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Transcript of press Briefing by Foreign Secretary on PM's visit to UNGA

New York
September 23, 2011

MEA Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Good evening. You are aware that the Prime Minister of India has had three important bilateral meetings today, first with the newly elected Prime Minister of Japan, next with the President of Iran, and just recently in the evening with the President of Sri Lanka. Also in parallel, the External Affairs Minister participated in the BRICS Foreign Ministers meeting as well as the G4 Foreign Ministers meeting. The Foreign Secretary is here to brief you about these meetings, especially the engagements of the Prime Minister today.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Ranjan Mathai): Thank you.

I will start with an apology for being a little late. The meetings ran a little longer than expected.

The Prime Minister, as JS(XP) has just mentioned, met the Japanese Prime Minister in the morning; and the meetings with the President of Iran and the President of Sri Lanka were in the evening today. I will start with the meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Yoshihiko Noda. PM congratulated Mr. Noda on his appointment, which was recently, and said it was an honour to meet the Japanese PM so soon after he had taken office.

PM noted that there had been an intensification of relations with Japan in recent years with very close interaction between the Prime Minister and his Japanese counterparts. The two Prime Ministers reviewed bilateral relations, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), regional affairs in the context of the forthcoming East Asia Summit, and the global partnership between India and Japan.

The Prime Ministers noted the progress on major bilateral projects including the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. They agreed to continue discussions on nuclear cooperation after noting that all countries are conducting safety reviews. The discussions also took in the reform of the Security Council and it was agreed that the G4 consultations should continue.

PM told the Prime Minister Noda that he was keenly looking forward to receiving the Japanese Prime Minister in India at the end of the year. It was agreed that the dates would be finalised through diplomatic channels.

During 2012, Japan and India would be marking the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. The two sides would further deepen political dialogue, their economic relations, ties in the field of security, cultural and people-to-people relations. The two Prime Ministers noted with satisfaction that the close and constructive bilateral relations between the two countries were supported by a very strong political consensus across the board in both countries.

Prime Minister, as I said, met President Ahmadinejad of Iran. EAM and Foreign Minister Salehi were both present during this meeting. The two leaders reviewed bilateral relations. It was the first meeting between the two after a long time. They first of all dealt with the political dialogue, and President Ahmadinejad renewed his invitation to PM to visit Iran. PM accepted in principle and said the dates would be worked out. The agenda of bilateral visits also includes in the near future, a visit by the Speaker of our Lok Sabha who will be visiting Iran shortly.

The two leaders felt that the next meeting of the Joint Economic Commission should be held fairly soon. EAM on our side and the Foreign Minister of Iran would co-chair this. As soon as mutually convenient dates are worked out, preferably during the course of this year, the meeting will be held.

The two leaders also discussed the bilateral relations including major projects. They reviewed the situation in the region including Afghanistan. They also discussed developments in West Asia and North Africa. They agreed that there was need for further exchange of views on a regular basis between the two countries. They both noted the importance of the Nonaligned Movement, of which Iran is now the Chairperson.

Later in the evening PM met the President of Sri Lanka. He was accompanied by the EAM and the Sri Lanka EAM Prof G.L.Peiris was present. The two sides discussed bilateral relations and other matters of mutual interest. President Rajapakse briefed PM on developments relating to the devolution of powers through discussions between the Government of Sri Lanka and the TNA as the representatives of the Tamil parties. They also mentioned that parallel discussions are taking place within the Parliamentary Select Committee.

PM and President Rajapakse also discussed the issues of the resettlement of the displaced persons including the housing project which is being undertaken with Indian assistance. They also had a detailed discussion on the fisheries issue, and it was noted that another meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries would soon be convened. It was felt also that further meetings between fishermen of the two countries should also be held as these are found to be useful.

I will come now to the meeting of the BRICS Foreign Ministers. EAM actually chaired the meeting this morning. As you are aware, the next BRICS Summit is to be held in India in the end of March, beginning of April, 2012. There is a very large economic agenda for the BRICS on which the Summit will be putting a particular emphasis.

All the BRICS members are currently members of the UNSC, and they have a convergence of views on a number of issues which are on the agenda of the Council. In this context, they discussed Libya, Syria and the Palestine issue. The BRICS members agreed that they should promote cooperation among other emerging economies and they support the early accession of Russia to the World Trade Organisation.

The BRICS members also had a discussion on climate change, and they supported the Common but Differentiated Obligations to deal with this challenge. They also believe there is need for greater financial and technological transfer to the developing countries and they will cooperate for a successful conclusion of the Rio+20. All the participants thanked EAM for hosting the meeting and agreed that there is need to remain in touch for preparations for the next BRICS Summit in New Delhi.

The last meeting which I will refer to was that of the G4 – Brazil, Germany, India and Japan - which also took place on the margins of the 66th Session. There is a Joint Statement which was prepared at the end of this meeting, which I presume has been circulated and you would all have it. So, I do not need to go into the details. All I will say is that the G4 countries reiterated their common vision of an enlarged Security Council for the 21st century, expansion in both permanent and non-permanent categories of membership taking into consideration the contributions made by the countries to the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as the need for increased representation of developing countries in both categories. The Ministers expressed the view that strong support should be considered as the basis for further discussion; and they noted that the inter-governmental negotiations are continuing in this session.

I will stop there and take any questions that you may have.

Question: Sir, there was some unpleasantness yesterday after President Ahmadinejad’s speech. The US delegation walked out because of certain remarks he made. Is this unpleasantness in any way - given the fact that the Prime Minister has met Mr. Ahmadinejad today and had a substantial dialogue, agreed to a visit, and so on - likely to have any impact on the India-US relationship?

Foreign Secretary: Actually the Prime Minister and President Ahmadinejad meeting was planned before we came here. The idea was basically to focus on our bilateral relationship, and also to have an exchange of views. As I said, Prime Minister took particular note of the fact that the Iranian President would be the Chair of the Nonaligned Movement.

Question: Staying with Iran, you said you discussed West Asia. On this whole Palestinian issue and Mr. Obama’s speech today, what is India’s stand?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think there was a discussion on the speech per se but they both reiterated their commitment that they support the Palestinian attempt to seek membership of the United Nations.

Question: Anything on Iran gas pipeline?

Foreign Secretary: Gas pipeline was not discussed today to the best of my knowledge, but they discussed a whole series of projects between the two countries including potential cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons.

Question: Was there any IBSA related meeting today? If so, who attended it, and can you put it in the context of the IBSA Summit which is coming up shortly?

Foreign Secretary: An IBSA meeting was in fact scheduled and it was on the programme of the External Affairs Minister. But I understand that the South African Minister had to leave. So, it was initially decided that a meeting would take place at the officials’ level rather than at the Ministerial level. That also did not materialise though they are leaving that to the lower level officials who have already had some discussions. It is in the context of the IBSA Summit, we will be participating in that. But the meeting could not be scheduled today.

Question: Foreign Secretary, in tomorrow’s speech that the Prime Minister makes, is there likely to be any reference to Palestinian statehood or to the Middle East region? Is there anything more that you can tell us about his possible references to the crisis in the Middle East region?

Foreign Secretary: I will comment on the Prime Minister’s speech after it is over. So, tomorrow you are free to ask me any question you want to on the speech. But let me say without necessarily referring to the speech that our position on the Palestinian issue is an established position; it is well-known. As far back as 1988 we recognised the Palestinian State. So, we should not be surprised if there is a reiteration of that. But I would not like to comment on the contents of the PM’s speech.

Question: Was there any kind of discussion about the reports of human rights abuses during the war against Tamil Tigers? There has also been a case that is filed today in the US Federal Court alleging human rights abuses, and there have been protests against Mr. Rajapakse’s visit to the United States. Any kind of informal discussion between the two leaders?

Foreign Secretary: I think the discussion was in general terms on the need for addressing the issue in Sri Lanka. Our Prime Minister reiterated that a successful conclusion of negotiations and discussions with the representatives of the Tamil parties would in fact obviate the need for outsiders to start passing judgment or to get involved. So, the emphasis was more on the political dialogue within Sri Lanka.

Question: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask about India’s position on developments in Syria. There is increasing dismay among the American diplomats that India and the United States do not see eye to eye on all these developments in Libya and Syria. Do you foresee any convergence on this? And what is the position of India on the developments there?

Foreign Secretary: If I can just refer to the BRICS Foreign Ministers statement which outlines some of these issues, they say the situation in Syria is complex and nothing should be done to exacerbate it; the Syrian authorities should exercise restraint in dealing with protestors and respect their human rights; at the same time political reforms should be implemented expeditiously; and the opposition groups should participate in an inclusive political process. I think the emphasis is, among countries like ours, on the need for the international community to be supportive of inclusive political process, but these necessarily should be led by those countries and the groups within those countries themselves.

Question: Sir, United States and Israel are almost threatening Iran. In our discussion with the Prime Minister, did the issue of nuclear programme of Iran, especially our worries including with Pakistan come up?

Foreign Secretary: As I said, the emphasis of our discussion was on the bilateral relationship, and this issue did not figure in that.

Question: The US position and our’s on Palestine issue are quite contrary to each other. Iran is also another area where our stand and US stand are quite different. Again on West Asia policy of US, our critical appraisal is very clear. But Indian PM’s meet with the Iranian President and there is no meeting with the US counterpart. So, can we say that this a reflection of the state of Indo-US relationship

Foreign Secretary: No, I would not say that. The fact that the Prime Minister actually arrived in New York after the President of the US had left made the possibility of a bilateral meeting between the two leaders not feasible. But we are planning that there will be a meeting between the External Affairs Minister and the Secretary of State probably on Monday subject to confirmation.

Question: Foreign Secretary, in the discussion with the Iranian leader on Afghanistan, was there any talk on the role of various regional players in Afghanistan?

Foreign Secretary: There was a feeling that the regional countries must consult each other much more and that certainly India and Iran should have regular interchanges on the situation in Afghanistan and a peaceful resolution of those issues.

Question: Sir, if I can have a follow-up, is there any convergence of views between Iran and India on the future dispensation in Afghanistan? Does Iran fear Taliban as much as we do?

Foreign Secretary: I think both of us feel that the dispensation in Afghanistan which emerges should be Afghan led, it should be inclusive but it should be Afghan led; and the process has necessarily to be taken forward by the Afghans themselves; and it is for the regional countries to be supportive, to create a supportive and conducive climate for them to be able to do that.

Question: Sir, my question is related to Pakistan. There is this talk which has been generated both in Pakistan as well as in America about Admiral Mike Mullen saying that the Haqqani Network was the political arm of the ISI. Can you tell us, Sir, what is the Indian position on the comments made by Admiral Mullen?

Foreign Secretary: I would not like to comment on what the US leader has said about Pakistan. I think our own position on the issue of terrorism which we face is well-known. Beyond that I do not comment on what the US has said about Pakistan.

I would just like to mention that tomorrow PM would be addressing the UN General Assembly in the morning; and then after that there are bilateral meetings planned with the new Prime Minister of Nepal and the President of South Sudan.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you.