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Transcript of the Press Conference by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shivshankar Menon at the Embassy of India, Washington, DC

Washington, DC
February 23, 2007 

MR.GAUTAM BAMBAWALE: Welcome to all of you. I don’t think Foreign Secretary Mr. Shivshankar Menon needs any introduction. Just a few rules before we start off with an opening statement by the foreign secretary and then open it up immediately to questions and answers. Just like to remind you to silence your cell phones, please. If you could please silence your cell phones, and also could I request that when you stand up and ask questions if you could identify yourselves and the organization that you represent. With that, I think I’ll turn it over directly to Foreign Secretary Mr. Menon for an opening statement after which we’ll open it up to Q and A. Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Thank you, Gautam. I thought I’d just tell you briefly about what I’ve been doing for the last three days in Washington. As you know, this is my first visit here as foreign secretary. The reason I was here at this time was because we had decided to hold the High Technology Cooperation Group at this time which is – many of you were, I think, present yesterday. You know the group. It’s a very important industry-government combined meeting because in a sense, the issues that it addresses cut across several sectors. High technology has been the key to open up the India-U.S. relationship in the past. 

It also is important to many of the things we’re trying to do together in many of the sectors, whether it’s the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative, whether it’s energy in which we have an energy dialogue, whether it’s defense, whether it’s most of the areas of cooperation that we’re looking at, whether it’s our trade, high technology is very important. It’s also very important to India’s development and therefore it’s something that we attach particular priority to. 

The meetings that we’ve had yesterday and today of the group have been useful because we’ve looked through – there were several forward looking proposals for simplifying licensing, for instance, for various forms of validated inducer systems, so that it would be easier for companies to trade in high technology items. The U.S. Commerce secretary himself came yesterday. I think some of you were there when he pledged his wholehearted support to this process. 

And today we had a session – where yesterday the industry had gone into break-out sessions in all four sectors: in nanotechnology, biotechnology, in defense and also in information technology. And today, the results of those groups came to the governmental group and we looked at what the governments need to do and how to facilitate this trade. So they’ve set themselves targets, they’ve also set some time frames for them to follow ourselves, meaning the governments and industries to achieve these goals. So we are very satisfied with the progress that we have achieved in these meetings. They were productive, open, but I also use the fact that I was here in Washington to have fairly extensive meetings in State Department and with other parts of the U.S. government. 

In State, I met with Under Secretary Dobriansky, Under Secretary Burns, Deputy Secretary Negroponte today. In all these, naturally, the stress was obviously on bilateral relations, on the transformation that’s taken place in the relationship in the last few years, and on how to carry this forward. 

We discussed the situation in our region, in Asia, in the subcontinent, as well, and global issues because what we have to day with the U.S. is a global partnership which extends to a whole series of issues of long-term and global significance -- issues like energy, security, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, visas, climate change. These are issue which I think not just ready for India and the U.S. to cooperate but where we can make major contributions, I think, to the global conversation and the global attempt to deal with these issues. 

I also spent considerable time at the Department of Commerce yesterday morning with Deputy Secretary Sampson, today with Under Secretary Levine and with Acting Under Secretary Mark Foulon where we discussed what could be done to improve trade, the investment climate and what we could do. 

We also briefly discussed the Doha round and WTO, which as you know is not my specialty or my subject, but we discussed it very briefly. And I also called on Mr. Hubbard, the assistant to the president for economic policy, because he along with Mr. Montek Ahluwalia as you know, had been at the CEOs forum, for which has been a very successful way of identifying and addressing some of the economic issues that we need to solve if we want to take the relationship forward even faster. I don’t want to go into too much detail here. 

I called on the Commerce Secretary Gutierrez who has just had a very successful meeting, a visit to India last week and you heard him speak about it I think yesterday. I also called on the agriculture secretary because that’s an area which for us is central to our developmental concerns of what we want to make of India. If we do want to transform our society and economy we will need a second agricultural – second green revolution and that scenario where there’s a lot of work that we can do together with the U.S. Both these were important. 

I leave Washington convinced not just of the potential of this relationship and of how important it is for us and how much potential it has to address not just our concerns but regional and even global issues, but also convinced that while we’ve set in place a framework and we have taken the first steps, I think, to realize some of the potential of this relationship, there is much more that we can and will do, and the determination is there on both sides to do whatever we can to carry this forward. 

I’d be happy to answer any questions. I’m going to take a minute.

Q: (Off mike.) In the light of what Nick Burns said yesterday, do you sense from the American side that there is a willingness to discuss the substitution for the NPT, and is this something that India would actively work towards and support? 

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think we’ve said quite clearly that we are ready to be part of a new international consensus on non-proliferation, and we think there is a need for one. We would like to see a consensus that builds on essentially the ideas that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi put forward in 1998 of a nuclear weapon-free world and of moving towards it in predetermined, verifiable time frame which we could agree among ourselves. But the precise shape of this new consensus I’d be reluctant to start spelling out now because that’s something that we will have to negotiate among ourselves. 

I get the feeling that other states too are looking at (newer new ?) solutions, because I think there are varying levels of happiness or unhappiness with the existing non-proliferation system or regime if you call it that. But we are certainly -- we are ready to do this, and we’ve been talking to our friends and our partners and to see whether this is possible. 

Q: Chidanand Rajghatta, The Times of India: Foreign Secretary, are there Indian entities which are still under sanction and is there any progress – if there are, is there any progress towards getting these removed and do you foresee a sort of zero sanctions situation which would be an expression of good faith?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: We would like one very soon. Certainly there are some entities which are still on the list. We have raised this and it’s our expectation that as we move along this process they will be removed from the list and that we will move to a system which is much more open and much easier.

Q: Do you recall top of the head what are the key ones which worry us?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I don’t have a list with me right now. I think it’s published, I think it’s available. 

Q: Mr. Foreign Secretary, Aziz Hannifa with India Abroad. Could you speak to what some people may call India’s balancing act vis-à-vis Iran? Stephen Rademaker, who was till recently one of the more – a very senior administration official then left the administration, went to work for Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist -- former Senate manager – had apparently said in India that India was sort of cajoled and coerced regarding those IAEA votes, and the fact that then Mr. Pranab Mukherjee made the first bilateral visit to Iran, and then of course, India was very quick off the tracks in terms of banning high technology to Iran. 

Why I ask is even though the administration -- and Nick did this last afternoon also -- has gone to bat and said that there are European allies of the U.S. which have much closer relations. In the Congress there are even driving forces like Congressman Lantos, who simply go ballistic and very nuance vis-à-vis India’s Iran relations are watched very closely. So could you speak to this so-called balancing act that India seems to be playing? 

FOREIGN SECRETARY: To start at the beginning of your question, I think Mr. Rademaker later denied that he’d said anything like that. 

Secondly, we have a policy towards Iran of --at least as far as the nuclear issue, which is that you were talking about -- we have a larger policy, but as far the nuclear issue is concerned, it’s quite clear to us that Iran needs to address the international community’s concerns, and the best way to do that would be with the IAEA. That’s something that we’ve made quite clear with our conversations with everybody. We say this to everybody who talks to us about the issue. 

Now, obviously it is in our interest that these issues be resolved peacefully and quickly and through negotiations for the obvious reasons: we have something like more than three million people in the Gulf, in that region; we have a vital interest in the peace and security of that area. It’s important to our energy supplies and so on. But the basic factors we would like to see this resolved peacefully through negotiations and the international community’s doubts set at rest as quickly as possible. How that can be called a balancing act I don’t understand. I think that’s shear reasonableness and it’s a very clear policy. It hasn’t changed at all. 

Q: Raghubir Goyal, India Globe & Asia Today. Mr. Minister, yesterday you had a wonderful speech at the Commerce and also at the Carnegie, but you did not mention as for the cross border terrorism we’re concerned from Pakistan into India, and also there must be a concern Taliban and al-Qaeda are growing in Afghanistan. 

And my second question will be, sir, a terrorist who was convicted by the Supreme Court of India -- his petition is still with the president of India and the whole India wants to be hanged or whatever definition it was given by the Supreme Court still hanging and is not going anywhere. Why that action has not been taken by the president when the Supreme Court of India says do so?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: As far as the second question is concerned, that’s still a question which is going through the last stages of the judicial process in India. The president is part of that process, and his appeal for mercy, the president will make up his mind. I cannot say why or why not and when he will do it, it’s up to him to decide when to do it. And that’s – 

On the earlier question, I didn’t speak on cross-border terrorism to the HTCG because, frankly, I don’t expect them to stand up and do very much about it. I mean, it would be unfair to load them with this. But as an issue, it’s something we have discussed with the United States of America, with Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, and we’ve gone through that in some detail.

Ultimately terrorism is an issue that we need to address at home and with our neighbors, and that’s the best place to deal with it, and that’s where we will deal with it. But our concerns, what we think about it, what our plans are, that sort of thing – yes, we have shared that in some detail with Under Secretary Nicholas Burns.

Q: Devasish Ray TV Asia:
Just commenting on the recent visit of President Putin to India, I had a little chat with Congressman Gary Ackerman, and I asked him to comment on it, and he said that he was very jealous of relationship the U.S. had with India. What do you comment on that?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Sorry. I missed this.

Q: I asked Congressman Gary Ackerman what he thought about the recent visit and he said, we are very jealous with concern to the relationship between India and the U.S. How would you like to comment on that?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. I mean, for us, the relationship with the U.S. is very, very valuable. I’ve just tried to explain how important it is in terms of India’s own development, how important it is for India in terms of how it looks at the world and deals with the world, and I think the potential of that relationship is tremendous, so we’d be jealous about it also. We’d be jealous in protecting it.

Q: Thank you. My name is Luke Engan with Inside U.S. Trade, and I wanted to follow up briefly on your Doha round remarks. I realize that you said it’s not your area of expertise and so I’m curious which U.S. official raised this topic and what exactly they were asking of you. Thank you. 

FOREIGN SECRETARY: It’s been discussed in commerce and with USTR I think we have an ongoing conversation. The Commerce minister met with the USTR in London just a few weeks ago -- two weeks ago and were planning more meetings. We have working-level meetings going on with the USTR’s office on the various sectors, which are going on right now. 

As far as WTO is concerned, I think we as India have a great interest in an open rule-based trading system. For us it’s very important. It’s important to our own development, it’s important for our trade, for our investment. We have an interest in an open system because we have seen the effects of closes trading systems and we’re not part of the major regional trading blocks. We would not like to see the world market broken down.

Q: I’m sorry. I wanted to ask specifically about your own visit over the past couple of days and what conversation has happened during that time.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, we discussed in general terms because, as I said, this is not the subject that we deal with directly and there are the people who are negotiating this, but we discussed our desire to see that the Doha round is brought to an early conclusion, and we discussed some of the issues which are holding it up, and we made it clear that we’re very interested in seeing this process through quickly.

Q: Sridhar Krishnaswami– of the Press Trust of India: Yesterday, Mr. Burns remarked at the Carnegie that terrorism will be one of the main topics that the United States will be interested in asking up as the next horizon in the bilateral relationship. I was wondering how much of a meaningful dialogue can we have with the U.S. on terrorism given their own perceptions as it pertains to Pakistan?

Q: Just to follow up on that question. Apparently the U.S. wants to move much beyond the pretty high level of intelligence sharing and terrorism cooperation that U.S. and India have. Could you speak to that -- because that probably involves intelligence sharing on cross border terrorism, et cetera, which in extent would also involve Pakistan because of satellite imagery and all that kind of thing -- because there seems to be appeals to push by the U.S. that they want to really move beyond, and some say we need some sort of a quid pro quo to push forward the nuclear agreement?

Q: Sir, and let me – (laughs) – also add, while you are at it – (cross talk, inaudible) -- no. You know, for the first time in a long time, yesterday Burns accepted that we do have a terrorist problem in the south as far as India is concerned. But still they will not go and pin down Pakistan as being a source of terrorism. So how meaningful are you going to get with the U.S. on dealing with terrorism as it pertains to South Asia?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, I think we already have a very meaningful relationship with the U.S. on counterterrorism. We have a joint working group on counterterrorism, we have an existing exchange of information of intelligence, but there are the steps that we’ve discussed -- certainly funding, other things we have gone to in some detail together. And it’s because of the confidence that we’ve gained from the experience that we have had already that you heard Under Secretary Nicholas Burns talking as he did yesterday when I think he spelled out some of the steps also in some detail of how we hope to work together. 

In our view, terrorism – you cannot be segmented. There are no such things as – this is really terrorism across the board. Wherever it comes from, whoever does it, you have to deal with it and you have to eliminate it. There is no other way. And that is quite clear to everybody. I think this has been our view for many years and all our partners know that that is our view. We are happy with our experience of working with the U.S. in counterterrorism, and we hope to take it to a new level in the future.

Q: Just a quick follow up, because there seems to be this dichotomy where India seems to be taking the philosophical type of – you spoke about the fact yesterday also about the roots of terrorism and things like that, while the U.S. quickly seems to be, these are the bad guys, we got to go bash them – (unintelligible).

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I don’t see a dichotomy. I think we need to deal with it every which way we can.

Q: K P Nayar from the Telegraph: In Delhi and in Washington we all the time hear about what a great relationship India has with the United States, but there is a flipside to that relationship. Chidu Rajghatta referred to the entities list and the sanctions, we have problems on GSP, on anti-dumping. I’m not talking about commercial disputes, but state-supported problems that create impediments in trade. It’s a year since MEA gave the Americans details of those two Indian scientists who were sanctioned for helping Iran’s missile nuclear program. They are still under sanctions. Nothing has happened. 

The United States does not support India on permanent membership to Security Council, the United States is the only country to veto the Indian candidate for secretary general’s job. When the Americans want to do something in defense they go overboard, but when India wants something, it takes up to four years to negotiate a deal. I could go on and on – 

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I know. (Laughter.)

Q: So what I would like you to do is to look at this part of the relationship which is less edifying so that we have a more balanced picture of what the relationship is like.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, I think you have to look at things in perspective. Much of what you mentioned is problems of intimacy. There was a time when you were doing very little trade with the U.S., when you had very little to do with the U.S., and many of the things you mentioned then were not even issues. 

These are issues today because you have a relationship that is so much better than you’ve ever had before. Your relationship today is better than it ever probably ever has been in history and there is no denying that. So no matter how long the list of problems of intimacy that you manage to produce, I don’t think I’d change my judgment; that this is a relationship which is not just very important, it’s better than it has ever been before and it has a potential for getting even better in the future. And I think that’s the context in which you need to look at the individual issues that you might mention. 

Q: Prerna Kumar, CNN-IBN: What is the status of the negotiations on the 123 agreement? Did you bring a draft with you this time?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: We’re still discussing 123 agreement and we’re hoping – because the task is actually of reducing the understanding between the two governments which was expressed in July 2005, March 2006. We’re reducing that into an agreement, into a legal agreement. We’re still engaged in that task.

Q: What do you predict is the timeline? Mr. Burns said I think end of 2008.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, as I said yesterday, we’d like it as soon as possible and we’re working at it.

Q: Foster Klug with the Associated Press. Secretary Gutierrez yesterday in his speech mentioned India’s -- responsibility was the word he used -- in opening up its nuclear market to U.S. companies. Did you feel or were you aware of any pressure from U.S. officials to make sure that that market was open to U.S. that they enjoyed a wind fall from this?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: No, no pressure at all. But what I would like to say is that when the market opens it will an open transparent market where everybody -- U.S. companies, all companies -- will be free to compete equally.

MR.GAUTAM BAMBAWALE: I think we’ll just take a couple of more questions. Is there a second one there in the back? Yes. 

Q: (Unintelligible) – we keep hearing about this agricultural initiative, the second green revolution, et cetera, in the U.S. It seems to me that we still haven’t reaped the full benefits of the first revolution, and particularly there’s one segment which I’m fairly familiar with which I want to talk about. This is for instance, fruits and vegetables. We grow 100 million ton of fruit and vegetables, 40 percent of which perish. So it seems to me more than generating a second green revolution there are problems, A, within India -- storage, marketing, et cetera -- and B, tariffs. 

Just to pick one item, I don’t know if you saw the flush of stories about the roses in Valentine’s Day, which kicked off with some – a column I’d written. You have Indian farmers who now buy farms in Ethiopia and Kenya and export out of there because they cannot export directly from Bangalore to Baltimore, which would be the logical (flight ?) for me – or, for instance, tomatoes. You have a tomato disaster that -- people not picking tomatoes because it’s one rupee a kilo there and it’s 2.99 a pound here. So it seems to me that more than the second green revolution, people would be happy if you can sort of finish the first one and bring down barriers.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I don’t think we’re saying second green revolution as being the same as the first as doing the first twice. I don’t think that’s what we mean. 

I think what we did was we had this group which was headed by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlang, and they’ve actually identified the set of measures among which are the things that you mentioned: the question of getting fruit and vegetable to the market, also access to the markets; exactly the kinds of things that you mentioned, but they actually mentioned many more aspects. Part of it agricultural education for instance and upgrading the state agricultural colleges, but it goes right through the whole technology of agriculture and of improving it; not just what we did originally which is fertilizers, irrigation and improve seed varieties which is green revolution number one, but this time I think they did a much more holistic approach to agriculture and how we can -- and what we can do together with the U.S. to improve this. But many of the things you mentioned are actually included in that. I think afterwards we’ll show you what they agreed, because that’s just –

Q: Just in the barrier aspect, particularly because –

(Cross talk.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY: The barrier aspect comes two ways. One is in our trade policy forum and in our bilateral talks with the Commerce Department we raised this. You know, mangoes, for instance we’ve discussed, we hope to have solved soon, but let’s see, we’re still trying. Exactly. I mean, you’re right; it’s waiting. 

But it also comes up in terms of agriculture in the WTO and the Doha round. Agriculture is a big part of it, and some of it is market access which will be solved there also. But that’s a generic solution. Those are solutions across the board where tariffs are being addressed for agricultural produce. In both ways we are trying to solve these problems, but as I said, the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative and the agricultural initiatives that we’re talking about bilaterally with the Department of Agriculture yesterday when I called on the secretary, for instance, include most of the things that you have said.

MR.GAUTAM BAMBAWALE: We’ll take two last questions. One here, please, in front and then one at the back there. 

Q: I wanted to take it back to High Technology Cooperation Group and ask you how satisfied you were with the response in terms of the United States’ commitment to remove outdated controls on technology exports that date from the Cold War? Did you get everything you want in that area or was there some sort of a short fall? And also on the other side of India the harmonizing with Australia group in Wassenaar? After the technical process is over of determining what gaps exist, could you describe the process in India and if there are significant barriers there to implementing that? Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, on the licensing here in the United States, we’re obviously happy with what we’ve got. There is more to be done though in the future and we recognize that -- both sides recognize that, so we will keep working at it. This is a group that’s been in existence now -- this is the fifth meeting of the HDC -- so this is a work in progress, so I don’t think we’ll say, yes, we’re satisfied, it’s all over now, we can go home. No. There is more that needs to be done. 

But I think as you heard yesterday, the U.S. exports subject to licensing -- U.S. exports to India subject to licensing have declined from something like 24 percent to less than one percent in this decade, so that’s quite a change from 1997, I think -- 1999 to 2006. That’s quite a change. 

But there’s still more work to be done. On the Australia group, Wassenaar group, I think Indian industry, chemical industry especially is still looking at what it would mean for it, and that’s a process of consultation that we have to go through -- what the Australia group – and we will then see how – we feel that we are to a very large extent already harmonized in terms of our own export controls and what the Australia group needs for it. Wassenaar, we’re discussing it, we’re seeing how we can – what we need to do, whether there is a difference or not. That also needs to be established, whether we – in fact in some respects, some of our controls and standards are a little higher.

Q: I want to follow very, very briefly on Wassenaar. I just heard from Assistant Secretary – (unintelligible) – that this is the area in which India has the most gaps from the multilateral -- among the four multilateral regimes.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: As I said, we’re studying. I think we’re still looking at that to establish where exactly because in some areas we think we’re ahead; some maybe we’re behind. We still have to work that out for ourselves and then we see what we do about it. 

Q: Shahzeb Jillani – from BBC: Just a follow up question on the nuclear agreement: What are some of the issues which are sort of unacceptable or India has reservations about which you may have raised in your meeting during this visit?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, we hope to solve them all. I think there is not much point negotiating this through the media. I think we’d rather do it directly with the government. 

Q: Did you bring a proposed draft?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: We’re still discussing that. We’ll see.

MR.GAUTAM BAMBAWALE: Well, thank you very much for having been here this evening.