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Transcript of Foreign Secretary's special briefing on Prime Minister's visit to USA (September 25, 2021)

September 25, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good morning to all of you. Thank you very much for coming here today for the special media briefing. During the visit of Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to United States, this is the second of his visit in New York. To give a sense of his visit so far and particularly focusing on today morning's speech addressed to the United Nations General Assembly, we have the privilege here of having with us, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India. Also joining us Shri T.S. Tirumurti, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India in the United Nations in New York and also Mr. Prakash Gupta, Joint Secretary looking after United Nations in the Ministry of External Affairs. I would request Foreign Secretary sir to brief opening remarks and then we'll take a few questions. Please do note Prime Minister will be leaving New York shortly after this so we may be a little tight in questions. I see some people already raising hands please hold on while his opening remark. Please sir, you have the floor.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thank you Arindam and I want to thank our Ambassador and Permanent Representative joining us also. Namaskar and Good morning. As you're aware, the Prime Minister just addressed the high level segment of the 76th United Nations General Assembly. On the theme of General Assembly's debate, which is building resilience to hope to recovery from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalise the United Nations. Prior to his address, the Prime Minister was greeted by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Abdulla Shahid. You would recall that the President of the General Assembly visited India on the 24th of July and he had at that time called the Prime Minister.The Prime Minister when he met the president of the General Assembly after he resumed office, he just resumed office recently, congratulated him on his presidency of hope. The message of the Prime Minister was very well received, his congratulatory message and I am told that it is a very positive resonance on this concept of the presidency of hope. You are aware that the Prime Minister’s address the General Assembly marks the culmination of a very successful, a very comprehensive tour of the United States. The Prime Minister was in Washington DC, where he held a bilateral meeting with the US President, President Joe Biden. He also met Vice President Kamala Harris. He participated in the meeting of the QUAD Leaders’ Summit, which was attended by the Prime Minister of Japan and Australia, hosted by the President of the United States. And he also separately had meetings with his counterparts from Japan and Australia. In Washington, he met a number of CEOs of major US corporates. So all in all, it has been a short but very, very comprehensive, very useful and visit which allowed for extensive high level interactions. His address in the United Nations, which you would have heard, has focused on some important themes. The first theme, of course, was that democracies can deliver, democracies have delivered. the Prime Minister spoke about an array of flagship programmes and initiatives in India that have delivered very successfully to hundreds of millions of our citizens, whether it is in the aspect of enabling them to enter into the banking sector by allowing people to open bank accounts, whether it is in terms of participating in health schemes that provide for quality health services to a very large number of our people, health insurance, low cost housing for millions of our citizens being converted from landless to land owners, as the Prime Minister said. Also very strong emphasis that the Prime Minister laid on this issue of technology, technology has delivered for us, we have used technology in very many areas of our developmental activity that has enabled us to reach out to people in all parts of the country, every segment of society, and that I think has been a very important message that has been conveyed. He also drew the synergy of our efforts in the health sector. Health is an overriding priority obviously in the general discourse in the United Nations at this point of time. The Prime Minister spoke about our use of technology in the health sector especially with regard to the ability to immunise hundreds of millions of our citizens in the COVID-19, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, through the Co-win platform, which is one of the finest, most, I would say, well-conceived digital platforms. You would recall that when Co-win was introduced to the international community through the Co-win Global conclave, 142 countries participated, it has been put as an open source digital platform available to countries around the world. The Prime Minister also spoke about the success of our vaccination programme. 800 million plus of our citizens have already received vaccination doses, we are looking at accelerating this and the Prime Minister emphasised the fact that the success of this entire enterprise was also based on the organisational aspect of it, including Co-win, of course. And of course, the fact that we have today come out with cutting edge technologies, we have our indigenous vaccines, we also have developed a DNA vaccine which will be introduced for children, which is a touch vaccine, we have come up with mRNA technology. So we are also at the cutting edge of vaccine development and Prime Minister referred to India as a manufacturing hub for vaccines for the entire world. In that context, of course, he spoke of the fact that we had announced our decision to, again recommence exports of vaccines from the month of October. Again, this is extremely well received in the UN and the international community. The Prime Minister spoke of global value chains in the context of Aatam Nirbhar Bharat, resilient supply chains that we are developing. Important emphasis was given on climate change in which the Prime Minister pointed out that we ourselves unilaterally gone in for a 450 gigawatt target by 2030. We were ahead in terms of meeting our expectations in Paris Agreement. And that if we were to look at the gains that we would make in addressing the issue of climate change it is because we have to answer the future generations. And the Prime Minister pointed out that it was important for us to ensure that we do the right thing now, so that our future generations don't question the fact that we hadn't done enough to make our planet both sustainable environmentally, and something that is enduring. I think, again, when you talk about technology, the Prime Minister talked about science based rational thinking, applied to development, I think that is an important factor that science and technology have dictated how we can best provide development gains to as many of our people as possible as effectively and as cost effectively as possible also. And he also talked about from that point of view, the development of incubators, the start-up culture, the importance and promise of innovation among the youth of India, the development of satellites, 75 satellites to commemorate our 75th anniversary of independence. So on international issues, you would have noticed that the Prime Minister referred to the most pressing issue of today again, which is a topic of conversation of almost every head of state and government that has spoken at the United Nations, the situation in Afghanistan. He said that countries using terrorism as a tool should note that this is a double edged sword. I think that's a very important point to make that you cannot think of encouragement to terrorism because that can come back to bite you. In the context of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister referred to the fact that the plight of women, children, minority should not be forgotten. That these basic human rights of people of Afghanistan are important. They need the help of the international community and it is incumbent on the international community to come forward to speak in one voice on some of these issues that are important to all of us. The Prime Minister did speak about the fact that we shouldn't abuse our natural resources. This is a legacy for the future. This is a trusteeship of nature that has been bestowed on us, that our culture does, Indian culture and ethos is one that is close to nature, that we live in harmony with nature and that is something that's important in today's context of dealing with climate change, dealing with some of the environmental issues that we face globally.

And he also spoke about the UN Security Council, in particular, our contribution to the issue of maritime security in the UN Security Council, as you know, we were held the presidency of the Security Council, a very successful presidency. Our Permanent Representative has to take great amount of that credit for a presidency that outlined and shaped thinking in many new areas, the highlight of which was the Prime Minister's chairing the open debate on Security Council on the issue of maritime security. This is the first time an Indian Prime Minister has chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council. This is also the first time India has or any country for that matter, has successfully steered a UN Security Council debate on the issue of maritime security and come up with the outcome document which today is being referred to by many countries as being the guiding, I would say, principles on this issue. We also of course, focused on the issue of technology and peacekeeping, the important issue of counter-terrorism. And in that context, of course, when we talk about international issues, issues that are important to the global community, the Prime Minister referred to the COVID-19 and its origins, the case of, ease of doing business, I think that's important when we talk about the need for greater investment and technology flows, the issue of good governance. He called upon the UN to provide global order, global law and global values. I think if you look at the statement, one or two things become apparent. The first, of course, is that, you know, India by its own developmental paradigm and the success of its developmental efforts is really, in many senses, providing development to the entire world because we represent 1/6th of humanity, our development, our progress, our success is the word success. The second of course, is the intention to share with the international community, our best practices, our experiences and in that context the Prime Minister referred to the global common good and the fact that India has always looked to seeing how we could both support and assist the larger global community in whatever we do. And in that context, of course, technology and other issues were important in terms of focus. And, of course, when we talk about development then we talked about several models of development, I did give you some examples, in terms of Co-win, in terms of vaccine development that can also be successfully shared with the rest of the world. And that I think, was the larger theme of what we spoke about. Of course, you know the PM’s address helped us to project our long standing growing credentials as a South-South development partner in the context of the India-UN Development Partnership fund. Here again, I think important steps have been taken to see how we can work with the UN in an outreach that would enable some of our developmental successes and models that we have evolved within our country to be shared as effective and cost effective practices that can be adopted elsewhere in the world. Financing for development, commitment to the idea of Global Partnership under SDG 17, including on climate change. And, of course, a number of countries in their addresses have referred to India, in particular, our development partners in the context of COVID-19 assistance, in the context of development programmes and we thank them, we appreciate their sentiment and we continue to look forward to a very close partnership with countries all over the world in the furthering, in the extension of what we are doing within our own country. So perhaps I'll stop here, I don't know if you want to add anything, I think you have to go and see off the Prime Minister, so fully understand.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir for a comprehensive overview of that, as we say goodbye to Permanent Resident Ambassador, Tirumurti. Okay, I see hands. We start here, please.

Speaker 1: Thank you very much. My name is Lynka White from the ( inaudible) newspaper, and I cover the United Nations. I wanted to ask on Afghanistan, according to you, what are the next steps if Taliban will not have an inclusive government and when they should be taken? And second question, you spoke about women and children that their rights need to be protected. How do you think we can ensure that?Thank you very much.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Yeah. Sir I think that we can take the questions Yes, Ma'am, please.

Speaker 2: Thank you. Yoshita Singh with Press Trust of India. In his bilateral meetings with the President and also with Japan and Australia, did the Prime Minister highlight the need for unity in dealing with the Taliban situation in Afghanistan, given that we've seen that there are divisions in the Security Council, whether it's from Russia or China, on how this situation should be dealt with and also to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used as a terror launchpad in the region. Thank you.

Speaker 3: Sidhant from Wion. What kind of assurances India gets from the bilaterals with from US when it comes to Pakistan support to terror and China as an aggressor during this entire three day visit?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. Yeah, please, ma’am.

Speaker 4: Sir Maha Siddiqui from CNN-News 18. Sir the G4 countries recently released a statement once again asking for the need of UN reforms. What is the biggest hurdle in the reform? Sir why isn't it happening despite the fact that the UN fails to represent realities of the modern world?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Yes, please.

Speaker 5: Mr. Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech about a rule based order. Quite clearly that would be seen as an indication to China's aggressive behaviour, would you subscribe to that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, last one.

Speaker 5: Sir Reena Bhardwaj for ANI. Now President Biden did discuss with Prime Minister Modi that India should have a permanent seat of the UN Security Council. Was there any similar sentiment that India gathered through the meetings? Or throughout this week at UNGA?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: I think the first question was on Afghanistan.I think you drew attention to women and children and what can be done by international community. You saw that in the Prime Minister's address to the UN just a short while ago he laid very strong emphasis on the international community speaking out in one voice and also taking responsibility for a number of issues. But he mentioned in particular, the issue of the human rights of women, children, minorities. I think that is an important issue from our perspective, it is an important issue from the perspective of the international community. If you look at what the international community is demanding of the ruling dispensation in Afghanistan and I think that was the second part of your question. It is encapsulated in resolution 2593 of the UN Security Council which incidentally was adopted in under our presidency of the council. Resolution 2593 demands that Afghanistan's territory not be used for terrorism to the detriment of any of its neighbours or any other country. It also enjoins on them to respect the human rights of women, children and minorities. It asks for unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance. And it also, I think, ask that there should be inclusive negotiated political settlement. These are the basic I would say, requirements of the international community. Until and unless those requirements are met in part or in full, I think the international community will continue to wait and watch the situation. For the international community this is an important area of fulfilment. Certainly India will work with its partners both regional partners and global partners in ensuring that many of these important aspects including, sorry, the evacuation of Afghan nationals, who want to leave the country are fulfilled and these are very important requirements and these are also, in some senses commitments that the ruling dispensation had made when they first entered Kabul. And we would like to see that those obligations and commitments being fulfilled. Yoshita, I think you had a similar question. I think I've basically answered what you were talking about. Certainly within the QUAD there was a strong sentiment, you would have seen it in the joint statement that the QUAD has issued, that Afghanistan is a high priority that many of the elements that are mentioned in resolution 2593 are reflected in the joint statement. This is, in some senses, a fairly accurate description of the conversation that took place among the leaders of the QUAD group. And I think unity, when it comes to Afghanistan is very, very pertinent and I think all the QUAD leaders recognise that our interests converged and our interests were really reflected in the points that I made earlier. And from that point of view, I think the QUAD was very, it was a very useful meeting in putting together the thinking and the objectives of the QUAD leaders had in Afghanistan, bringing them on the same page. I think Sidhant, you spoke about Pakistan’s support for terrorism, again, you would have seen that in all the meetings the Prime Minister had, beginning with US leadership, there was suo moto recognition of the concerns that Pakistan represents as a country that has in many senses, both supported and nurtured cross border terrorism, including in Afghanistan and from Afghanistan. There was a sense that situation needs to be watched very carefully and that the international community needs to ensure that Pakistan fulfills its obligation as a member of the committee, a committee of nations in its basic obligations, that it does not in any way work against the detriment of its neighbours or any other country in the world. And that, again, has been reflected, if you see strong statements both in the bilateral joint statement as well as the joint statement in the quadrilateral Leaders’ Summit reflects those sentiments quite significantly. I think Maha’s question was on the G4 and you know, whether the UN has failed to fulfil its obligations. The United Nations, of course, continues to be a body that represents the legal and de jure interests of countries from all over the world and its membership. It is you know, the forum in which countries can come to seek both a projection of their, let's say, larger global engagements but also to resolve many of the issues that are pertinent to them. In many cases, we have seen that the UN has not lived up to its commitments, whether it is in the area of international peace and security, whether it's in the area of health care, epidemics and pandemics and I think in all of these there is obviously a need to look at how we can reform the UN in general and in UN Security Council in particular, reformed multilateralism has been India's main theme. And we will continue to work towards the reformed United Nations during our stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It's also interesting to note that many other countries also share our sentiments, we have a very large measure of support. You heard President Biden when he said, I mean, President Biden, this is not public messaging, but he did mention that India should be, have a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. I think that is reflected in the joint statement. And this is something that continues to be a view held by, not just the US but other QUAD partners and many other countries. In the UNGA debate this time, you would have seen that after the United States, in its in President Biden's statement mentioned this factor, but there was also Portugal that supported India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. A permanent seat as well as reform of the UN Security Council remains India's top priority. As I mentioned, there is a sense that under the new president of the General Assembly there would be a thrust to the process, the inter-governmental process and we will move forward to texts based negotiations which we have been talking about with concrete outcomes in a fixed timeframe. We believe that India's 75th anniversary coincides with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. This is the time that the UN should fulfil its long standing obligations to reform for the benefit of the global community. I think the question by Reena was again, on permanent seat to some extent I have responded to what you asked. Rules based order, yes, that was a recurring theme. The QUAD stands for rules based international order, the QUAD stands for a free, open, transparent, inclusive, prosperous Indo-Pacific region. And in that context, you know, the right to freedom of navigation, use of global comments, international order is definitely there. This is the general sentiment, is a general principle, I would not say that it is directed to any country in particular, we believed in principles, we believe in values, and we believe that the quad as a group must work with its indo Pacific partners with ASEAN at the centrality to achieve those objectives.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir thank you very much for that comprehensive overview. I think because of time constraints; we'll have to move now. I thank you all for your participation today morning. Appreciate Good day.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thanks a lot and see many of our friends back in India.


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