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Transcript of media briefing by Foreign Secretary at Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) on 15 July 09

July 15, 2009

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Good evening and welcome to the Media Centre. Foreign Secretary is here to brief you about Prime Minister's engagements today. After his opening remarks, Foreign Secretary will be happy to take a few questions.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Shivshankar Menon): Good evening. Sorry to keep you waiting. Under-estimated business as usual. I thought I would brief you about what happened today, about Prime Minister's engagements, and also some of the meetings that the External Affairs Minister had in the last three days.

As you know, this morning was occupied primarily with the Inaugural Ceremony. I think you saw that. In the afternoon, Prime Minister was the third speaker in the general debate. You have got the text of what he said. I presume that has been distributed and you have probably filed your story. Thereafter, he had a series of bilateral meetings. He met with some in the Conference Centre, some separately as bilaterals.

He met with President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas for quite sometime. They discussed the situation in Palestine, in the Middle-East; and also talked of India's longstanding ties with the Palestinian people, what we have done, what we hope to do with them in the years to come. It was a very warm and friendly conversation. They have known each other for sometime. One of the things that was mentioned was the need, which President Abbas had picked up from Prime Minister's speech, to impart skills to young people, giving them the ability to go out and get jobs, work in today's world. He was very keen that we build on that idea. So, we will be working with the PNA to try and do that. President Abbas was still hoping that there would be progress in terms of the peace process itself, but he was not underestimating the difficulties. The Prime Minister reiterated our traditional position of support and commitment to the Palestinian cause, to the two States living side by side in peace and in security.

Thereafter, Prime Minister met with the Prime Minister of Malaysia where again they reviewed the bilateral relationship. We have a very active bilateral relationship. As you know, we have finalized a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN. It is now just a question of a formal signing to bring it into force. There are several joint projects of Malaysian investments in India and Indian investments in Malaysia as well. There is a large Indian community in Malaysia. So, they discussed those issues of how we encourage that. He also spoke of Malaysian companies thinking of investing in power production in India to serve the Indian market. There were several other ideas like that which were discussed. Prime Minister was also invited to visit Malaysia, an invitation that he accepted. But we will have to set dates through diplomatic channels.

There was a brief pull-aside with the President of Bosnia Herzegovina. He mentioned an idea that all the successor States of Yugoslavia had of commemorating the anniversary of the first NAM Conference together. He said he was trying to collect opinions among themselves. Let us see where it leads. It will be interesting if they do that, 20/11.

Then, Prime Minister had a meeting with the President of Vietnam which, as you know, is a country very important in our look-east strategy. We have had a very successful visit by the President to Vietnam last year. We have also built an economic relationship as Vietnam has opened up and liberalized her economy. We do almost 2.8 billion dollars worth of trade every year which is growing quite rapidly. They were interested in cooperation in several fields – in education, S&T. We have already set up Skills Development Centers in Vietnam. We have an Indian Entrepreneurship Centre which we have set up which they now want to multiply and replicate in other parts of the country because they find that a useful experience. They are keen to send students for higher degrees in India.

In the last meeting of the day Prime Minister met with Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. It was the Prime Minister's first meeting with her after her victory in the election in Bangladesh; and her first meeting with him after his victory in elections over here. They congratulated each other on the elections. It is a very close and intimate relationship. As you know, in any such relationship there will always be issues but no issues that we think we cannot solve through bilateral discussions with goodwill on both sides. So, we looked at which parts of the relationship we need to build. Prime Minister said that he hoped to continue widening, deepening, broadening the relationship in every sphere at a pace and speed which Bangladesh is comfortable with. One of the issues that were mentioned was naturally the use of Bangladeshi territory by Indian insurgent groups who use it. She assured the Prime Minister that this would not be allowed; and that action would be taken against such elements who try to use their territory.

There was also a discussion on various projects which are of interest to both sides. The Tipaimukh issue has been active in the last few weeks in the Bangladeshi media and I think some Bangladeshi political circles have been raising it. We have been talking to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources in Bangladesh Parliament. We have invited them to send an all-party delegation to visit Tipaimukh and to actually see it, to see what is actually going on so that a lot of the exaggerated fears or claims about it would be set at rest; and that ultimately we might start looking at more creative solutions, at solutions where both sides develop an interest on how they run or operate these projects. That is because, as you know, Bangladesh for a considerable time has been speaking of upstream storage being the solution to their problems. They have been talking of upstream storage in Nepal in the past. But this also in effect would amount to upstream storage and power at a time when both Bangladesh and India need power desperately. So, we said we are ready to look at all kinds of creative solutions to see how we try and solve these problems.

Their Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water will be visiting on the 29th and 30th. We will go to the site and we will arrange to show them the site so that they see it themselves.

There was considerable discussion of the potential of railway projects, of other projects that both sides are interested in. So, we will be developing those over the next few months. But both sides are happy, I think, with the way the relationship is going. So, it was a very useful meeting. It has set out our agenda for our work in the next few months.

The External Affairs Minister who has been here for the last three days has also been having a series of meetings with his counterparts from Mauritius, Egypt, Singapore, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand and Iran. I cannot brief you in detail because frankly I was not here. But if anybody is interested, please contact Swaminathan, our Ambassador here. He will be in a position to tell you about that.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, Prime Minister will be having bilateral meetings with the President of Egypt, our host, and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the President of Sri Lanka. He will probably be also meeting with President Karzai in the course of the day. We are working that out. There will be a concluding session in the afternoon, a formal closing of the Conference. That is really all I have for you right now. If there are any questions, I will be very happy to answer them. And I think I can guess what they are.

Official Spokesperson: Please allow the mic to come to you. You indicate your interest and the mic will come to you.

Question: Menon sahab, kya aaj aapki Pakistan ki Videsh Sachiv se mulaqat hui hai? Kaha jaata hai ki roadmap taiyar hoga, agenda taiyar hoga, donon deshon ki Prime Ministers ki meeting ke liye. Doosra, kya Gilani sahab se aapki mulaqat hui hai? Aur kya joint statement koi jaari karne ki baat hai donon deshon ki oar se, donon Prime Ministers ki oar se?
Foreign Secretary: Kal shaam ko yahan pahunchne ke baad, Pakistani ki Videsh Sachiv se meri mulaqat hui thee. Dedh ghanta usmein laga tha. Kal shaam ko mile the. Phir aaj bhi meeting ke dauran baahar unse bhi mila tha, do-teen baar mila tha. Aur Gilani sahab se bhi mulaqat hui thee. Lekin voh to corridor mein khade hue haath milaya tha hamne. Dus-bees minute ham vahan khade hue baat kiye. Kya baat kiye, kya niklega, nateeja kya hoga, Prime Minsiter jab milenge Gilani sahab se kal kya niklega, yeh to aap kal poochiye mujhse. Main kal bata dunga aapko. Kyonki, abhi kaam chal raha hai. Abhi to baat-cheet jaari hai aur chalta rahega.

Question: Mr. Menon, if you are not going to give us details about your meeting, I want to ask you one question. A number of foreign dispatches from Correspondents talk about a level of arrogance in the Indian Delegation talking to Pakistan. If you cannot really talk with a democratically elected Government which is battling internal demons of its own, and you cannot talk with military dictators, then who can you really talk to in Pakistan? Bilawal?
Foreign Secretary: That is a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?' kind of question. We have been talking to Pakistan to whoever is ruling in Pakistan steadily since 2003. So, quite frankly I do not understand the question. We have been talking to Pakistan even after the Mumbai attacks. After the Mumbai train blasts we talked to them. So, the basis on which that question is phrased I think is completely wrong. It is just false. We kept our High Commissioners in place after the Mumbai blasts. We are in communication with them. I do not think that is the issue. The question is what we discuss and what it results in. And we do have difficult issues to address. We have had in the past; we still have difficult issues to address. And that is what we are talking to them about. As far as we are concerned, it has been consistently our approach, our policy, that there is no way but dialogue to deal with these issues, either to take the relationship forward or to address the issues that might divide us.

Question: Mr. Foreign Secretary, there have been some reports that the Prime Ministers will issue a joint statement. I think that is the best case scenario of these talks. But even there were to be a joint statement, from …(Unclear)… for example, analysts, observers have said that there are so many unresolved issues and both sides do not seem to agree on how to resolve them. For example, the handling of the Mumbai attackers. I think there are perhaps different points of view on the strength of the evidence that India has provided and the dossier that is provided. What do you think can be done to and how are these issues going to be resolved?
Foreign Secretary: There must be a question in there somewhere! Frankly, whether there is a joint statement or not, we will know tomorrow. So, it is not going to take that long. You do not have to wait that long. We will let you know tomorrow morning. But I do not think that is the issue here. The question is not the form of how we come out and brief you on what happened in the meeting. I think the issue is really how do we deal with what has brought us to this condition of a stressed relationship; and how do we see the way forward. I think all that will be answered tomorrow.

Question: Sir, you met your counterpart for 90 minutes yesterday. Is India satisfied with the progress that Pakistan has made as far as investigations are concerned?
Foreign Secretary: We had a good, detailed discussion. He told us what they have done; what they feel they can do; where they think it is going. He described the situation as he saw it. I told him of our concerns. But it was not our job at that stage to either decide - yes, this is good; this is bad; this is satisfactory. Our job was to tell each other what we thought and then to go back and report to our leaders. And we are still in the process of talking to each other. So, I do not want to say conclusively, yes, this is it, and we start drawing conclusions from it yet. This is why I am saying, you will know tomorrow. Our job is really to talk to each other, do what we were told by our leaders to do in Yekaterinburg in Russia on the 16th of June which is for them to tell us what they have done about terrorist attacks on India from Pakistan; for us to express our concerns and so on to them; and then to see the way forward and report to our leaders, which is what we are in the process of doing.

Question: Sir, how non-negotiable is the Indian decision to make the next round of dialogue, as and when it should evolve with Pakistan, limited and focused specifically on terrorism? I ask this because some sections of the Pakistan media are reporting a deadlock in Foreign Secretary talks over the issue of what the forthcoming framework of dialogue should be, Composite Dialogue on Terrorism?
Foreign Secretary: I think the less you speculate the less likely you are to go wrong. All these stories about what we are supposed to have done! We have seen a lot of stories which bear no relationship to reality. The point we have made is a more general point which is that it cannot be that the dialogue does not take into account what has happened. We have had a series of events which have happened. Now you cannot just keep doing exactly the same dialogue over and over again unless it deals with reality as we find it; and with the sources of trouble in our relationship. That is part of it. So, what we are saying here is that, let us see how we deal with this situation. We have a situation where India-Pakistan relations are stressed and they are stressed for certain reasons - because of terrorist attacks on India from Pakistan. So, we need to take that into account to see how we move forward, how we deal with that first. What I am trying to say is there is no such decision saying we will not do this, we will not do that. No. We are saying, we have a situation here; we have to see how we deal with it. All will be revealed tomorrow. You can try in various ways but you will know tomorrow anyway.

Question: Just to clarify, you said we are still in the process of talking. Are you going to meet your Pakistani counterpart?
Foreign Secretary: We have been meeting right through the day, outside, inside; and we will keep doing this. We know each other quite well. We have been in touch for a long time. So, it is not as though we need to set up a formal meeting. We can talk to each other in various ways or forms.

Question: Mumbai hamle ke baad lagataar Videsh Mantralay ke taraf se aur tamaam bade Mantriyon ke taraf se bayan aaya ki jab tak shadyantrakariyon ko sazaa nahin ho jaati tab tak aage ki baat-cheet ka raasta mushkil hai. Ab aap baat kar rahein hain ki "how to deal with it?' Kya is situation ya is statement se deal karne mein ek step forward jaane ke liye taiyar hain?
Foreign Secretary: Let me be absolutely precise. What we have always said is ‘credible action to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice'. That is what we have said from day two. Secondly, ‘credible action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan from which attacks on India take place'. Just to be clear, because that is slightly different from what you are saying.

Question: You have said that you are going to meet today.
Foreign Secretary: No I did not say that. I said that we are in touch. We have been meeting through the day. We will stay in touch. We will keep talking.

Question : Is Pakistan willing to admit quite overtly and quite clearly that they have been sponsoring terrorism after …
Foreign Secretary: Please ask Pakistan. I do not speak for Pakistan.

Question: Sir, does the dossier provided by Pakistan speak about …(Unclear)… by Pakistan. Do you think it amounts to …(Unclear)…
Foreign Secretary: As said, I am not in a position today to say yes or no or to draw conclusions to described it As credible or not. They have given us a dossier describing what they have done. My job as Foreign Secretary is, having listened to them and got their dossier, to report to my leadership. Then we will tell you.

Question: A supplementary to this question. Does the dossier contain the identity of eight suspects identified by Pakistan as a demonstration of their commitment to investigating the Mumbai terror attacks?
Foreign Secretary: I think what it contains is the identity of five people who are under arrest, nine people who are proclaimed offenders whom they are looking for, and the names and identities of some other people who they say they are looking for who might be connected to the Mumbai attacks.

Question: Mr Menon, you have been telling them that you want credible action to dismantle terror structure. What is it that the Pakistan has been telling you in the last two days?
Foreign Secretary: Pakistan has told me, and they were quite clear about this, that they listed the actions that they have taken. They also spoke of their determination to fight terrorism. For the rest, I am sure, if you ask them they will tell you.

Question: In the past two days there have been a lot of reports on Hafiz Sayeed and that the Punjab Government there is working for the …(Unclear)… Did it come up in the conversation? And what did the leaders say?
Foreign Secretary: It did. We are still looking for clarity, quite frankly. I believe the Punjab Government has withdrawn their appeal, but were also told that there is some other action which may be likely. So, quite frankly, we are waiting for clarity.

Question: Beyond ‘good and detailed discussions' how will you characterize your meetings with your counterpart over the last 24 hours?
Foreign Secretary: Good and detailed.

Question: Beyond that.
Foreign Secretary: What else is there beyond that? Quite frankly, there is no point. I am having a discussion with my counterpart. For me that is my primary job. I am not going to negotiate through the media. I have said this to you before; I will end up, I am sure, saying it to you again. But it does not make sense. When we spoke to each other last night just before we parted, we both agreed we would not negotiate through the media.

Question: Sir, nine proclaimed offenders ki aapne dossier mein baat ki hai, Bharat ne hamesha se Dawood Ibrahim ki baat ki hai. To kya uske baare mein bhi is dossier mein koi …
Foreign Secretary: We raised the issue of Indian fugitives from Indian justice who are in Pakistan. We did raise the issue.

Question: Kya dossier mein is baat ka …
Foreign Secretary: There is not mention of them in the dossier. The dossier relates to Mumbai directly.

Question: I want to know what in your reckoning is a credible action against terror. How would you understand the Pakistani attempts to clean up Swat or Waziristan? Do you think it is actually dismantling of terror infrastructure? Or do you differentiate between what you are asking and what Pakistan is doing?
Foreign Secretary: I think we have been through this before. We are not in the business of laying out markers saying, "This would be credible; up to this is not credible; beyond this would be credible”. We have always avoided that. When we see credible action we will know it. It speaks for itself. We would be very happy if they took the same kind of decisive action against terrorists and terrorist groups in Pakistan which operate against India as they are taking against some of the groups in Western Pakistan.

Question: Sir, once again on the dossier. Does the dossier also an …(Unclear)… organization or any link towards to ISI?
Foreign Secretary: It does. It does include some terrorist organizations.

Question: Sir, you said that you had good and detailed discussions. What does this ‘good' mean? Can you explain it a little bit? How do you describe this ‘good'.
Foreign Secretary: You have to look up the dictionary I think. Quite frankly, there is no point going on asking the same question in twenty-five ways. I have made it quite clear why I will not negotiate through the media, and also why you cannot expect some great characterization of what is likely to happen tomorrow from us.

Question: Because it has not been decided yet?
Foreign Secretary: Because we are still in the middle of a conversation, and it is an ongoing conversation.

Question: Sir, beyond the Prime Minister's interaction tomorrow, have you had discussions on how the talks will go on beyond that? Do you have a way forward beyond tomorrow?
Foreign Secretary: We will let you know tomorrow.

Question: Sir, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary yesterday said that it is quite a pity that you and he had to meet in different countries – in Yekaterinburg and now here. And he said …
Foreign Secretary: No, we did not meet there.

Question: No, you did not. That is true. He said that he would like to come to India and also said that he had extended an invitation to you. Is anything like that coming?
Foreign Secretary: We will tell you tomorrow. You know, we are just going around. You are just asking the same question in different forms. And this becomes a test of ingenuity on both sides.

Question: Just very briefly, why do you think Pakistan is not able to take credible action? Why has it not been able to take credible action for the past period? What would you like to see changed really? I …(Unclear)… markers but in terms of willingness and ability what do you think …(Unclear)… can achieve? Is there inability or is there a lack of willingness? What is the problem?
Foreign Secretary: I am not in the mind-reading business. I do not want to go that route that - do they want to, could they, if they would, etc. I do not want to go down that route. For me what is important is that we both know we have a problem here that we have to deal with. For us the problem is quite clear – it is terrorist attacks out of Pakistan on India - and we need to deal with that. And the Indian public opinion needs to see a clear, credible action against that. So, that is what we are discussing.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you, very much.

Foreign Secretary: Thank you.

(Concluded)
Text in italics is transliteration of Hindi.

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