Transcript of Media Briefing by Ambassador of India, Washington on the visit of Prime Minister to USA (June 07, 2016)

June 07, 2016

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Good evening friends and welcome to this press briefing on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to the United States.

As you know the prime Minister arrived this afternoon from Switzerland from Geneva and today has really been a very very long day. Literally our last engagement in Switzerland was about 18 hours ago and we have just finished the last engagement of the day i.e. Prime Minister’s interaction with members of leading think-tank’s of the United States.

Earlier of course Prime Minister visited the Arlington National Cemetery. He also went to the Space Shuttle Colombia Memorial and then he participated in a very important program with the US Attorney General for the return of some cultural artefacts to India.

So to brief you on Prime Minister’s engagements for today, I have with me our Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh. I will request him to take you through the Prime Minister’s engagement for the day and then he is open to taking a few questions. With that I give the floor to Ambassador.

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh:
Thank you Vikas. I think much of the program and its elements are already known and covered but just to give some details, the last program that was there was an interaction with Heads of number of think-tanks and these think-tanks, that were represented there were from Brookings, Council on Foreign Relations, Center for American Progress, The Atlantic Council, Hudson Institute, Center for National Interest, Global Energy Capital, Carnegie Endowment, The Asia Group, Pew Research Center, The US Institute of Peace and The Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

So this is sort of think-tanks representing a whole spectrum of opinion here and the aim of the interaction was to understand from them, how they see global trends in the coming years, the challenges and what US and India could work together. If you recall among the templates that the Prime Minister has articulated is "What can US and India do together for the World?” and that was really the theme.

So it was in that framework, that different current global issues were discussed in a medium and longer term perspective and we looked at opportunities and ways for us to be able to work together.

Now, in terms of the ceremony for return of a number of cultural artefacts, that was again very significant. It is an effort that has been ongoing for some time. There are large number of cultural artefacts from India who have been illegally taken to different parts of the World. There is a certain number also in United States. Governments in different countries including United States have been working very actively with us to identify those and find a way to repatriate them to India.

It’s an ongoing process because some time processes have to be completed here in United States before the repatriation can be carried out, their legal judicial process and others, but for this particular ceremony, 12 pieces were identified as being ready to be handed back to the government and people of India.

These are significant because some of them date back to a thousand years, from the period of the Chola Dynasty. Some of them date back to more than two thousand years, some terracotta pieces and others. So some very significant items have been handed over to us and of course now they will be repatriated to India.

In terms of the ceremony at Arlington, it was broadly in two parts. First part was laying of wreath at the Memorial of Unknown Soldier. From the US side, the US Defense Secretary Mr. Ashton Carter was also present and then the Prime Minister laid wreath at the memorial for those who were on the Colombia Shuttle, where as an Indian origin astronaut, Kalpana Chawla was also involved. At the event we had representatives from the families and relatives of Kalpana Chawla who were present. Then other Indian origin astronaut Sunita Williams was also present on the occasion and some representatives from NASA were present because cooperation between India and US in space has been important area of cooperation. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Please identify yourself.

Question: I am Abhishek from Times Now. Sir, I need a little bit more elaboration on the kind of format that was followed with the think-tank heads. Was it like a question-answer session? And there is this issue, we have observed in last couple of visits that there is an element of perception crisis to think that reforms are not taking place at the right pace and day before yesterday there was this article in NYT which said that India is perhaps not very deserving of membership of NSG. So, was this exercise essentially about perception management and in terms of the format. The reason why I am asking about the format is, were there questions which were answered by the Prime Minister?

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh: I don’t know whether one should go into that much detail, but I can tell you this exercise was not aimed at perception management.

This exercise was aimed at, as I described, understanding how thought leaders here, leaders of think-tanks look at global issues and trends. What do they visualize and see as mid-term and longer-term challenges. In those what are the opportunities for India and United States to be able to work together to address those challenges in a way that would meet India’s national interest and of course would be of interest to the US.

Normally, when there are events like this, there is a structure and there is a free-flowing dimension. The broad structure is for the people to share the thoughts and the Prime Minister to share his thoughts at the end of it and his assessment of what things are. If there are any particular questions, they are responded to as part of the response.

In terms of specific questions that you referred to, in all democracies there will be different shades of opinions and you refer to one particular assessment about economic reform or whatever, but I can tell you, I hear from a large number of people here that there is a very positive assessment of the reforms that had taken place in India over the last two years and you have to just look at the facts. For example, US equity investment in India, which was 7 billion dollars in 2013 is 12 billion dollars today and FDI flows in India last year went up by 50 percent. So if you just look at facts, you can see that there is a recognition of the tremendous amount of progress that has taken place in India over the last two years and people are in a sense voting with their feet over their wallets to be a part of that opportunity and we see that happening on the ground.

Question: Good evening Ambassador. First of all, compliments on the way you push back about not being preachy in the Washington Post and I am Nikhila Natarajan from First Post, New York. Any pointers on the top talking points in the US Congress address by Mr. Modi?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said, this briefing is specifically on Prime Minister’s schedule today in the United States. If you have any question pertaining to that, Ambassador is available.

Tomorrow there will be a separate briefing after the Prime Minister’s engagements at the White House. Foreign Secretary will be available for that briefing. So no point in foreshadowing in advance what will be discussed, what will not be discussed. All that will be answered tomorrow.

Question: Thank you, Raghubir Goyal, India Globe, Asia Today. Sir, Indian-American community in Washington have been working very hard for the last two-three months on how to welcome the Prime Minister tomorrow. Any message for this community because they are for India and they are for the Prime Minister’s agenda and what they are asking is there anything they can do. Second, Prime Minister’s tenure of two years is the talk of the town around the globe including in America and among the Indian-American community, since Prime Minister was in Switzerland, is he going to bring all that money sitting there? Thank you Sir.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As far as Prime Minister’s visit to Switzerland is concerned, you would have seen press remarks. Clearly there was a meeting of minds on the issue of black money, tax evasion. The Swiss President himself said that Switzerland is not a country which encourages these practices. Switzerland is a country which wants to be a part of the international main stream on these matters and of course there will be further cooperation between India and Switzerland.

The second big issue that was discussed in Switzerland was India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and there also you have seen a very categorical assurance of support from the Swiss President himself, saying that Switzerland will support India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. So that is as far as Switzerland is concerned. The questions that you have asked, do not really pertain to the Prime Minsters program today, but if Ambassador wants to make a generic comment on the Indian-American community here.

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh:
I think as far as the reference to the Indian-American community is concerned, clearly from Prime Ministers visits earlier, the ongoing visit and his own comments, it is clear that he sees a very important role for the Indian-American community in advancing the relationship between India and United States and it is on that basis that we engage with them on a continuous basis.

Question: My name is Aditi and I am from Times Now. Sir, we have been speaking to a couple of think-tanks in the past two days and most of them were of the opinion that in the interaction that will take place between the Prime Minister and various members of the think-tanks today, there could be some reference to what could be India’s stand as far as security as far as terrorism is concerned. My question is A, Was anything on those lines discussed or were there any questions that were taken by Prime Minister? And I do understand today’s briefing is only regarding today’s engagement of the Prime Minister, but just, if you could say if we could expect any specific briefing or announcement coming in after the meeting with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, tomorrow.

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh: First on the kind of subjects that were discussed. I would say, deliberately I am not going into the specific topics that were discussed. That was the idea of the meeting to discuss everything in a very candid, off the record format. And it was a very good discussion on a whole range of issues identifying areas and potential for cooperation.

In terms of what the announcements will be, will not be, let us wait till tomorrow. Before the meeting, which you spoke about with Defense Secretary, there is a meeting with the President himself. So let us wait till tomorrow for the briefing after those meetings.

Question: Namrata from NDTV. Was NSG at all discussed, because that’s been a defining point which has come across in his visit as well to Switzerland and many say there has been a fallout of the American strategic dialogue. In fact Michael Foreman might be coming back and there has been a problem with US-China relations as far as their dialogue goes. So how does that impact India’s stand of using US to lobby its NSG inclusion?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said, today’s meeting focused on Prime Minister’s interaction with think-tank’s and before that the return of cultural artefacts. NSG was not part of those discussions so let’s not get into that. Tomorrow there would be substantive political talks at the White House. Let us await the outcome of those talks.

Question: Just a logistical question sir, at the White House, lunch particularly, is it a very close lunch? Can you share some details of exactly who will be in attendance along with the Prime Minister?

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh:It’s a working lunch so it will be official delegation on both sides that will be there at the lunch.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Working lunch means discussions will continue over lunch as well.

Question: Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. At the artefact event, did the Prime Minister speak? What did he say, what was the gist of his speech?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Yes he did speak. Just look at my twitter handle and you will see some of the comments that Prime Minister made. Basically he talked about how these artefacts are not only India’s link to its ancient civilization but these are treasures which should be enjoyed by the entire world and yet there are people who engage in illicit trafficking of these treasures and in that context he really thanked the Obama administration, President Obama in particular, the Attorney General.

Her entire team, which has worked tirelessly for many years to build a water-tight case after which only the decision was taken to return these artefacts and in fact the Attorney General mentioned that this is the launch of a process to return as many as 200 artefacts to India. Today, 12 have been returned but the process is underway to recover all the lost, stolen artefacts from India. She did mention the name of particular art-dealer also who was engaged in this particular exercise and how thanks to very strong cooperation between US and Indian enforcement agencies, these artefacts are being brought back to India.

Prime Minister delved at great detail on how his own state of Gujarat in fact is a repository of so many ancient treasures including the city of Dholavira, which dates back to Mohenjo-Daro Harappa period, 5000 years of history, culture and how they connect between the past and the present. I think he really spoke with a lot of feeling, with a lot of emotion because of his own personal attachment to this project of returning India’s cultural heritage.

Question: Mera naam Gaurav Sawant hai. Aaj Tak aur India Today se hoon sir. Ye jo aitihasik dharohar ki hum baat kar rahe hain, jo lautai gai, kya iske baare mei pata hai kab Bharat se nikali, kaise nikali, kahan churai gai thi ya chori se nikali aur kya hum aisa ummeed kar sakte hain ki jaisa America ne lautaya hai, kuch aur desh bhi aisa karenge? Kohinoor laut payega?

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh: Is tarah ki dharohar kai deshon se lautai gai hain. Mujhe yaad hai kuch saal pehle, France se bhi ek murti bharat ko lautai gai thi. Aur jab Germany ki Chancellor Angela Merkel Hindustan mei thi toh bhi ek murti us samay lautai gai thi.

Abhi poore details ki kab, kis tarike se inko Bharat se laya gaya, ye sab abhi pata kiya ja raha hai. Woh law enforcement aur enquiry ka vishay hai, lekin ye establish ho gaya hai ki antique pieces hain, Hindustan ke hain aur apne process ko complete karne ke baad yahan ki Sarkar sthiti pe hai ki hamein wapas de sake aur unhone ne wapas de diya hai.

Question: Sir, ek aur sawal isi se juda hua. Ye jo 200 murtiyon ko wapas karne ki baat ki ja rahi hai, ismein koi deadline set ki gai hai kya ki itne samay seema ke andar andar inko wapas kiya jayega?

Ambassador to the United States, Shri Arun Kumar Singh:Koi bhi deadline dena mushkil hota hai kyonki hum log dekh rahe hain ki unki taraf se poori koshish hai ki jitani jaldi wapas kar sakein, kar dein. Lekin wo karne ke pehle ek process hota hai, pehle unki identity establish karna, time period establish karna, authenticity establish karna. Uske baad ek legal process hota hai, woh sab complete karne ke baad, woh humein unko saunpane ki sthiti mei hote hain.

Question: A very short question. Vikas you said the Attorney General named an arts dealer in this connection?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Subhash Kapoor. I think that concludes the press briefing. There will be another press briefing after the White House event so our OS-DPR will let you know the time of that. Thank you all.



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