said. If there is anything to share, we'll certainly come back to you.

Pradeep Kumar: Sir, main Pradeep Kumar. Bejing olympic ko lekar bahut saare controversial statement aa rahe hain from the China side. So, hamaare desh ke liye bhi kuchh statement? Controvery yeh hai ki participate karna ya nahi karna(Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir, I am Pradeep Kumar, many controversial statements are coming from the China side regarding Beijing Olympics. So, any statement from our country? The controversy is on whether to participate or not

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye hamne media report kuch dekhen hain. Isspe hamare desh ki taraf se to kuchh kaha nahin gaya tha. Infact aapko agar yaad hoga, hamare joint statement mein hamne support kiya tha. Par agar aisa koi development uske baad hua hai, isse mein avgat nahin hun.(Answered in Hindi; approximate Translation) See, we have seen the media reports. Nothing has been said from our country’s side. In fact if you remember, we have extended support in our joint statement. But I am not aware of any further development after that.

Sandeep Dikshit: I’m Sandeep Dikshit with the Tribune. This is regarding the Two Plus Two with US. Could you tell us some dates whether it's this year or next year?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
This year has only 15 more days left. I don't think it's going to be this year. But let me just make a larger point that we have our dialogue and engagement with the US that has been quite intense, quite regular. And we look forward to holding the next two plus two ministerial meeting with the US. Details are being worked out, but I'm afraid we haven't got a date as yet to share with you.

Akhilesh Suman: Sir I’m Akhilesh Suman, from Sansad TV. India and Iran have a very good relationship. And we are cooperating with Iran, in many ways. So now Iran has allowed IAEA to reinstall cameras at its nuclear sites. So when can you tell that sanctions should be removed from Iran and normal relations of Iran should exist between India and Iran and other countries also?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No, I didn’t get your question.

Akhilesh Suman: Do you think that sanctions should be removed from Iran.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Which sanctions?

Akhilesh Suman: US has put sanctions, EU has put sanctions, those sanctions should be removed, so that Iran can join the (inaudible)?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I think there are a couple of different questions. We have noted decision by Iran, of course. I think there's some access of cameras to site. We have always called upon Iran to fulfil its obligation that it has taken. And what it does with the IAEA is with the IAEA. We've also encouraged members of JCPOA to carry forward with the conversations, but I don't think we have gotten to the issue of the unilateral US sanctions. These are not UN sanctions. So I don't think we've made any comment on that at all. And we hope the discussions among the parties can go forward. I think I'll leave it at that.

Ranjana: Sir Ranjana from the UNI. Sir, what is the state of the wheat shipments? So the modalities have been cleared. So have they begun? What is their state and in how many days would it be reaching? And also, in the parliament was an answer by the EAM on the Chabahar port, and how so much has been transported via the Chabahar port to Afghanistan. So why didn't we transport the wheat via Chabahar? Why did we have to wait for over a month for Pakistan to say yes, and even still, we don't know whether or when the wheat shipments are going, specially since Afghanistan is in a real dire situation, they are really waiting for humanitarian aid. And also are we sending more medicines like we did some via plane?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me begin by reiterating our special relationship with the people of Afghanistan and the approach of India as well as the international community, the UN Security Council resolution 2593, I think that guides us. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, such as life saving medicines and wheat that you mentioned. As we had announced, and you are aware, we had dispatched about two tonnes or 1.6 tonnes of medical supplies as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, I think it was on December 11th. And these were handed over to the representatives of the World Health Organisation in Kabul. We are also committed to sending more medicines, medical supplies as well as 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat. I had mentioned last time that we were in touch with Pakistan authorities on the modalities of supply of these 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat as well as the other medical supplies that I mentioned as humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. It's a complex operation and I would just request you to be patient. And as soon as we have any update on this, we will certainly come back to you on it. I would not like to get into what modalities we could use. Chabahar port is functional, as External Affairs Minister has mentioned. It has been receiving shipments and has been a useful conduit. But there are other factors which are important in this and it also requires the recipient organisation to be able to receive it, take it and most common way it has been going is through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and I think that's why the discussions are with Pakistan authorities on this. As I said, be patient, we will come back to you on this.

Speaker 4: Pakistan ke raste jaana hai, isski modalities pe abhi baat hui hai, iske alava bhi kya 50,000 metric tonne genhun aur, Chabahar k jariye bheje jaane ki koi yojana hai? (Questioned in Hindi; approximate Translation) The modalities of transportation via Pakistan have just been talked about. Apart from this, is there any plan to send additional 50,000 metric tons of wheat through Chabahar?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Mere paas aisi koi khabar nahin hain. Main jiss 50,000 tonne ki baat kar raha tha woh Pakistan ke jariye land route se bhejne ki baat kar raha tha aur uss par modalities ki baat kar raha tha. Or usme davaiyaan or life saving medicines ki baat kri hain jisme kuchh hum bhej chuken hain plane se. Jaisa maine kaha ki hamaara iraada to yahi hai ki aur bhejte rahein, jaise hi Iss mein modalities finalize ho jaayen. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) I don't have any such news. I was talking about sending 50,000 tons by land route through Pakistan and modalities of that. And in that context, I had talked about medicines and lifesaving medicines, some of which have been sent by plane. And as I said that our intention is to keep sending more of these once the modalities are finalized.

Speaker 5: Have you all decided on who is going to be the Republic Day guest? When are you all announcing it?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
Let me mention that we have a tradition of having Republic Day Chief Guest, but announcements of this nature are made at a suitable occasion or time and we will certainly share with you once that's finalised.

Speaker 5: India Central Asian dialogue third, which you mentioned. The representation you've mentioned, the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan's visit separately. What about the other countries? Will they be represented at the FM level?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me clarify. I made two separate announcements. The Tajik Foreign Minister is on a bilateral visit to India on 18th to 20th, but the main day of engagement is the 18th Saturday, that's a bilateral visit. Subsequently the Tajik Foreign Minister along with the other Foreign Ministers from the other four Central Asian countries as well as the External Affairs Minister will attend the third India Central Asia dialogue which will be held on 19th Sunday in New Delhi. And all of them will also have a joint courtesy call with the Prime Minister, whose dates and time are still being worked out. So yes, our understanding is that five Foreign Ministers have confirmed their participation and we look forward to receiving and hosting them in New Delhi this weekend.

Speaker 6: Sir, Pakistan has said that 50,000 tonnes should be sent via Wagah border by December 31st. Some reports have come like this. Will you ask for extending the date?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: What will happen after 31st of December?

Speaker 6: I don't know; Pakistan has said that send it by December 31st.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No, no that's what I said, modalities are being worked out. We are hopeful that at some point when these are resolved, we should be able to send it. I'm not sure if there is a deadline or if there are talks, I don't have any information on that.

Speaker 7: Sir omicron pe kya update hai, in terms of flight operations aur jiss tarah ki abhi WHO se communication hai, kya aur kadam uthaaye ja rahe hai, taki bharat mein iske spread ko roka ja sake? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir, what is the update on omicron, in terms of flight operations and on the basis of communication from WHO, what other measures are being taken so that its spread can be stopped in India?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye ye jo apane prashn poochha, ye hamari Health Ministry ko puchhana chaheye. Flight k sandarbh main naye kuchh kadam announce kiye gaye the , I think 28 ya 29 November ko, phir kuchh pre-booking k bare main kal announcement hui hai Ministry of civil aviations se. Hamare pas aisa koi immediate development nahin hai . I think iss pe nazar rakhe huye hain hamare health authorities taki omicron vale deshon se koi ayen to unke liye special screening mechanism ho. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) See, the question you have raised has to be taken up with the Health ministry. Some announcements have been made regarding flight operations, I think on 28 or 29th November, then some announcement was made yesterday by the Civil Aviation ministry regarding pre-bookings. There is no immediate development. I think our health authorities are keeping a watch on this so that there is a special screening mechanism for the people travelling from the omicron affected countries.

I think we will close it at that. Thank you very much. Appreciate your presence. Namaskar.

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