Briefing by FS on PM’s meeting with President Obama
Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary: The meeting between our Prime Minister and President Barack Obama at Blaire House this afternoon lasted approximately fifty minutes. The meeting was extremely positive and very constructive. Both the Prime Minister and the President referred to the good progress that had been made in bilateral relations between India and the United States since their last meeting here in Washington in November 2009. They said they were looking forward to the strategic dialogue between Foreign Ministers of the two countries, External Affairs Mr. Krishna and Secretary Hillary Clinton, which will take place here in this city in Washington on the 3rd of June this year.
They expressed their happiness that the agreement on arrangements and procedures relating to the Civil Nuclear Deal has been completed. They were satisfied with the good cooperation on counter-terrorism issues. President Obama said that he understood India’s deep concerns in regard to this issue as also on the situation in Afghanistan. He said that India’s interests were consistently on the mind of the United States.
The President said that there was no country in the world where the opportunities for a strong, strategic partnership are greater and more important to him personally or to the United States, than that with India. He referred to the relations between two great democracies in this context, their common values and the people-to-people relationship.
Our Prime Minister said that we in India were looking forward eagerly to the visit of President and Mrs. Obama to India later this year. He said that the President had caught the imagination of millions around the world including the people of India who were anxious to see him soon in our country.
Prime Minister said he was convinced that the two Governments could begin a new chapter in their relations. He referred to the role of the United States of America in strengthening growth impulses in the world economy, particularly in developing countries, in the post-war world - he was referring to the period after the Second World War - and he said that that experience could be repeated. Countries like India needed an international environment that does not allow protectionist forces to gain ascendancy. He said that we should rewrite the architecture of the global economic system. In this context the G20 could play an important role in ensuring that global economic recovery is sustainable. He said that the United States was uniquely placed to work out a plan for sustainable recovery in a globally integrated financial system. He also said there was a synergy of interests between India and the United States in this regard.
In response, President Obama said that the United States would welcome the suggestions of India as preparations for the next G20 meeting are on their way. He mentioned the common interest of both countries in seeing an early conclusion of the Doha Round. Food security and energy security, he said, were other areas for cooperation especially since the experience of India in these fields was particularly very valuable and of global relevance.
Prime Minister said that in ensuring this architecture of high economic growth for countries like India what happens in our neighbourhood is of crucial importance. The terrorist onslaught in our region, if it persisted, could affect our growth prospects. This terrorist menace should be tackled and this was an issue on which India and the United States stood on the same side. He said this with specific reference to what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How this menace was tackled would determine the future of the South Asian region, Prime Minister said. He mentioned in this context the issue of David Coleman Headley and also the tremendous rise in infiltration across the Line of Control.
The activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and persons like Hafiz Saeed and Ilyas Kashmiri were also mentioned, as also the fact that unfortunately there was no will on the part of the Government of Pakistan to punish those responsible for the terrorist crimes in Mumbai of November 2008. This was where the partnership of India and the United States could make the difference.
President Obama said that India had the goodwill and the understanding of the United States in this regard. He said he shared Prime Minister’s vision of South Asia. He said the United States fully appreciated India’s interest in Afghanistan and recognised the enormous sacrifices that India has made in helping to stabilise that country. He expressed support for India’s continuing contributions to Afghanistan’s development. On India-Pakistan relations, President Obama said that the United States favoured the reduction of tensions between the two countries. And again Prime Minister stressed the need for Pakistan to take convincing action against those accused for involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
As I mentioned earlier, President Obama fully understood our concerns about the LeT and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said the United States was engaging Pakistan on these issues. He also said that the United States would be sensitive to the issues that we have raised in the context of security assistance provided to Pakistan.
I referred earlier to President Obama’s remarks about the positive cooperation between India and the United States on counter-terrorism, and he said in this context that they were working through their legal system on the issue of provision of access to David Coleman Headley. He was fully supportive of our request for provision of such access.
I would also like to add that President Obama was appreciative of our contributions to the preparations for the Nuclear Security Summit which, as you know, begins tomorrow here in Washington. Prime Minister congratulated him on his initiative in convening this Summit.
Question: Foreign Secretary, did the issue of Iran come up in this bilateral mini-summit? Even if it did not and the fact that it is not on the formal agenda of the Nuclear Security Summit either - obviously the US is trying to mobilise support to isolate Iran - how is India in this instance going to walk this tightrope? When you were at the Woodrow Wilson Centre that became sort of a lead question and even India’s friends in Congress sort go ballistic on this whole Iran issue. So, how is India going to walk this tightrope even if it did not come up in the discussions?
Nirupama Rao: I believe our views in this regard are very well-known to the United States. Yes, the issue of Iran did figure in the discussions. This was especially with reference to the ongoing discussions in New York on the possibility of a UN Security Council Resolution to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. So, the President briefed the Prime Minister on these discussions. Our Prime Minister made known India’s position very clearly in this regard. You are aware of the fact that we have always stressed that Iran has certain obligations to fulfil as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on the nuclear issue as it concerns Iran. Also, on the issue of sanctions, our position that sanctions when they target ordinary people have always been counter-productive was mentioned by the Prime Minister. Both sides agreed to keep in touch on this issue and to continue their discussions.
Question: Madam, you mentioned the issue of access to David Coleman Headley which was part of the discussion that took place between the President and the Prime Minister. Madam, you also said that Obama was supportive of what India has said. Do we take it that now there seems to be a green signal from the US authorities that Indian authorities can actually have access because that is very crucial to the investigation in 26/11? Or are we just one step closer to that cooperation between India and the US on this issue?
Nirupama Rao: I meant exactly what I said. I said that they are working through their legal system on the issue of provision of access to David Coleman Headley, and that they were fully supportive of our request for provision of such access. I will stop at that.
Question: You have said that Headley subject was mentioned. But talking to the US lawyers and knowing about how the things are moving here, they have given clear three ways you can approach Headley– through video teleconference, or through some agents coming here, or through documentation. Which approach is India taking? Can you just clarify exactly?
Nirupama Rao: I am not here to discuss that issue. I am here to brief you on the meeting between our Prime Minister and President Obama. The issue of Mr. Headley did come up in that discussion and I briefed you on that also.
Question: Madam, you said that the issue of the Lashkar and Hafiz Saeed was brought up in the meeting. What exactly did President Obama say on the LeT and the fact that Hafiz Saeed can freely make speeches in Lahore and Rawalpindi even today?
Nirupama Rao: I said that he was very sensitive to these concerns that we expressed and that the United States was aware of the issues that we have consistently been raising on this and the activities of other individuals and groups that have advocated violence against India. What he conveyed to Prime Minister was that the United States was sensitive to these concerns.
Question: Madam, my question was about this security assistance that the US is giving Pakistan. What exactly did the Prime Minister discuss with the President? Was it something to do with the US-Pakistan strategic relations agreement?
Nirupama Rao: Security assistance is security assistance that is being provided to Pakistan by the United States. That was the context in which this issue was discussed.
Question: Madam Foreign Secretary, when President Obama expressed his desire for reduction of tension between India and Pakistan - that is the phrase you used - did he make a connection between reduction of tension between the two countries and the ongoing American military effort in Afghanistan? Was that link made by him?
Nirupama Rao: No, it was not.
Question: When you spoke about the security assistance what was President Obama’s response in the sense of would they take India’s sensitivities or concerns onboard, would that lead to a reduction in security assistance, or what did he say?
Nirupama Rao: That the issue would be monitored and would be kept under observation keeping India’s concerns in mind.
Question: Madam, talking of remaining steps on the nuclear deal front, did President Obama take up the issue of Civil Nuclear Liability Legislation with the Prime Minister? Secondly, there is an impression that there is a disconnect between India and the United States on Af-Pak issues on some of issues relating to Af-Pak. Can we say that following this meeting there is a greater harmony in our views or are we at the same pitch?
Nirupama Rao: The President did refer to the pending Civil Nuclear Liability Bill and expressed the hope that this could be concluded as expeditiously as possible. In response to your second question, there was absolutely no disconnect in evidence. As I mentioned, the President was very appreciative of the role that we have played in Afghanistan, the sacrifices that we have made, and the contributions that India has made to the development of Afghanistan. He added that the United States would like to see India continuing to be involved in these activities in Afghanistan.
Question: Madam, the whole focus of the Summit is securing nuclear arsenal. Did India raise any concerns about the security of the Pakistan nuclear arsenal during this meeting? If not now, then do they plan to raise any of these questions in future sideline meetings?
Nirupama Rao: We did not raise it at this meeting and I will let you know if anything transpires on this issue in the next few days.
Question: Madam, coming back to the question of reduction of tensions between India and Pakistan, what is India planning to do now after President Obama has talked specifically about reduction of tensions? Are we planning another round of talks? In terms of specifics what is this going to translate into?
Nirupama Rao: I am not able to understand, you are making some connection between what was discussed at today’s meeting and what we should do next. I do not think that connection should follow from what we discussed today. As far as we are concerned, our policy in regard to dialogue with Pakistan has been very clearly enunciated and it is there for all the world to see. I believe our friends, our partners, especially the United States, fully understand the approach that we have followed on this issue.
Question: I wanted to know whether there is any chance that your Prime Minister would meet the Pakistani Prime Minister while they are both here, or perhaps at some other level there could be some other encounters between the two delegations while you are here.
Nirupama Rao: Not here in Washington. No, I do not believe any meeting is on the cards.
Question: Madam Foreign Secretary, we have been listening since long time that President Obama is expected to visit India this year. Did he give any indication about the dates? It is understood that Mr. Obama wants to take his children also with him. If that is the case, he has to come to India before September when the schools start.
Nirupama Rao: The President of the United States has been invited to visit India. Prime Minister said we were greatly looking forward to this visit. A visit is definitely planned for this year. We do not have dates as yet but both Governments are working on that.
Question: Has Pakistan extended any invitation to our Prime Minister for meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit? Are we looking forward for a meeting between the two Prime Ministers there?
Nirupama Rao: The answer to your question is, no. There is no invitation. As I said, as of now I cannot tell you whether there will be any meeting planned for the SAARC Summit. They are not meeting here in Washington.
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