Transcript of briefing by foreign secretary Sujatha Singh
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon on what has been a very busy day for you. I would like to welcome you to the C.B. Muthamma Hall. This is the first time we are having a press interaction of this sort in this hall after it was named after India’s first woman diplomat Ms. C.B. Muthamma.
I have here with me foreign secretary who will brief you about the courtesy meetings that the Prime Minister had with eight leaders who are here for the swearing-in ceremony, and it was normal courtesy that we have engagements of our leadership with them. Foreign Secretary will make her opening remarks following which the floor will be open for you to ask any questions that you may like to ask.
We have I would think about 20 to 25 minutes in which we will have the statement and the questions to follow. The ground rules are known to you all. With those introductory remarks I will ask Foreign Secretary to make her opening statement.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today had good and substantive meetings with all eight leaders who are visiting India. He thanked each of them for their graciousness in accepting his invitation to attend the ceremony of oath taking, and noted that this was a celebration of democracy in the region enriched by their presence.
In his meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan, PM thanked Afghanistan for the assistance provided by the Afghan National Security Forces in repelling the attack on our Consulate in Herat. He said that the attack only strengthened our resolve to work together with Afghanistan. He reiterated India’s commitment to the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan and India’s interest in seeing a prosperous, independent and sovereign Afghanistan where the reconciliation process would be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan, PM conveyed his warm greetings and respects to His Majesty the King of Bhutan. He noted that India and Bhutan share a unique and special relationship with longstanding historical and cultural linkages. He assured PM Tobgay of India’s unflinching support for Bhutan’s socioeconomic development. The two Prime Ministers agreed to commence four new joint venture hydroelectric projects with a generating capacity of 2120 MW in Bhutan. They affirmed their mutual security interests and agreed to closely coordinate and cooperate on issues relating to their national interest.
Prime Minister conveyed to President Abdulla Yameen of Maldives the high importance attached by India to its relations with the Maldives, and pledged to work towards further enhancing bilateral cooperation. Prime Minister noted that the two countries had a shared recognition that the security interests of both countries were interlinked, and agreed that each side would continue to be sensitive to the concerns of the other on the issue, and that their respective territories would not be allowed to be used by any quarter for any activity inimical to the other. It was agreed to take measures to further strengthen investment and trade cooperation as well as cooperation in projects that would strengthen regional and sub-regional transport and connectivity to mutual advantage. Prime Minister expressed government’s support to cooperation in the petroleum and natural gas sector particularly in oil exploration as well as in the tourism and educational sectors.
Prime Minister has called the special and unique relationship between India and Mauritius in his meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius. He noted that the two countries are bound together by history, common ancestry and kinship of their people. Both leaders agreed to further strengthen the relationship, especially economic cooperation and interactions in the field of maritime security, renewable energy, and the blue-economy, including development of related infrastructure. They also agreed to work together with all other member countries in further strengthening the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of Nepal, PM noted that Nepal was an old and deeply valued friend with whom India shared history, geography and ancient civilisational ties, and it was his earnest desire to visit Nepal this year. Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for the political progress achieved in Nepal and conveyed his sincere hope that the Constitution would be adopted in the one-year timeframe that Nepal had set for itself. He expressed his determination to further strengthen connectivity and economic inter-linkages between India and Nepal, including through projects for rail and road connectivity. PM stressed the importance of expediting implementation of these projects and particularly projects in the hydropower and transmission sectors. He thanked Nepal for the ongoing security cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides which both sides are resolved to strengthen even further.
In his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, PM noted that India valued its relations with Sri Lanka. He requested the government of Sri Lanka to expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka. Early and full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment and going beyond would contribute to this process. They also discussed the fishermen’s issue, India’s development assistance programme, and economic and commercial cooperation. In particular, PM expressed interest in early launch of the 500 MW Sampur Coal Power project and greater connectivity between the two countries. Both leaders reiterated their desire to further strengthen bilateral relations.
In the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, PM underlined our concerns relating to terrorism. It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India. We also expect that necessary steps will be taken in the Mumbai terror attack trial underway in Pakistan to ensure speedy progress of the case and the conviction of those responsible. The PMs agreed that the Foreign Secretaries will remain in touch and explore how to move forward. PM said that the two countries could move immediately towards full trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap. PM expressed his hope that India-Pakistan relations would progress in the economic, cultural and political fields in the same manner that India’s relations with her other SAARC neighbours have progressed in recent years. He shared his vision of a SAARC region built on partnerships for development and mutual prosperity.
Prime Minister requested Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury to convey his warm greetings and best wishes to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, and said that he looked forward to receiving her in India at an early date. He recalled our strong relations rooted in shared struggle, history, culture and language. He noted that we have shared stakes in each other’s progress and prosperity and Bangladesh was India’s largest trading partner in SAARC. He appreciated the cooperation extended by Bangladesh to work together with India in all areas of mutual interest including security, power, border management, rail and road transport. He expressed the commitment of Government of India in maintaining and building upon the momentum that has characterised India-Bangladesh relations in recent years.
To sum up, Prime Minister had good and substantive meetings with all the eight leaders. The visiting dignitaries expressed appreciation for PM’s gesture in inviting the leaders of SAARC and Mauritius to India for the oath-taking ceremony, and for PM’s focus on SAARC and his ideas on further strengthening regional cooperation. The meetings were held in a friendly and constructive atmosphere.
From India’s perspective, a strong and promising beginning has been made at the start of the new Government in our engagement with each of the countries in the South Asian region and with Mauritius.
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: Since there were eight meetings, let us go in a sequential order of the meetings. Let us first take up the meetings that were held earlier in the morning that related to the three Presidents because that was the protocol order that we followed. So, if you have any questions on those we will take those first and then move down the order. Any questions relating to Afghanistan?
Foreign Secretary, did the Afghan President talk about the Herat attack and who they suspected were behind this? And did the Prime Minister then raise this with those who we suspect were behind this?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: I understand that you are the person who conducted the TV interview with President Karzai. So, he has already told you what he felt was the case in the matter.
I am just repeating Gaurav’s question. In this exchange, was there any discussion on the Herat attack and who is behind it?
Would you please elaborate a little on what President Karzai really shared as far as the Herat attach is concerned? If not, then tell us. We would like to know.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: I am sorry I am not going to go into details in a verbatim manner as to what was shared between the two leaders.
Afghanistan se abhi America ki sena jaane wali hai. Aur yeh pata chala hai ki Afghanistan mein Obama ki ek visit hui hai recently, aur Obama ne chinta vyakt ki hai ki sena jaane ke baad vahan par security ki problems bahut zyada ho sakti hain joh Bharat ke liye bhi chinta ka vishay ho sakta hai. Toh is baare mein kuchh cooperation badhaane ke liye ya joh kuchh bhi baat hui, thoda sa aap batayenge hamein?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: You are aware that we are deeply involved in Afghanistan. We have a substantive aid assistance package, we are implementing several economic projects. We also have good cooperation with the Afghan National Security Forces in training as well as other areas. We expect this cooperation to increase in the days to come, and we have every confidence that they will redeem themselves and do well in safeguarding Afghanistan’s interests exactly in the manner that they came to our assistance in the attack on our Consulate in Herat.
Madam, Mr. Karzai has told TimesNow that Mullah Omar is currently in Quetta. Does the Indian Government have similar information on this issue?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Shrinjoy, we are here today to talk about the Prime Minister’s meetings with his eight counterparts who came over here at his invitation. We are not here to talk about whether Mullah Omar is in Pakistan or not. I will leave it at that.
Mrs. Singh, all the SAARC leaders are meeting for the first time three years after the Male Summit, and Nepal is supposed to host the 18th Summit in November. By any chance, any of them took up any issues concerning SAARC or giving it some kind of a push in the coming months so that it produces some positive results?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: As a matter of fact, the leader who took it up the strongest was our Prime Minister. In each of his meetings he talked about the idea of SAARC and how we should use SAARC to improve regional cooperation and connectivity, and how each country in SAARC has its own specific strengths and opportunities. He said that we should learn from each other’s best practices, for instance microfinance in Bangladesh. I must say that the other leaders responded very warmly to this suggestion and agreed with him wholeheartedly that this was something that was indeed worth pursuing. So, there is a vision of SAARC working closely together and focusing on larger issues of regional importance.
Foreign Secretary, do you see in the initiative that is taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi anything new in engaging with the neighbourhood or is this a continuity of the policies that were being pursued by the previous government?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: The very invitation to the SAARC leaders, which has never been done before when a new Prime Minister has been sworn into office, itself is new. That is the starting point. It is very good to see that all the eight leaders accepted our invitation, accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation and graciously came and joined us. These were the words that Prime Minister used that their presence had enriched our celebrations, and that this was a celebration of democracy. All the leaders who came represent democracies. And in some ways this is a new beginning which many of them remarked that it is the first time that an occasion like this has brought the SAARC countries together. Indeed one leader remarked that we should have had a SAARC summit over here.
Foreign Secretary, I would like to know if President Rajapaksa extended an invitation to our Prime Minister to visit, and also whether the uproar in Tamil Nadu and also the demonstrations in Delhi featured at all. Did he express concern or did either of the sides express concern?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: There was definitely an invitation to visit. As a matter of fact, all the leaders invited the Prime Minister to visit, and he has accepted the invitations and indicated that dates could be worked out in mutual consultation between the Foreign Offices. And no, there was no discussion about the uproar. I do not see why there should be. It is something that is internal to us.
Madam, what is the reaction of President Rajapaksa regarding the Thirteenth Amendment? For the last more than 25 years both the governments are having a dialogue about the implementation of this amendment. So far nothing has happened. What was the reaction from the Sri Lankan President? Is he really keen to go for the Amendment or has he given some kind of excuses in today’s meeting?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: The Prime Minister discussed this with President Rajapaksa. He took it up and they discussed it at some length. So, we on our side have urged upon President Rajapaksa that it is important for the wellbeing of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, that the Thirteenth Amendment be implemented, and that it is also important for it to go beyond. So, we are hopeful that this request that is coming from Prime Minister will be listened to and that Sri Lanka will take appropriate action as required.
Mrs. Singh, although you have said that you would not go into details, it is not so much a detail. In the matter of this conflict over fishermen there are different perceptions but the predominant perception is that the fishermen from Tamil Nadu stray beyond the Indian territorial waters and they are getting kind of picked up and jailed there and that is creating the problem. Has any kind of agreement been arrived at or at least a broad understanding that we will prevent the Indian fishermen from straying beyond the territorial waters in search of fish, because they are not finding it within our territorial waters, is there any such understanding or at least a tacit agreement that we will work towards this?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Yes, of course. There was agreement between the two leaders that we need a long-term solution towards this because the fishermen’s issue is a livelihood issue, whether it is for our Tamils or the Tamils in Sri Lanka. So, they both agreed that this needed to be addressed, and that we should encourage the fishermen’s talks to go on ahead, and we should try every means to find a solution.
Madam, I am wondering given this initiative and given the fact that the Prime Minister has accepted the invitation of the SAARC leaders, would a SAARC country overtake Japan in hosting Mr. Modi?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Why don’t we wait and see?
Was there any talk of continuation and expansion of military training programmes for Sri Lankan personnel in India? Did that figure in the discussions at all?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Look, we do not want to go into details but there was generally an agreement to strengthen cooperation and to expand our cooperation in all the areas where we are interacting with each other.
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: I presume we have exhausted the questions on this aspect. We will now take in sequential order if you have any questions on Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Madam, you mentioned that the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries are going to be in touch. If I could ask you, how exactly will they be in touch? Will there be a meeting? Can we assume that this is the FS level talks resuming? Or are they going to meet or talk to look at a roadmap forward on resuming the dialogue? What does it mean exactly?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Nidhi, it means exactly what it says. It means that the Foreign Secretaries will be in touch to look at the way forward. So, we can be in touch through our Foreign Offices, we can meet and then we can see how best to continue this conversation.
Sir, when India raised the issue of terror and 26/11 what was the response from Pakistan?
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: Since you have asked me I will answer it. We are not the Official Spokespersons of the Pakistan Foreign Office. We can only give our version of it, lest somebody say that we distort the thing. So please understand we will answer questions related to us.
Mera savaal yeh hai ki jab Nawaz Sharif se baat hui 26/11 ka, aapne kaha discussion hua, kya uss muddey pe Dawood Ibrahim ki bhi koi baat aayi? Uske issue pe kuch baat hui? Kya Nawaz Sharif ne Indian PM ko invite kiya hai? Kya jayenge Narendra Modi Pakistan? Aisa koi plan hai?
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: Ek sawaal. Kaunsa puchhna chahenge?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Dekhiye, itne detail me puchhne se main jawaab nahin de sakti hun kyunki main aapse record of discussions nahin share kar rahi hun. Bahut saarey cheez discuss huye thei aur terrorism ke baare mein baat bhi hui thi. Magar usse zyada main nahin bolna chahti hun.
Did any side raise the issue of early resolution of the dispute regarding Jammu and Kashmir?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: The Foreign Secretaries are going to be in touch to see the best way forward.
Foreign Secretary, as both the Prime Ministers are very keen on trade and all that, was there any question or was there any promise from Nawaz Sharif about giving India Most Favoured Nation status?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: It is now Non Differentiated Market Access (NDMA). Yes, there was discussion on trade, and we noted that we were fully ready to normalize trade and economic relations. And both Prime Ministers expressed their interest in having this done as early as possible.
Madam, Dawood ke vishay pe aapne kaha ki detail nahin bolna chahenge aap. Kya hum ye maanein ki Pradhan Mantri pehli mulaqaat mein yeh vishay uthana bhul gaye hain?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Dekhiye aap kuchh nahin maan sakte. Main toh sirf yeh keh rahi hun aapko ki main details nahin dena chahti hun kyunki yeh to saarey confidential meetings hain. Aur agar aapko word par word dikhaun ki kya discuss hua toh FIR yeh confidentiality ki kya baat hoti hai?
Foreign Secretary, my question is a little different. Amidst all this talk on terror and trade etc., was there any discussion on this spectre of a drought which is going to hit both Pakistan and India because of this developing El Nino and the below-normal monsoon which is expected, or only terror and all was discussed? What happened on this? Was this raised?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: I can assure you that more was discussed besides terror but I am sorry that we did not discuss El Nino. Maybe the next time!
I think someone asked earlier about Kashmir and you said that the two Secretaries would be in touch. But could you tell us clearly if it was discussed at this meeting, and if so what views did India express?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: I think India’s views on Jammu and Kashmir are very well known already, I do not need to reiterate them
You said you are ready to fully normalize trade ties. What next in terms of concrete action? Or was it just a statement of intent?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: You are aware that the roadmap was drawn up as far back as 2012. The next step that needs to be taken is for Wagah-Attari to be opened up to full trade. That is the next step. After that, then other steps will follow.
Madam main aapse yeh janna chahunga ki kya Pradhaan Mantri nikat bhavishya mein Pakistan ki yatra par jayenge. Aapne kaha ki invitation extend kiya gaya hai aur dates workout ki ja rahi hain. This apply to Pakistan also.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Dekhiye, invitations to aaye hain, aur invitations toh accept bhi kiye hain. Magar koi dates nahin hain. Aapko yeh nahin keh sakti hun ki agley mahiney hoga ya agley saal hoga, kyunki dates ko workout karna hai.
Which kind of impression did the Indian Prime Minister get by the answers of Nawaz Sharif? Were his answers satisfactory or not to him?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: As I said, and this is why I made it very clear, all the meetings were held in a very friendly and cordial atmosphere.
Madam mera sawaal Pakistan se related hai. Jis tareekey se aapne bataya hai ussey aisa lag raha hai ki terrorism koh lekarke Pakistan ki taraf se joh bhi baatein kahi gayi, Bharat ussey bahut khush hai aur vyapaar shuru hone wala hai? Kya hum ye maankar ke chalein ki ab baat cheet ki shuruat ho chuki hai?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Mujhe aapka sawaal samajh mein nahin aa rha hai. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif aaye hain, aaj baat bhi ho chuki hai, toh aap yeh kyun puchh rahe hain ki baat shuru honey wali hai?
Main Composite Dialogue ki baat kar raha hun joh Mumbai attack ke baad band ho gayi. Uske baare mein main baat kar raha hun. Kya hum maankar ke chalein ki ab joh aatankwaad ko leke Pakistan ka rukh tha aur aaj joh baat cheet hui, ussey Bharat sarkar khush hai aur vyapaar shuru hone ja rha hai?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Yeh sab toh main nahin keh rahi hun. Main sirf yeh keh rahi hun ki Foreign Secretaries will meet and discuss the way forward. Toh ussey zyada aap joh sochna chahte hain aap sochiye magar main yeh nahin keh rahi hun.
Foreign Secretary, I just want to know whether the attack on the Indian Consulate in Afghanistan was discussed between the leaders of India and Pakistan, and is it possible to share what is the response of the other side.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: My friends, this is the third time you are asking me the question and for the third time I will give you the same answer which is, I do not intend to tell you in detail what was discussed between the Prime Minister and his interlocutors. It is not the practice to go into the detailed aspects of these conversations.
Madam puri iss baatcheet ke mool se kya aap safely keh sakte hain, safely assume hum kar sakte hain ki Bharat aur Pakistan ab dosti ka haath badhaakar aagey badhna chahte hain, pichhli jitni bhi kadwahaten hai unko bhool ke aagey badhna chahte hain?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Dekhiye, we want peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan. However, for such relations to proceed, it is important that terror and violence is brought to an end.
Madam abhi aapne kaha ki Pradhan Mantri ji ne Nepal jaaney ki ichha jatayi hai iss saal. Toh ye kya symbolic hai ki voh Hindu Rashtra hai aur apni videsh yatra ki shuruaat wahin se karna chahte hain?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Pehle toh Hindu Rashtra toh nahin hai, secular ban gayi hai 6 saal pehle, 2008 mein. Aur dusri cheez hai ki SAARC summit honey wali hai November mein. Toh jahaan bhi SAARC summit honge toh Pradhaan Mantri to jayenge hi.
(Inaudible)… satisfied with the answers from Prime Minister Sharif on 26/11 Mumbai trial considering …(Inaudible)…
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: The meeting was very constructive. Both sides were trying to address each other’s concerns, let me put it that way. We know what each other’s concerns are. They know what our concerns are and they were trying to address them. More than that, I do not want to say.
Was there any mention of the Land Boundary Agreement, the need to settle the Agreement by Bangladesh’s side? If yes, what was the response of Prime Minister Modi?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: Yes, the speaker of Bangladesh Parliament did raise it, and then our Prime Minister responded by saying let us see, dekhenge.
Madam, Bangladesh Speaker has invited Prime Minister to visit Dhaka. Has he accepted that invitation?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh:Yes, the Bangladesh Speaker did invite our Prime Minister on behalf of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit Bangladesh, and our Prime Minister has accepted the invitation.
Madam, was Teesta issue raised during the talks? And what was the response of the Prime Minister?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: The Teesta issue was raised, and the Prime Minister said that we will see how we can look at it.
Given our Prime Minister’s campaign during elections, just wanted to know, did the issue of infiltration come up during these discussions?
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh: We talked about all the various areas including people-to-people contacts. The fact that you have very good cooperation between our two countries in a host of sectors including in power, in connectivity, road and transport, and all the other areas including the numerous issues that we have in common in terms of a shared history and culture, we discussed the entire broad gamut of issues including border management.
Official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin: I think with that we come to the end of this interaction. Thank you all very much for being here.