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Transcript of Special Briefing by JS (ERS) following the India-Uzbekistan Virtual Summit (11th December 2020)

December 12, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
Friends! Namaskar and good evening.
Welcome to this special briefing. Earlier today we concluded the first virtual bilateral Summit between PM and President of Uzbekistan and to brief us on the Summit and its outcomes, I have with me Joint Secretary (ERS) in this Ministry, Dr. Adarsh Swaika. Adarsh will make his opening remarks and thereafter he will take your questions. Over to you Adarsh.

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS):
Thank you Anurag,
Friends, a very good evening and Namaskar!

Let me put out the context and give you a readout of today's virtual Summit between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and President of Uzbekistan His Excellency Shavkat Mirziyoyev. This was the first virtual Summit with any country of Central Asia, which is our extended neighborhood. This was the seventh bilateral interaction between the two leaders in the last five years. As you all know, both the leaders share a very good chemistry. I may mention that our Prime Minister was scheduled to visit Uzbekistan in July this year at the invitation of President Mirziyoyev. However, due to the Covid pandemic the visit could not take place and therefore we decided for the virtual Summit today. On the relationship front, India and Uzbekistan enjoy historical and civilizational ties. In recent years, there has been a significant diversification and deepening of our bilateral ties. Besides strategic partnership with Uzbekistan in 2011, bilateral relations now encompass a wider canvas including on political and strategic issues, trade and investment, energy, defense and security, agriculture, science and technology, education and people-to-people ties. In today's summit, both leaders expressed satisfaction over the further strengthening of our relationship. The leaders discussed the entire gamut of our bilateral relationship including regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. Both leaders exchanged views on the Covid pandemic situation and the way forward. The meeting lasted for about an hour. A joint statement has been issued capturing the progress of the bilateral relations in various spheres, and the congruence of views on issues of regional and global interests. 9 agreements and MOUs were signed coinciding with the Summit today and these basically pertain to cooperation in the areas of solar energy, journalism and mass communication, cyber security, Community Development projects, police training, information and communication technology and standardization. Very importantly, the agreement on line of credit which was extended by us in 2018, was signed for an amount of US dollar 448 million. All these details are available on the website. These were put in the afternoon and you may have had the opportunity to see them. The objective of the virtual Summit was to further strengthen our strategic partnership, including our evolving development cooperation. So broadly, I would highlight the following points as I would say the outcome of the Summit: There has been a spate of interactions between both sides at highest levels. Despite the pandemic, both Foreign Ministers met in Moscow in September on the sidelines of SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting. The national coordinating committees at ministerial levels met in August this year virtually, the Foreign Office Consultations were held last month and the intergovernmental commission was held last week. This shows the importance attached by both sides to our relationship. Both leaders strongly emphasized the need for making concerted efforts for increase in bilateral trade and investments. They agreed that bilateral trade is far behind the target of 1 billion dollars set by them earlier. They have therefore instructed their officials to fast-track the conclusion of the bilateral investment treaty and the preferential trade agreement in this regard. The leaders also discussed how to overcome lack of overland connectivity. During the discussions, PM once again reiterated his proposal to Uzbekistan to join INSTC, which was agreed by President Mirziyoyev. Uzbek side has also proposed a trilateral meeting with Iran to promote connectivity through the Chabahar Port. An important deliverable of the Summit was the emerging development partnership with Uzbekistan. We were able to sign an agreement for 448 million dollars in various sectors. We are now also looking at quick gestation community development projects to be done on grant basis in Uzbekistan. Our defense and security cooperation has also been strengthened. Both leaders discussed this aspect including the landmark visit of Defense Minister last year during which the first ever joint exercises on counter terrorism were held. There was also meeting of minds as far as the regional security situation is concerned in particular on Afghanistan. Both leaders shared the same vision of settlement of the Afghan conflict on the principle of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process for the security and development of Afghanistan and the region. Terrorism also figured in the talks and both leaders underlined the need for concerted efforts to combat this menace. A new dimension in our relationship has also been in the recent years in terms of cooperation between the states and regions of Uzbekistan and a very successful venture in this regard was with the visit of Chief Minister of Gujarat to Uzbekistan including the Andejan region last year during which a number of MOUs, more than 20 MOUs, were signed in various sectors. We are also looking forward to new areas of cooperation including in the nuclear and space field. Cultural links remain an important element of our connect, particularly the increasing popularity of yoga and also of Ayurveda. President Mirziyoyev specifically mentioned about his intention of having more Ayurveda practitioners in Uzbekistan. So overall, I think the relationship, if you could see has different elements right from political, economic, cultural to development partnership and this is why our relationship with Uzbekistan is truly strategic in that sense. So I will stop here and take some questions.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Adarsh. Thank you for that comprehensive statement. I will move on to the questions. The first question, I think you've already answered. This is from Parikshit from CNBC who wants you to spell out the key takeaways from the meeting that has already been done. So I'll move on to the next question. This is on lines of credit. Siddhant from WION wants to know India has extended a line of credit to Central Asia. What kind of projects are being looked at in Uzbekistan? If you can name a few?

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): Basically on lines of credit, we have extended US Dollar 1 billion line of credit and buyers credit to Uzbekistan in 2018 and recently during the India Central Asia dialogue, we extended another line of credit for all the Central Asian countries for US Dollar 1 billion. Now, the projects for which we signed the LOC agreement today, was in respect of the earlier LOC for 448 million. Two projects will be in the road sector, one will be in the IT sector and one will be in the sewerage sector. So these projects are being finalized now.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I have a set of questions on connectivity. I'll take them all together. Siddhant from WION wants to know Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are keen on a Rail Link. Any plans of India extending the support? Also is the North-South Transport Corridor being planned to be extended to Uzbekistan, then India- Central Asia Air- Corridor has been talked about for some time now. When will it be operationalized? Huma from Financial Express. What is the status of the north-south transport Corridor as this has been pending for a while? Any discussion on connectivity with the Chabahar Port, was that also discussed? Suhasini from the Hindu wants to know "was there any discussion between India and Uzbekistan on developing the railway line through Afghanistan to Iran? Are India and Uzbekistan cooperating on any infrastructure project in the region?

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): Thank you Anurag. I think these questions basically pertain to connectivity, both overland connectivity and air connectivity as also the sea connectivity. We must appreciate that Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country. Uzbekistan is one of the two countries in the world, which is doubly landlocked, which means, the surrounding countries are also landlocked countries. We as a principal would welcome any initiative that increases connectivity between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan or with other Central Asian countries. As far as INSTC is concerned, we had requested Uzbekistan earlier, when President Mirziyoyev came in 2018, Prime Minister Modi had made a request to him for joining the INSTC and today President Mirziyoyev gave his in principle concurrence to joining INSTC. So, this is where I think it's a very good development that Uzbekistan is in principle ready to join the INSTC. Now, the whole issue of INSTC itself has also been under considerable debate in the recent past. While in principle there is a physical connectivity on the INSTC route, right from the sea port of Bandar Abbas to Baku to Russia, there has been less use of INSTC. So the efforts of all the stakeholders have been to increase the popularity of that route and there has been agreement between concord and Russian Railways in this regard earlier this year where they have agreed to further facilitate the movement of cargo. So that is what is on the INSTC. On the air corridor, there have been discussions. In fact, we also want an air corridor for which suitable points in Central Asia will need to be identified by the industry. Our External Affairs Minister had in February, when he was delivering his remarks at the India Central Asia Business Council, which is set up under the Ambit of the India Central Asia Dialogue, had tasked them to look into the viability of an air corridor and I understand that they are working on it. This will be particularly useful for transport of perishable commodities and since both India and some of the countries in Central Asia are exporters of agricultural, horticulture and marine products. This will hugely benefit these sectors. So that is where I would leave on the connectivity issue.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Okay, moving on to questions on terrorism. Siddhant wants to know Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, a terror group has many of its fighters based in Northern Pakistan. India has been raising the issue of cross-border terror from Pakistan. Was Pakistan support to such terror groups raised by PM Modi with Uzbek leadership? Huma from Financial express, her question is "since India is also a member of the SCO, did the two countries talk about fight against terrorism and radicalism?"

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): As you can see from the joint statement, there is a complete meeting of minds on terrorism. PM specifically mentioned in his remarks about this global menace of terrorism and the need for concerted efforts to combat it and I think PM's opening remarks are also in the social media. If you see the Joint statement para 26, both countries have unequivocally condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and both leaders have also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used for launching terrorist activities against other countries and given that limitations of time and talks over the virtual format, the leaders did not go into specifics but the stand of both countries on this important issue is abundantly clear from para 26 of the joint statement.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Next question from Ranjeet Kumar from Rakshak news "India and Uzbekistan have signed Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement. Has Uzbekistan started supplying nuclear fuel to India?

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): No, in this regard I would mention that an MOU was signed between the agency for development of nuclear energy Uzatom and the global Center for nuclear energy partnership in September this year. The general purpose of this MOU is to strengthen the technical cooperation in the fields of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to facilitate capacity building for strengthening the technical capabilities of Uzatom agency. This is the new area of engagement. As regards supply of uranium, yes there was an agreement signed last year when President Mirziyoyev visited India in January 2019 for the vibrant Gujarat Summit. During that time there was an agreement signed and I suppose the supplies will begin as per contractual terms and conditions.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suhasini from the Hindu wants to know did President of Uzbekistan and PM discuss the Afghan peace process and has Uzbekistan suggested that India should engage the Taliban.

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): This is a very important area which was definitely discussed between both the leaders. They shared the same vision of a united, sovereign and democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan built on an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-Controlled peace process. They also underlined that it is vitally important to preserve the gains achieved by Afghanistan in the last two decades including the rights of minorities, women and children

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: The last question, that I see is from Huma from Financial Express, "When is the next military exercise planned to take place? and was there any discussion on Space Cooperation?"

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): On the holding of the military exercise. I think it is too early to say because we are currently going on through the pandemic phase but in principle the exercise is agreed upon, the dates in venue would be decided in due course. On the Space Cooperation, Yes, this was also touched on briefly. We expressed our readiness to assist Uzbekistan for any technical assistance they require in this field and this could be done within the framework of the MOU which has already been signed in October 2018 on cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: So they are no further questions. Thank you Adarsh. Thank you for joining us, and we will resume shortly with our weekly briefing. Thank you.

Dr.Adarsh Swaika, JS (ERS): Thank you.

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