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Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to Uzbekistan (September 16, 2022)

September 17, 2022

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Very good evening to the friends from the media, my colleague Ambassador Manish Prabhat, Arindam of course, Yojna and Adarsh, Joint Secretaries for Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the ERS divisions respectively. We are running on a bit of a tight schedule because there is a departure underway, so we will keep it relatively short including in terms of follow-up questions that might come. Thanks once again for coming here this evening, I know we are all rushed.

As you're all aware, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Samarkand last night to attend the 22nd meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit. Prime Minister during his multiple interactions during the course of day today offered sincere gratitude to the Uzbek side and to Uzbek President for the excellent arrangements and the warm hospitality that was extended to all the delegations, including India. As you know, the Summit took place earlier this morning divided in two sessions, one the restricted where the eight Member States participated and the extended session where the Member States along with the Observers and the invited countries participated and spoke.

Prime Minister’s intervention in the extended session has already been shared with you. I would just take this opportunity to highlight some of the key elements of Prime Minister’s interventions spread across the two sessions. One, he shared India’s perspective on the regional and international situation and the issues of regional peace and security, including in Afghanistan. As you all know issues of development in the region and all over the world are a matter of agenda item under the SCO discussions. Two, he emphasized on the centrality of the aspirations and the needs of the Central Asian Republics in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Three, need for greater cooperation to fight terrorism in the region. And in this context, he emphasized the important role that SCO can play, including through the work of the SCO RATS organization, which is the SCO's structure to counter the threat of terrorism in our region. Four, emphasized the need for better regional connectivity, which is absolutely essential for greater economic and trade cooperation between India and the SCO member countries, India and Central Asia. And in this context the entire membership, including the Prime Minister welcomed the inclusion of Iran as a Member State of the SCO during this Summit. Chabahar, another important project for regional connectivity along with the North South Transport Corridor was also mentioned in Prime Minister's intervention.

Prime Minister also reiterated his support for the ongoing expansion of the organization and in this context we welcomed Iran and Belarus as new Member States. Of course the two are in different stages of process in terms of their on-boarding as Member State, and also the inclusion of UAE, the Maldives, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Myanmar as new Dialogue Partners of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Prime Minister also drew attention to the need for substantive cooperation in the field of trade and economy, humanitarian and development partnerships, and using the millennia old civilizational ties between the SCO Members States as a foundation on which to build these two layers of cooperation between India and the SCO and in this context Prime Minister Modi thanked all the Member States of the SCO for endorsing Varanasi, Kashi as the first ever SCO Tourist and Cultural Capital during the upcoming year 2022-23. I would like to underline that this is a befitting recognition of the historic city of Varanasi and opens the door for greater cultural and people to people ties between India and the region. As part of this declaration of Kashi as the SCO Tourist and Cultural capital during the upcoming year, there would be several events by the government of UP and in collaboration with the Central Government, which would be organized in Varanasi to celebrate this recognition by the SCO of that city.

Among the outcomes, a large number of documents were signed at both levels. One, by the Heads of State and Government and two at a function level, I think in our case, Ambassador would be signing it. But among the main outcomes was the Samarkand declaration, which emanated from the Summit. The leaders also adopted a statement on response to climate change at our initiative. This is something which I touched upon very briefly at yesterday's presser also. The SCO has also decided to create a Special Working Group on the Start-up and Innovation. I would just like to repeat what I said yesterday, that as a Chair of this Special Working Group, we would be permanent Chair of this group. That's the motion of Special Working Group. And in this Prime Minister himself also laid emphasis on this issue during his intervention. And today's decision will help promote the infusion of the start-up culture within the SCO framework and the connect between the SCO membership, the Central Asian countries with the Indian start-up and innovation system. SCO also approved another Indian initiative, recognized another Indian initiative through the setting up of an Expert Working Group on Traditional Medicine. This is another area where you all know that India has a global leadership capability, and is recognized as such. And you would also recall in this context, the recent launch of the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in the state of Gujarat.

On terrorism, SCO agreed to works towards developing a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO Member States. I must mention that each of the SCO Member State was very, very clear in recognizing the threat that this challenge poses to our region and through across the membership of the SCO. There were also a couple of intergovernmental agreements which were approved including in the field of tourism and on plant quarantine issue. There were a couple of other agreements which were approved, which included the digital literacy agreement on renewable energy resources, stimulating industrial cooperation, etc.

In addition to his participation and interventions through the restricted and the extended format, Prime Minister also held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey. I will just quickly run through key pointers which came up in each of these meetings. Some of this I believe, have been released as a press statement already. With Uzbekistan, essentially five things. The broad point is – one, the two leaders noted the 30th anniversary of our bilateral ties. Second, both emphasized and clearly identified practical steps that the two countries would take to further bilateral economic cooperation in particular trade and investment based linkages. Three, need to strengthen, improve connectivity between the two countries including in this case through Chabahar port and the North South Transport Corridor. Four, expeditious implementation of the decisions that were taken during the first India-Central Asia Summit earlier during the year and five, the regional issues of common interests and common concerns with regard to both countries, including the situation in Afghanistan and of course, the threat of terrorism.

With regard to Russia, you all heard what the two leaders said in their initial opening remarks, which were open live to the press. But besides that, the discussions between Prime Minister and President Putin of Russia included extensive conversation on the entire range of important bilateral cooperation issues across the full gamut of engagement. Two, naturally the situation in Ukraine came up and you heard part of what both leaders said in their opening conversation, but in their follow up conversation, there was also focus on the derivative issues of the Russia-Ukraine situation leading including to food security, energy security, and of course, fertilizer security. Three, the issue of challenge of terrorism, which, of course, was also another element of discussion. Prime Minister as he has often said and hinted at that in his opening remark, reiterated his call for cessation of hostilities and the need for dialogue and diplomacy.

In his last meeting, which just concluded with the President of Iran there were three, four key elements. One Prime Minister congratulated the Iran President, because this was their first meeting in person. In person congratulated him for assuming the Presidency. Two, gained a full range of, I would say, assessment of a full range of things that the two countries do in the field of trade, investment and the entire range of economic cooperation. And this of course includes our discussions on energy related issues, cooperation between the two countries. Three, Chabahar port it has been one of important pillars of our engagement between India and Iran. And India, as you know, has already invested close to about 85 plus million dollars in that project. The need for both our countries to expedite the growth of Chabahar port further, so that it serves as an important transit point for a larger connectivity across the region, East-West and North-South, both of them. President Raisi, also briefed the Prime Minister on the ongoing JCPOA, on the state of JCPOA negotiations.

I must also mention that Prime Minister also met with the Turkish President earlier during the day and a brief, but extensive discussion in terms of areas of that interests both India and Turkey in terms of what they do bilaterally, in terms of how they can converge regionally and also in terms of how their perspectives can meet more strongly with regard to developments all over the world. They spoke about recent gains in bilateral trade, which have been fairly extensive. Trade is touching close to about $10 billion; clear, specific elements of deepening economic linkages and of course, as I said, developments in the region and all over the world.

Less than 24 hours of visit, but you can clearly see, recognize and appreciate, fairly packed schedule, very, very productive and useful conversations. Both the membership of the SCO and in particular, the leaders that I mentioned. We have been able to, I think, contribute quite successfully to the substance of SCO agenda, but also use this opportunity to build new layers of engagement with the other bilateral partners whose brief details are listed. I think I should stop here and would be happy to take questions. I must mention we are on tight schedule. Quick questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We will take a round of questions and that will be the first one. Okay. We'll start with you.

Brahm Prakash: Sir main Brahm Prakash hoon Zee News se. Mera sawal Pakistan ko lekar hai, jis tarah se bharat ki maujoodagi mein Pakistan ne kaha ki woh khud aatankwaad ka shikar hai aur uspar pratibandh hatane chahiye, bharat ka kya manna hai? Aur donon desh ke beech mulakat ki kya koi sambhavana thi ya kyon nahi baithak ho saki or khastor se cheen ke saath mein Thank you. (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir I am Brahm Prakash from Zee News, my question is about Pakistan, the way Pakistan said in the presence of India that it itself is a victim of terrorism and the sanctions on it should be lifted. On this, what does India believe? And whether there was any possibility of meeting between the two countries or why the meeting could not be held? and especially with China. Thank you.

Nayanima: Nayanima from ThePrint. In Prime Minister's bilateral discussion with the Iranian President, was there a discussion on resumption of oil and also on the next, the Chabahar project and the Zahedan rail link. Thank you.

Suhasini: Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto said a decision has not been made by Pakistan yet about whether Pakistan will attend the SCO meetings in India, as well as the SCO Summit. Could there be a problem with that?

Sidhant: Sir Sidhant from WION. Were there any pleasantries exchanged between the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping or a handshake between the two leaders?

Abhishek: Sir Abhishek from CNN News 18. Sir, did you say that SCO will come out with a list of terrorist organization and individuals?

Smitha Sharma: Smitha Sharma. From the comments that came through in the remarks of Prime Minister Modi to President Putin, it looked like New Delhi was a lot more kind of categorical in saying that it's essentially up to Russia now to try and take more steps towards resolving the Ukrainian conflict. Could you just elaborate on that a little bit?

Manish Chand: Sir Manish Chand, India Writes Network. Sir what was the discussion on Afghanistan like, you know, I wish to draw your attention to Pakistan.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: With whom?

Manish Chand: No in general, within SCO, the role of the SCO in stabilizing and you know, in his remarks, Pakistan Prime Minister called for unfreezing of the assets of the Taliban. He pitched very hard for recognition of the Taliban regime. Now, what was the view of the SCO?

Abhishek Upadhyay: Sir Abhishek Upadhyay ABP News se, Sir ye jo political controversy ho gayi, order tha khade hone ka saare rashtradhyaksho ka, uspar aap kya kahenge ki kya uske pichhe ka protocol kya tha, jo controversy hui uski kya hakikat kya hai? Thoda aap clarify karenge to cheese clear hongi usmen. (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir Abhishek Upadhyay from ABP News. Sir, on the political controversy regarding the order in which all the heads of state were supposed to stand, what would you say on that? What was the protocol behind it, what is the reality of the controversy that took place? If you can clarify a little, then things will be clear about it.

Maha Siddiqui: Sir Maha Siddiqui. Was there any request at all from the Chinese side for a meeting, which never materialized.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, there is a practice in the SCO in the restricted format, the people stand according to the Russian alphabet, starting from India, because that's the first. There is small change perhaps, but we have always been on that side. I don't know why the controversy arose.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary:
Let me first tackle the whole range of questions, which relate to which meetings happened, which meetings didn't happen, why didn't they happen. I have already briefed you in a not too extensive or detailed with regard to the key meetings, all the key bilateral meetings that Prime Minister had on the sidelines of the SCO Summit, including with the Presidents of Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkey, and Iran. What I would like to say is that all the meetings that were scheduled for which the requests came to us were factored in and all the meetings took place as per the schedule. So, whatever I have not briefed you is obviously the meeting which didn't take place. And I don't think there is anything more to read into that than what the fact is that what took place and what didn't take place.

Aapka jo I think Pakistan se related aapka prashn tha woh usi tak hi simit tha. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Your question related to Pakistan was limited to it only. On the resumption of oil, Chabahar connectivity and the trade link, I think that was your question. If you look at the history of our discussions with Iran, the questions relating to energy security have always been an important element of it. Whether it has been in the past that is during the pre-JCPOA days, or even sometimes during the successful implementation of the JCPOA, whether it's a question of oil trade, India's investments, joint investments in that field, that has always been a scope of conversation. And I think it's quite natural that if the two leaders meet they would take stock of what the status of that cooperation is. Similar applies to Chabahar port and the related modes of connectivity that associate themselves with Chabahar port, whether it is the railroad connectivity or the road links, which radiate out of Chabahar port into other parts of the region. Chabahar port is an important element of the regional connectivity pillar, as I mentioned, and this figured extensively and in some detail in Prime Minister's discussion with the President of Iran and of course with the President of Uzbekistan who are deeply interested in ensuring that the connectivity between India and the Central Asian countries improves. And of course for us connectivity improves not just with Central Asian countries, but even beyond the region. Smitha, I think…

Smitha Sharma: Comments to the Russian President and in a way is with Russia now…

Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Okay. I think, it would be very unfair for me to interpret what the two leaders openly said. You all heard them very, very clearly. What I would say is very clear and I think, it's not a question of it's up to whom to take the first step in the current ongoing situation of Russia, Ukraine. I think what's important is the perspective, the line of effort, the line of thinking that India has stood for. And if you actually analyse it in detail you would clearly see the underlying intent and the objective behind it when we say that hostility should cease and the path to resolution of the Russia-Ukraine currently ongoing conflict is through diplomacy and dialogue. And I think that came out very clearly in Prime Minister Modi’s initial opening remarks during his meeting with President Putin, which were live for the public.

Manish, the question related to Afghanistan, I've already highlighted that our approach on Afghanistan is something which Prime Minister Modi put across very strongly in his intervention at the Summit as also in his bilateral conversations with his counterpart leaders from other countries. And it was very clearly mentioned that, one, India's priorities in Afghanistan has always been of the kind, which link themselves through the benefit, development of Afghan people. Whether it is through the humanitarian assistance or it is through the development cooperation partnership projects, the essential focus is on the human-centric nature of our association with Afghanistan. What should be the shape of Afghan government - what happens there is something for Afghan people to determine, but we have always stood for an inclusive Afghan government, which is Afghan led, Afghan owned. And I think that perspective came out very clearly in Prime Minister's interventions as also in his conversation with the other leaders.

Rashtradhyaksho kiss prakar se khade hue iss prashn ka uttar already hamare spokesperson de chuke hai baki prashnon ke uttar bhi ((Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Our spokesperson has already answered on the issue of the standing order of the Heads of States. Rest of the questions also I think I've answered.

Abhishek Upadhyay: Pakistan ke pradhanmantri ko lekar ke mera sawal tha, aatankwaad ko lekar jo unhonne jhooth bola uspar bharat kya kahega kyoki uske aatankwad se bharat prabhavit raha hai (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) What will India say on the lies told by the Pakistan’s Prime Minister on terrorism because India has been affected by their terrorism.

Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Dekhiye, Pakistan ne aatankvaad ke baarein mein kya kaha ye to aap Pakistan se poochhe to ati uttam rahega lekin bharat ka aatankwad ko leke kya paripeksh hai woh hamesha se spasht hai. Aatankwad ek kshetriye samasya hai, aatankwad ki utpatti kahan hai? usaka mitigation kaise ho? Usko sambhalane ke lie, usako mitigate karne ke liye kis prakar kshetriye desh ek sangathit ho, ek sath milkar uska samadhan dhundhe, SCO ke agenda mein vahi ek mukhya paripeksh tha aur jaisa maine aapko bataya ki jo SCO ke structure hai, Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure, usake antargat SCO sanstha, sanstha ke roop mein aur us sanstha ke dwara sadasya log jo hai woh kiss prakar se aatankwad ki samasya ka mukabla karte hai woh sunishchit kiya jata hai. Kis ne kya kaha, sach kaha ya jhooth kaha woh toh aap jisne kaha unhi se poochhe to theek rahega. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) See, it would be best if you ask Pakistan, what Pakistan has said about terrorism, but what is India's perspective on terrorism is always clear. Terrorism is a regional problem. Where does terrorism originate from? How to mitigate it? How should regional countries unite to handle it, to mitigate it, come together to find a solution - that was one of the main perspectives in the SCO's agenda and as I said, under the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure, which is the structure of the SCO, the members decide on how to combat the problem of terrorism. Who said what, told the truth or told the lie, if you ask those who have said it, it would be better.

Speaker 1: The press release with Iran talks about Iran briefing, on the negotiations on JCPOA. In particular, on JCPOA what has…

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Well, I think the President of Iran, in the conversation where he briefly touched upon their perspective on what the current status of ongoing JCPOA negotiations are.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much for your presence here today. We have to close it now. Thank you.

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