Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson on the ongoing visit of Prime Minister to USA
Official Spokesperson: Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here. Despite the late hour, I’ll try and give you a briefing regarding the two meetings that the Prime Minister had after his address at Madison Square Garden. While you were still savouring the outcome of that event, Prime Minister was occupied in meeting his guests here. He met Congresswoman TulsiGabbard who is the representative of Hawaii, this afternoon at around 4 ‘o’ clock and following which he has just met the Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu. The discussion with Congresswoman Gabbard was largely related to her own interest in India. As you know she is the first Hindu Congresswoman in the US and she has a great interest in Vedic scriptures as well as keen desire to visit India. She hasn’t visited India ever. She also is a practitioner of Yoga; she is extremely keen on understanding the practice of Yoga in India. Apart from that she is great supporter of India and she also has an interest in defence related matters and so there was an interesting discussion in all these aspects, i.e. her interest in India. She, in fact, presented Prime Minister a Bhagvad Gita which she said was something she had used to be sworn on to the US House of Representatives. Perhaps you are aware she had taken oath on the Gita which she presented to the Prime Minister in a touching gesture. In addition there was a discussion about Prime Minister’s proposal in the UNGA regarding Yoga and she, herself, said that as a practitioner of Yoga, she was very interested in that proposal and that she would do her best to try and see in what way she can support this proposal of the Prime Minister. Subsequently, she evinced interest in visiting India. She hasn’t visited India, so Prime Minister has invited her to come to India at a suitable time. She also discussed her approach towards issues of defence as well as international cooperation in terms of working against common threats that are posed through terror. That was a meeting which lasted about half an hour following which just now met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
As you know, Israel and India have a very robust relationship. Our economic ties have been growing rapidly, we have currently a trade of approximately $ 6 billion and is growing very rapidly. The discussions were on how to expand these ties in view of the new Government of India. The areas of discussion related to agriculture, water management and because Israel has a speciality in terms of arid areas agriculture and they did explain some of the technologies that are available and which they can share with India in terms of agriculture, water management etc. Prime Minister also expressed that he would like Israel to work with India in urban development and he said there are approximately 500 cities in India where water management would be a major issue given the growth in these cities and there was a fairly detailed discussion on possibilities of cooperation in water management as well as solid waste management in these areas.
Apart from this there was a discussion on matters relating to how Israel perceives developments in the region. That was in the sense of the West Asia. Also, the Israeli Prime Minister explained, at some length, their vision and view of what are the issues in the P5 + 1 talks that are happening between Iran and the P5 +1. Israeli Prime Minister did extend an invitation to Prime Minister to visit Israel at an early date, He recollected that PM had visited in his earlier capacity as Chief Minister of Gujarat but he would hope that he could visit as Prime Minister. Prime Minister has said that he has taken note of it and this will be discussed further through diplomatic channels. I think that’s what I have to say about both these meetings but I am willing to respond to any questions that you may have on either of these meetings.
Question: Was there a discussion with Israeli PM on defence ties?
Official Spokesperson: Yes, there was a discussion in terms of defence ties and Prime Minister explained that ‘Make in India’ was a priority for him. He also explained that, right now in defence sector, Israeli or any foreign company can invest up to 49%. Prime Minister also made a pitch for investments from everywhere, including from Israel, given the market that we have and the ability for technologies to absorbed in India. In this context, the Israeli Prime Minister did mention that there were areas of cooperation, for example in computer software. He said that both Israel and India have expertise in these areas and he himself referred to his experience when he was working in California with a software company; how he found that the largest number of people working in the area of computer were either Israelis or Indians. In this context, as they were discussing in terms of knowledge and information technology, they also discussed matters relating to cyber security; and the importance that cyber security will play in any society which will be driven through information technology in the future; and the possibilities of cooperation in that.
Question: With the Israeli Prime Minister, did the Prime Minister discuss ISIS and the situation in West Asia, Particularly, in relation to ISIS the cooperation that US and international community is seeking from India? And also on the role that Iran could play in fighting ISIS?.
Official Spokesperson: No, these were not the areas of discussion on Indian or Iran role in that. Given that Israel is well placed in that region, so Prime Minister requested and was given a briefing of their understanding of the situation.
Question: Israel has a very advanced water purification industrial capacity. I understand that there have been some approaches from Israeli side that they are considering the purification program in India. Did that at all come up, are you aware of that?
Official Spokesperson: Yes, I mentioned to you that in the context of urban cities, issues of water management did come up but no specifics were discussed. Prime Minister did mention that about 30-35% of India would be in these 500 cities and these cities are growing exponentially, so they would need assistance in terms of water management and also, water purification. And the Israeli Prime Minister did mention of their expertise but this was in the context of a general discussion. There were no specificities discussed.
Question: Was there a discussion on the issue of terrorism, particularly ISIS?
Official Spokesperson: I mentioned to you that the Prime Minister sought and requested an understanding of the situation of how they perceive developments in West Asia and that region. The Israeli Prime Minister was kind enough to explain to him how they see the situation evolving there.
Question: Did the Gaza offensive come up and did the Israelis tried to explain their view on what had happened? and also the UNHRC vote.
Official Spokesperson: I will answer only one question. The Gaza issue didn’t come up.
Question: Jewish community leaders met Prime Minister. What was that about?
Official Spokesperson: The American Jewish community is a very strong advocacy group in the US and they are also great supporters of India-US-Israeli relationship. They met in the context of normal meetings that they’ve had, even with the previous Prime Minister. This is not the first time that they’ve had meetings with visiting Prime Ministers. Prime Minister did say then and he repeated that again to Prime Minister Netanyahu that India is proud of a tradition of more than 2000 years that there was never any discrimination against any Jewish resident in India; and both the Jewish leaders this morning as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged that anti-semitism was not something that any Jews faced in India. Apart from that, there were discussions on how they could support further growth in the relation between US and India as well as between Israel and India and they had made some suggestions in this regard.
Question: You mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave his view about ISIS and the security situation in West Asia. What was his view?
Official Spokesperson: I speak for the Government of India not for the Government of Israel.
Question: You mentioned that Congresswoman TulsiGabbard talked about defence ties with the PM. Can you mention a little about what the discussion was ?
Official Spokesperson: Not defence ties but, I understand, she has interest in defence matters. She is on some of the committees related to US defence. I understand that she has served twice in Middle East on tour of duty with the Us forces. So, her perceptions of how the situation is there and what she sees are issues that are confronting the US and her personal assessment was provided.
Question: On counter-terror, what was the conversation with Congresswoman TulsiGabbard like?
Official Spokesperson: She is a very strong votary of counter-terrorism and international cooperation on counter-terrorism. Now, you can well understand, she is a great supporter of India and therefore, she felt that India and US should work together on these issues.
Question: There was a Sikh delegation which met the PM yesterday. What was the nature of discussion? Did they leave any list of demand?
Official Spokesperson: I understand that they did give a petition. I do not know the details of that but I’ll try and say what were the issues that came up. The issues are common for most as they are for many Indians who are outside India. These relate to issues relating to consular matters, issues relating to how PIOs can be best facilitated; of course, many of them had very good suggestions of how we could work with them in matters relating to Punjab. Also, there were some who were from outside Punjab, they were from Gujrat etc. Prime Minister said that he was very proud of the contributions that the Sikhs had made in India and I think he has reiterated some of those views that he mentioned yesterday, today in his speech about the sikh community have contributed to Indian security. These are in his speech when he addressed in the Madison Square Garden. So, thoughts on those lines. Also, there were issues that some of them raised relating to their wanting to get back, because they have some issues as some of them had come out of India in the wake of 1984 and riots related issues. They said that, rather than going into specifics, they would be giving a petition in that regard and they did submit some papers to the Prime Minister and he said that he will have it looked by the concerned authorities. There were matters of those who would like to come back to India but they have issues which do not permit them to come back. Also, there were issues about those who have given up their passport their passports and how do they get their eligibility to travel back even though documentary evidence is not available. So, these were some of the issues that they mentioned and which they had given some petition about.
Question: A quick follow up to the visa question. Could just run us through what were the announced that he made and the significance of those because I am not familiar with PIO? What were the reforms that he had brought about and also the issue of this dual citizenship that one of the demands. Was it raised by the Prime Minister?
Official Spokesperson: Dual citizenship was not an issue, that was nither discussed nor raised. But I think some of the issues that were discussed were specific to them but also others i.e. that there are differences between OCI cards and the PIO cards and those differences also relate to family members, there is a problem which has prevented these to be merged or harmonized. Prime Minister has promised that within the next few months that harmonization will happen. For those you who may say that this is something going on, it’s quite right. It has been a process that has been on for several years but we haven’t been able to move forward because there were some knotty issues but now that the Prime Minister of India has promised that he will try and ensure its harmony within the next few months and this will be a process that will be taken further to its conclusion.
The next one was on visa on arrival for tourists. As of now, we have 11 countries where citizens of these 11 countries are eligible to have visa on arrival. This list is going to be expanded in phased manner. Apart from the 11, Prime Minister has now announced that one more country i.e. US will be permitted.
The other issues are that those who are PIOs will get visa for a life time. Currently, they have a 10-year period and then they have to renew it. Formally, they will have to go through the process of regularization or getting the rules in place etc; that’s why he has given a few months time. But, in principle, Prime Minister has announced those decisions and the departments of the Government of India are now working on that.
Question: What’s the difficulty with dual citizenship?
Official Spokesperson: Dual citizenship is an issue which has been debated on before. I don’t think they pressed for it there because these relate to our own approach to Indian citizenship. This is a national approach to this issue and it will require a total change in approach if you would like to have more than one citizenship. There are some countries who permit that, some other countries don’t do that. Dual citizenship came up in the context of those who had given up Indian citizenship but did not renounce this and when you come back and ask for a visa to travel to India, then when you are shown as Indian citizen originally, you are asked when did you renounce Indian citizenship. That’s the problem that they are facing that they can’t get back to India without indicating when they renounced Indian citizenship because perhaps, they did not do so in a legal manner. So, they wanted a process whereby these could be regularized.
Question: .. .. OCI and PIO cards could also have a duration of...
Official Spokesperson: I just said that. Now both will be harmonized and then both will be (..inaudible..)
Question: Are their any details of the petitions that the sikh groups, which met Prime Minister, gave? Some of them are in the black list and have not been able to come back to India. Any such requests were made to Prime Minister?
Official Spokesperson: No, they didn’t make any names. There were no names raised. This was a generic issue. If you have come and taken citizenship outside India and then when you apply for a visa for India and it says that you were born in India. So, immediately it is asked that when did you renounce your citizenship and therefore, if you have renounced your citizenship, you are supposed to come to the Indian Embassy or the Indian consulate and renounce and get a renunciation certificate. Many may have not done it in the past. Therefore, when they apply for visa, they have problem in getting visa.
Then there are those people who left India in difficult circumstances after 1984 and how do we treat them. They did not get into any names but they indicated that they were going to give this petition and I understand that they have given but I haven’t had a look at this petition which has a list of issues of the nature I mentioned to you.
Question:Just wanted to ask you if Americans get visa on arrival, how do you prevent a David Coleman Headley kind of situation where a Pakistani American gets a visa on arrival?
Official Spokesperson:Let us wait for the rules to be promulgated in this regard. Let us understand what is the basis on which this has been given and then lets take it forward. Let us not jump to conclusions today on the basis of announcement of principles. However, the rules and regulations and the norms will be set as we work through it and once you have those available, you have right to ask that question. I would suggest that when you go back to India, please address these to the appropriate authorities in India.
Question: What about the meeting with Nikki Haley?
Official Spokesperson: Governor Haley did meet Prime Minister this morning. Prime Minister was effusive in his praise for her as an Indian origin person who had done well in US. Governor Haley also said that she is extremely keen on enhancing relations between India and her state which is South Carolina. She explained at some length as to what are the industries that South Carolina is now focussed on. I understand, she is travelling to India in November and Prime Minister invited her to visit various parts of India including areas where the industries which may be of interested to her are located. She indicated industries such as pharma and also she said that Boeing has now a major plant in South Carolina and she said these were the two areas of cooperation she was looking for- one is possibility of pharma. In terms of Prime Minister’s own emphasis on skilling she said that service sector is a major sector in South Carolina and they ahev capacities whereby they can assist Prime Minister’s own initiative of skilling because human resources development is something that the service sector needs there and they have the capacities in that sector. So, these were the broad issues that were discussed and the meeting was for about 30 minutes. Prime Minister wished her luck because she is one of the most eminent American Indians in US politics.
Thank you very much, with that we come to the end of this media interaction.
29 September 2014