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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to USA
Official Spokesperson: Good Afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. I’ll try and run through the meetings that Prime Minister had this morning. He has had four meetings. The first was a courtesy meeting with Secretary General of United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. This was a meeting just prior to his address to the United Nations General Assembly. It was in the chamber of Secretary General, just behind the United Nations General Assembly Hall. After that, subsequent to his address, Prime Minister did meet all three South Asian neighbours who had requested for such meetings and these were the President of Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister of Nepal.

I’ll try and take you through some of the main aspects of each of these meetings and then if you have any questions, I am willing to answer those.

As regards the meeting with Secretary General, the broad themes were some of those which were reflected in his statement today, for example UN peacekeeping and the Indian view that those countries who are contributing troops to the United Nations should also have an effective say in decision making and mandates because they put their troops’ lives at stake when they try and fulfill mandates of United Nations. Prime Minister also referred to his own initiatives to try and work with other South Asian neighbours in terms of his inviting everybody to his swearing-in ceremony; and how he intends to take this initiative forward working with the South Asian neighbours in general. The other theme that was touched upon was relating to the 70th anniversary of United Nations and Prime Minister made a very strong pitch that United Nations need to reform and India stands ready to work with the Secretary General who should take the lead in trying to reform various aspects of the working of United Nations. So, these were the broad themes in terms of his meeting with Secretary General.

As regards the South Asian neighbours, I’ll try and put it in terms of what were the commonalities and then what were the specificities also. In terms of the commonalities as all of them were meeting after the Prime Minister’s speech, all of them did congratulate Prime Minister on his speech and all did indicate their support for Prime Minister’s initiative and proposal for International Yoga Day. All three have committed that they would support this initiative of designating a day in United Nations as International Yoga Day. One of them has already given in writing, but two of them did indicate that they were ready to support this Indian initiative which was launched earlier this morning.

All three of them said that they were looking forward for the Prime Minister’s visit to their respective countries, for example- Nepal because of the SAARC Summit and Prime Minister Koirala reminded Prime Minister that he had promised that he would go to Janakpur and to Lumbini this time when he visited Nepal. Also, Prime Minister Haseena and President Rajapaksa, both hoped that Prime Minister would visit their respective countries at an early date. Prime Minister mentioned that his priority is neighbours first and therefore he is working on a mutually convenient date where he can visit their countries too. Finally, there was also a discussion relating to common SAARC efforts and this context, while congratulating Prime Minister on the Mars mission, they mentioned that they were looking forward to the SAARC satellite that Prime Minister had announced sometime earlier.

Getting into the specificities of each of these countries, with Bangladesh this was the first meeting between the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister and it was a very warm and cordial meeting during which, of course, the Bangladesh Prime Minister did raise issues which are perennial or staple in our relationship and that relate to both the Teesta issue as well as land boundary agreement. Prime Minister, for his part, indicated that on the land boundary agreement the bill is already in the standing committee of Parliament and the new members have already been provided copies of these bills. These were the new members of Loksabha who are now part of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and we hope that this process will be taken forward. He assured Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena the process is moving forward. As regards the Teesta, he said that water is a sensitive issue and that we need to work out a consensus on this matter and he assured her that while we work on consensus on this issue, the Teesta waters are flowing unimpeded to Bangladesh.

There was discussion on connectivity with Bangladesh and Prime Minister thanked Sheikh Haseena for the permission given for transit of food grains via Bangladesh to India’s North-East and Sheikh Haseena was very warm, saying that the relationship between India and Bangladesh is such that we could never have said no to such a request which was humanitarian in nature. Also, she mentioned that if we have to do this on a regular basis, infrastructure needs to be improved and Prime Minister acknowledged that if there are any projects that are specific in nature, that require infrastructure development on transit connectivity requirement, India would be willing to look at these projects.

Finally, I understand that, tomorrow is Sheikh Haseena’s birthday and Prime Minister wished her all the best on her next birthday.

Sri Lanka was the first country to formally give support in writing for Prime Minister’s initiative on International Day on Yoga. Prime Minister thanks President Rajapaksa for this prompt response to his initiative that was unveiled earlier this morning. There was a discussion about development projects in Sri Lanka which India is assisting in. Also, the Sampur thermal power project and the understanding was that now it had been granted permission and the environmental clearances are underway. Prime Minister then explained to President Rajapaksa the meeting between the TNA delegation in India; and he did mention that he had explained to the TNA delegation also that dialogue is best way to proceed in trying to reconcile the differences that they may have with the Sri Lankan government on this. There was a fairly detailed discussion on the matters relating to fishermen. We understand that currently 76 Indian fishermen are still in Sri Lankan custody and Prime Minister raised this issue, saying that this is a humanitarian issue and needs to be dealt with sensitivity and President Rajapaksa did acknowledge that both sides need to work on finding a long term solution to it. He did mention that for his part they are ready to work on it; but he did mention environmental concern regarding bottom trawling.

That leaves the Prime Minister of Nepal. The discussion was largely on whether implementation has taken place since the Prime Minister’s visit there and Prime Minister Koirala thanked Prime Minister for swift implementation of two of the major decisions that were taken at the time of Prime Minister’s visit about couple of months ago. These related to power trading agreement and power development agreement and both these instances there have been substantive movement. I understand that, in one case it is already initialled and in other case necessary approvals have been taken and it is now through the final process before they sign the agreement. Then there was a discussion on the forthcoming SAARC Summit and Nepal has requested Prime Minister for some logistical support in the conduct of the SAARC Summit that is to be held in November. Prime Minister did assure Prime Minister Koirala that India stands ready to provide all assistance that Nepal would need for the successful conduct of the Summit; and I understand that the Foreign Minister of Nepal would be travelling to India later during the next month to discuss these issues as well as issues relating to the outcome of the SAARC summit.

I think I will stop there and then if you have any questions; I am willing to answer them.

Question:Is tarah ki reports hain ki Prime Minister jab apni speech ke baad nikal rahe the to,there were some adverse remarks by the Chair…?

Official Spokesperson:I have no idea on what you are saying. If there are any remarks made then there are processes to respond to that but I don’t know what you are saying. If you have any information you can share it with me otherwise there are normal processes in United Nations to handle this.

Question: Was there a meeting sought by the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or anybody from their delegation for meeting formally or informally with the Prime Minister?

Official Spokesperson: I think the only person who could meet the Indian Prime Minister is the Pakistani Prime Minister not anybody else; but that said I’ve already told you that all South Asian neighbours who had requested for meeting were granted because Prime Minister is extremely keen in terms of responding to South Asian neighbours. He has always said- neighbours first. So, all the requests that were made were granted.

Question: You mentioned that Prime Minister asked Secretary General that we need UN reforms. (..inaudible..) we would like to know the correct procedure. The President is first supposed to release a text on whose basis there would be negotiations. So, could you clarify (..inaudible..)

Official Spokesperson: I think what I said was United Nations reforms, I did not say Security Council reforms. Security Council reforms is in the domain of member states. However, there are possibilities of Secretary General, as the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations, taking several initiatives relating to reforms in other areas and that’s what I was talking of. We are well aware that there are certain reforms in the province of member states. But there are also certain reforms that the Secretary General, as the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations, can initiate and that’s what we were discussing on. Like I mentioned to you, one of these relate to emphasizing on the importance that troop contributing countries should be consulted before any mandates are put by the United Nations Secretariat to the Security Council for discussion. This does not require any decision by member states or by Security Council. All it requires is to set in motion a process. So, what I was talking about and the Prime Minister was focused on during the meeting with Secretary General, were procedural issues which are within the province of the Secretary General. I hope I have clarified that.

Question: Pradhanmantri ne jo aatankwaad ko lekar Pakistan par kade tareeqe se baat kee hai aur kahaa hai ki aatankwaad ke chalte hue baatcheet nahi hogi, kya ye manaa jaaye ki near future mein Bharat aur Pakistan ke beech baatcheet nahin hogi?

Official Spokesperson: As I always say, I can only provide you information, analysis and perception is yours. Prime Minister also said that he is ready to take the next step forward in the relationship with Pakistan provided certain requirements are addressed and therefore, I don’t see why you are so pessimistic about it.

Question: We had an interview a while ago with Foreign Affairs Advisor of Pakistan PM, Sartaj Aziz. When asked very specifically, if the next time if talks were rescheduled would the Pakistan High Commissioner need to meet the Hurriyat leadership; and he said not necessarily every time. Is that meeting with the Hurriyat leadership the single point for which the talks were called off?

Official Spokesperson: I think we made it very clear that India stands committed to all bilateral interactions with Pakistan in accordance with the Shimla agreement and the Lahore Declaration. Both these ensure that we pursue the path of bilateralism, both these indicate that either side will not accept intervention in each other’s domestic matters and therefore, we have already said that what was done at that stage by the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi was to us unacceptable to us in terms of trying to intervene in our domestic issues, because if India and Pakistan are committed to discussing all outstanding bilateral issues then these include Jammu & Kashmir. This is part of the Lahore declaration which we have already said. However, that means that these are discussed between India and Pakistan. There are no third parties in this, whether outside or inside.

Question: Someone has written a letter to PMO, saying that one of the organizers of tomorrow’s Madison Square Garden event is linked to the underworld. He apparently had given asupari for Sonu Nigam. His name is Mr. Bharat Jotwani and he has given a lot of details in this letter that he has given to the Prime Minister. Bharat Jotwani is the name and Pujanka Entertainment is the name of the company apparently. And they had apparently, in one case, forced Sonu Nigam to attend an entertainment show and said that otherwise,Chhota Shakeel will eliminate him and he has also given the details of the conversations. Are you aware of the antecedents and bona fide of all those who are organizing tomorrow’s function.

Official Spokesperson: If you ask me, my simple answer is I am not aware of any such letter. I will try and see, since you have given all these graphic details I will certainly try and find out. We will certainly try and find out since these details are now in the public domain and you have pointed them out. Since, you have just addressed this first time, this is the first time I’ve heard of it. Many people send it out first (to media) and then send it out later (to PMO), we will find it out and next time I come here I will respond to that.

Question:I just wanted to know MEA’s role in tomorrow’s event. It is entirely organized by the Indian American community, so you’ve made no efforts to check the antecedents of the organizers.

Official Spokesperson:You are right in terms that this is a function organized by Indian American Community. The extent to which our Mission has worked with them, I will need to get those details and I can share them with you once we are aware of them.

Question: Can you confirm or deny that the PMO or other officials have been unable to accommodate requests from some members of the US Congress for a meeting with the Prime Minister?

Official Spokesperson: I don’t know but let me tell you that in any such meeting, scheduling is an issue and this keeps evolving. For example at 3 ‘o’ clock the governor of New Jersey Mr. Chris Christie is meeting the Prime Minister. Now this was not scheduled previously and I am now, for the first time, sharing it with you. These are evolving situations. The Prime Minister is keen to meet as broad spectrum of American Society as possible. This includes, certainly, Congressmen. As regards, specific instances, I am not aware of them but let me tell you all these are always factors of scheduling, timing, availability of opportunities and whether there is already something else in place. So, without any specifics I can’t answer you. Let me tell you, Prime Minister’s own view is that he is keen to meet as broad spectrum of American society as possible and that remains his goal.

Question: At his speech in UNGA, Prime Minister stressed on September, 2015 deadline for reform and expansion of Security Council. Was there any discussion on specifics of the strategy with UN Secretary General and also, she has met more than two dozen Foreign Ministers. Has any one of them, any new member committed support of India in Security Council?

Official Spokesperson: Two things, if you want to know. I think I clarified to him that the issues in the province of member states are not discussed with the Secretary General. So, Prime Minister will not raise the issue of UN Security Council reforms with Secretary General. However, you have seen today in Prime Minister’s emphatic support for UN Security Council reform, a clear articulation of the new Government of India’s position on this. We are committed; we will go ahead with this and as you are correct External Affairs Minister herself had a meeting of the G4 just over last couple of days or so; and in them the G4 themselves are committed to move ahead on this. So, I don’t think, you can have a greater articulation and a more forceful articulation than what has been made today and what is evidenced from the meeting of the G4 where India participated vigorously and did support the need for us to move ahead in terms of reform because 70th anniversary a good opportunity for us to move ahead on that.

Question:In terms of styling and timing, were these three bilateral meetings more substantive than the past? What was the duration etc.?

Official Spokesperson: All these were approximately for 30-35 minutes, but what I can tell you is that the atmosphere was extremely cordial and warm. In some cases, they were all speaking in Hindi but even if they were speaking in other languages, the atmosphere was extremely cordial, extremely warm and everybody seemed to be working towards this understanding of SAARC trying to work together. It was more like a SAARC family where they were working together and seeing how each can work with the other in terms of moving ahead. All were focused on economic development issues.

Question: I have a question on Prime Minister’s remarks in terms of the fight against terrorism, particularly in West Asia. (..Inaudible..) if other nations also contribute to coalition or allied efforts, India would also be willing to do so. Is this a conditional approach that the Prime Minister sees. Could you spell out any more details on that?

Official Spokesperson: The Indian approach to terrorism is never conditional. Our approach is very clear. We consider terrorism, in all its dimensions, anathema. We will always support every effort towards trying to eliminate or counter this menace. That said, we are also aware of our capabilities and our situation. So, we will work with our international partners globally in ways that we can support to eliminate this menace anywhere it is.

Question:Is the Prime Minister still going to meet the new grandparents? Is this still on the schedule? What is the background to his remarks on Yoga and why did he link it to climate change?

Official Spokesperson: As regards the second question, Prime Minister’s view is that Yoga is a life-style method. It is not purely physical exercises. He says it is part of our tradition, but it is global and therefore, it has been adopted globally. His point is that if we can change our life-styles, we can approach our lives in a manner which are more harmonious with nature. And therefore, in that manner, if we live in greater harmony with nature, the possibilities of man-made contributions to climate change are less and that’s the logic of this argument that Yoga is the basis of a life-style approach and if you change your lifestyle, you have a life-style which is perhaps more in harmony with nature; you are likely to be less instrumental in impacting on climate. There is a clear logic in that, if you lead a simple life-style which is not used to using energy intensively, which is not going to impact on your surroundings in a difficult or less harmonious manner, it is possible that the impact of the climate change will be less. So, I hope I have tried to articulate in a way that is understandable to you.

Question: I’d like to have an answer of the first question that he asked?

Official Spokesperson: As regards the first question, Prime Minister is looking forward to meeting the new grandparents and will certainly take the opportunity to congratulate them on their granddaughter.

Question:Where did this International Yoga Day take off from? We don’t have an All India Yoga Day in our own country.

Official Spokesperson: Let me try and explain to you. I started by saying that while there is a tradition of Yoga in India, Yoga is a global concept; and we’ve already seen support for this approach coming from various other countries. Now, for example there are various days which the United Nations celebrates across the year. Those are not the days that are celebrated in our country but if they have a global resonance and if there is a possibility that they would be supported by everybody, we join it. I can give examples of countries coming with various days on what it is. This is the proposal we put in good faith, we put with intention of trying to bring greater harmony between nature and human beings and we will try and pursue it collectively. There are no disputes in it. These resolutions are usually adopted by consensus or by overwhelming support, so we are working towards that. This is only the beginning and today is the first day and I am certain you’ll have time to analyse it in greater detail. We will keep you informed about this.

Question: In a conversation with NewsX, Bangladesh PM said that Bangladesh expects India to do what Bangladesh has done for India in terms of terror cooperation. Has Bangladesh shared these concerns and details with India of the Sharda scam leading to fund extremist organizations in Bangladesh?

Official Spokesperson: I think this is the fourth time I have been asked this question. Three times before my answer was that it was never raised and this was not raised today too. This was not raised when the Bangladesh Foreign Minister came to Delhi and I was asked that question and I had said that this was not an issue that was raised. Prior to that there were some news organizations which raised that and I confirm that our Mission in Dhaka had not been given any report to provide to MEA. So let me again clarify that this issue did not come up in the meetings.

Question:The Prime Minister did talk about trade in speech saying that (..inaudible..) look at other’s concern as well. Do we understand that there is going to be some change in India’s stand because the next deadline is 29th September for WTO meeting in Geneva?

Official Spokesperson: I think answers to that will be known when India takes part in the WTO in Geneva. But let me tell you, as far as India is concerned, we are not against trade facilitation. We are for trade facilitation. All we are saying is that the outcomes of the Bali meeting should all move together and that’s because there are concerns for us regarding the food security. So, all we request is that while we are for trade facilitation and we will support it, we would also feel that the other decisions of the Bali are given the same importance that this is being given because for us those are important decisions. We’d look towards working with our friends and partners in the WTO on trying to realize what is our concern with what are their concerns. We can effectively move together on that.

Question:What are the bilaterals that you are expecting to happen, will the Prime Minister be meeting Prime Minister of Israel or the Iranian or anybody else?

Official Spokesperson:As I said, programs are always evolving. As of today, the other bilaterals that the Prime Minister proposes to have is with Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow late evening because Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming in tomorrow and we hope to have a meeting tomorrow.

Question:Is there a resolution or time-line for the United Nations to pass the resolution to make it a International Yoga Day?

Official Spokesperson:Usually, the process is that when a country proposes it, it works to include this on the agenda of the General Assembly. Following the inclusion of this subject on the Agenda, usual resolution is considered initially amongst ‘friends of the resolution’ and then broader support is garnered. The 69th session of UNGA has just begun. It will continue till next September. So, we have plenty of time. This is a goal that we are working as an international objective. Again let me repeat, this is not only an Indian area of interest. Going by the support that we have received by the time Prime Minister announced and the three meetings that he had today, all were supportive. It is something which has struck a cord and we hope to work and build on this; and ensure that it is smoothly passed during the course of the General Assembly Session.

Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.

(Concluded)
27 September 2014
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