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Prime Minister’s onboard press conference enroute to Frankfurt from Havana

September 17, 2006

Q1-On meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro
PM - I had a memorable meeting with President Fidel Castro. I spent about 40 minutes with him. And we covered a whole range of issues from the future of the international financial system, the future role of NAM, India's development prospects, how we were dealing with our population problem, food problem and energy problem. So that's a meeting I will always remember forever. I felt I was in the presence of one of the greatest men of our times. He recalled his affection for Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, on the whole it was a most satisfying meeting. I had gone there only to greet him but he engaged me in intense discussion, asking searching questions on India's economic problems, our food problems, our energy situation and how we ought to conserve energy, what Cuba is planning to do to conserve energy. What Cuba has done to promote human development with emphasis on health and education.

Q2-On Fidel Castro's health
PM - He was weak, but he was sitting and for 40 minutes was engaged in a very intense dialogue- showed no signs of tiredness. And at the end which he said if the NAM meeting had been held two days later he would have been able to preside over it.

Q3-On condemning USA
PM - We did not go into any condemnation of anybody, but he did say that the world's financial system is faced with many uncertainities with countries like the United States absorbing the bulk of the world's savings. So he said, there were risks about the future of such a system.

Q4-On Pakistan's trust deficit
PM - It is not a one day process, as I have always said we cannot choose our neighbours, we can choose our friends, we have to do business with our neighbours. General Musharraf , he is the ruler of Pakistan and therefore, we have to learn to deal with him. I have said it once before also in all these matters there is such a thing as trust and verify. We have now agreed on a new mechanism to deal with terrorism. I think the explicit mention that both of our countries condemn this scourge that we will work together. I do think it is a new beginning. I hope it works, but if it does not work, then also we have to deal with the consequences.

Q5—On mechanism to tackle terror
PM - I look upon this mechanism which has yet to be worked out. This mechanism that we are put it place must be credible, must inspire confidence in both our countries and therefore, we will have to look at the mechanics of the move with due care.

Q6 – Motivation for decision?
PM - Well it is quite obvious to Pakistan that things can not be business as usual if terrorism is not under control- or if the government of Pakistan is seen not to be willing to work with us to control terrorism. I think that's a the commitment I welcome and as explicitly as it could be stated it is a reiterated in the statement that we have issued. General Musharrraf has assured me that Pakistan has no hand in perpetuating this He did not go into the past. He said whatever has happened in the past, let's work together in the future and I believe, this is the best that we could get in the circumstances.

Q7- Paradigm shift ?
PM - Well, I am not going into the causes of it. All that I am saying is that there is an explicit commitment on the part of Pakistan to say that they will work with us to do all that is in their control to control this scourge.

Q8— US role in agreement.
PM - There was no question about the US …. All countries in the world would like neighbours to work with each other. President Castro also asked me how are our relations with Pakistan and I did mention to him that we had a very good meeting, we had problems in the past and that these terrorist elements are not under control. We had discussed these matters. He then asked me questions about the about the rehabilitation in the wake of the earthquake, what we had done what hey had done to help Pakistan. I totally deny any insinuation that whatever we have with Pakistan is at the behest of US or any other country, it is in protection of our own sovereign national interest.

Q9— J&K CM's statement.
PM - Well, I have not seen what the J&K chief minister has said. Therefore, I am not able to comment constructively on what he has said.

Q10- After Cuban visit do you think you have done enough for the Aam Admi in India.
PM - Let me say, we should be doing a lot more. I have already said that our attention to social sector development is not as strong as it should be. There is a big backlog of illiteracy, there is a big backlog of improving health standards of our people, infant mortality rates, life expectation at birth in our country should be better than what they are now. I am conscious of the distance that we have to travel on these points.

Q11-On Jammu & Kashmir
PM - We have had a very sincere frank and sincere discussion on all issues. As you know, President Musharraf recalled what I had stated that borders can not be redrawn. And his statement that they cannot accept the Line-of-Control as a permanent solution. We both agreed that we have to find via- media to reconcile these two positions. And I do believe that we should work in all sincerity to think out of the box to deal with this situation. We have committed ourselves to work sincerely to find credible solutions to all outstanding issues and that includes the Jammu & Kashmir issue.

Well, Siachen & Sir Creek were mentiond in statement of April last year. They have been again mentioned – so that is part of our commitment.

Q12-If any more terrorist attacks take place again in India…..
PM -Let us not deal with an hypothetical question. I can not say for example that we have bought forever security for our country. Life is much more complicated than to be put in black and white. All I can say is we have made an advance . Let us give it a trial. Let us approach our taste of reconciliation between India, Pakistan with all the sincerity that we can bring to bear this task.

Q13- last meeting with Mushrraf.
PM - Let me say our last meeting was very tense, it was in the background of what Pakistan had stated in the General Assembly. They talked of self determination and then we were naturally very angry. I said since we are—It is unfortunate that meeting did not produce solid results. This time, my meeting with him was very frank, very cordial, there was no tension and I was very pleased with the outcome.

Q14-Terror structure in Pakistan
PM - We will discuss all these issues. Let's not jump the cue, let this mechanism be in place, we will explore all the ways with which we can rid the sub-continent of the scourge of terrorism.

Q15- Inaudible….
PM -Exteremism of all sorts can hurt modern polities. Tolerance and peaceful coexistence are part of our civilizational heritage. Whether it is hindu fundamentalism or any fundamentalism of other religious group , it certainly makes the task more difficult than would be otherwise.

Q16-On President Chavez reference to South – South commission report.
PM -He did refer to the report that I was a party to and said he was in jail and had read it form cover to cover. He said the time had come to do another report. That report was written in 1990. Times have changed and therefore there are opportunities to re-look at the options. And we as nations and as countries of the South and countries of the Non Aligned do believe that the Non Aligned Movement needs a revision and a new sense of direction.

Q17 – Shift in stand ?
PM - There is no shift in our stand. We are worried about cross border terrorism. But its no use condemning that and doing nothing. Where ever opportunities exist to cooperative action to tackle this problem, to save human lives, we should toss all the balls that we can in quest of a safe and secure life for our citizens.

Q18- Extradition.
PM - All relevant issues should be discussed in this forum. I cannot say that I have discussed what will be the outcome. This is an optimism which we must make use of constructively as much as we can. And as for the outcome we have to wait for it.

Q19- NAM revitalization.
PM- The world is yearning for a new road map to deal with its problems. I mentioned to you on my outward journey that at the end of the cold war – there was euphoria in all the developed countries as if capitalism had proved triumphant and that we were at the end of history. I think that confidence today no longer prevails in most parts of the developed world. There is a sense of insecurity, there is a sense that the world is drifting apart, and that if these tendencies are not corrected, not reversed they threaten to destroy our civilization. So I do believe as I said in my speech to the NAM this is a unique time for men and women of goodwill, understanding and commitment to the ideal of one world and the common destiny-of the entire human race to sit together to find new pathways to bring about peace and harmony on our planet. And I do believe India has a role to play.

Q20- Meetings with Iran president and Venezuelan president
PM - Our bi-lateral relations with these countries. We also discussed international relations and with the President of Venezuela I had a very good discussion on how to promote cooperation in the field of energy. And those prospects if realized can add to our energy security in a big way.

With the President of Iran, I said Iran is our neighbour. We have centuries old ties of civilization, culture with Iran. There has been some misunderstanding over this one particular vote. But I reiterated that that's a thing of the past. And I reiterated to the President that we recognize that Iran as a member of the NPT and must have all the rights for peaceful uses of nuclear energy and all the obligations. And if there are any doubts in the minds of the international community, those doubts should be resolved through constructive dialogue, discussion rather than through any exercise of any degree of coercion. The President agreed that our two countries must work together to strengthen our relationship in every possible way. Reference was made to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. Experts are looking at the feasibility of this pipeline and once that report is ready, we will re-look at what can be done.

Q21- Mohabat Zindabad says Musharraf.
PM –I have said I am very pleased with the outcome with the meeting with General Musharraf.

Q22-On Shashri Tharoor's candidature
PM -Wherever I got an opportunity, I raised this issue with heads of state and heads of government that we have an outstanding candidate in Dr. Shashi Tharoor for the post of Secretary General of United Nations. And you would have noticed that contrary to what some people have been writing in our country- he is running very strong. In the last straw poll that was conducted he came number two. It is a difficult task. For the first time I think we have dared, we have told the world that we are ready to assume our role in the management of international polity. It is not going to materialize in one day. I recognize that there are difficulties-but I remain hopeful that Sashi Tharoor will give a very good account of himself in this task that he is engaged in.

Q23-Visit to Pakistan Foreign Secretary level talks
PM – I have said that I will be very happy to go to Pakistan at an appropriate time, dates will have to be fixed through diplomatic channels and we must also have solid work to accomplish. That invitation has been there and I have accepted it.

And as far as the foreign secretary we have a new foreign secretary – an out standing civil servant – let him settle down and then he will get in touch with his counterpart.

September 17, 2006

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