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Transcript of Foreign Secretary’s special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to USA (September 24, 2021)

September 25, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Very good evening to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us again, today evening for the special media briefing during the visit of Honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi to the United States of America. As you know, he arrived here on the 22nd and today was effectively the second day of his detailed engagements in Washington. To give us a sense of the important meetings that happened today. We have the privilege here of having with us Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, our Ambassador to the United States of America Shri Taranjit Singh Sandhu as well as Mrs.Vani Rao, Joint Secretary of America's division in New Delhi. As always, I would request Foreign Secretary Sir to say a few words, to give an outline of what exactly happened and then we will take some questions. Sir, the floor is yours.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thank you, Arindam. Namsakar and good evening to all our friends.

As you know, today was the second substantive day of the Prime Minister's visit to the United States. He had his first bilateral meeting with His Excellency Mr. Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States of America. Prime Minister also participated in the QUAD Leader’s Summit. As you know, we had a virtual meeting of the QUAD Leader's Summit in March earlier this year. This is the first in-person meeting of this group along with President Biden who hosted the Summit but also Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of japan.

The Prime Minister will depart later this evening for New York. Tomorrow morning he is scheduled to address the 76th session of the UNGA. He will be the first speaker in tomorrow's session.

Yesterday, as I had conveyed earlier the Prime Minister had met the Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris. He also had bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister of Australia and met separately number of US CEOs of major corporations.

In the meeting with President Biden, as I said, this is their first in-person bilateral meeting since President Biden assumed the presidency. It was meeting which is characterized by warmth, cordiality. It is both productive and timely. The leaders on a broad plain acknowledged that the comprehensive global strategic partnership between the two countries was firmly anchored in a shared commitment to democratic values and common strategic interests. The discussions were wide-ranging but what was very evident was that the, the importance both leaders placed on dealing and combating with the Covid crisis. Both leaders, I think were able to brief each other on their experiences in dealing with Covid.

Prime Minister expressed thanks for the solidarity shown by the US government and people of the United States when we had our second wave of the crisis, the support we received that time. President Biden appreciated India's role as a country that it extended assistance to countries across the world, including through pharmaceuticals and vaccines. He was also very impressed with the whole of government approach and the steps taken by the Government of India to deal with the second wave and the level of recovery and the swiftness of recovery was something that was commented on very favorably by President Biden. There was discussion on vaccines. I think President Biden felt that, he appreciated the decision of the Government of India to resume exports of vaccines from October. He himself, he said that the US itself had announced significant increases in their own efforts to distribute vaccines. This also came up in the QUAD and I'll brief you about that as well. Essentially, the sense that Indian vaccines, which were of quality, which were affordable, which could also be scaled up significantly would make a difference in terms of the availability of vaccines in dealing with vaccine iniquity in the developing world in particular.

I think there was a great appreciation there on those factors. With regard to the issues that were discussed bilaterally, the Prime Minister raised number of issues that involved the Indian Community. He spoke of the issue of getting access for Indian professionals to the United States. In that context he mentioned H1-B visa. He also spoke of the fact that many Indian professionals have worked here, contribute to social security, the return of those contributions when they leave the United States is something that did effect a number of people, the Indian Nationals who have worked here and that he requested that this matter be looked into. There was a strong emphasis by the Prime Minister on the development of trade and economic relations. And here, I think the two leaders felt that they should ask their concerned ministers. In our case, the Commerce and Industry minister. In the case of the United States, US trade representative to see how to impart greater dynamism to the trade relationship, how to more speedily implement some of the decisions that would involve further accelerating the trade ties between countries. There was also a discussion on the TRIPS waiver. There was appreciation of the US decision to support the initiative by India and South Africa to seek a waiver of IPR on vaccines, so that, at the WTO, so that vaccines could be made more widely available, particularly in the developing world. This is something that President Biden also commented on. He said that he took the decision fairly early on in his Presidency and that he was committed to that decision.

There was also discussion of India-US defence relationship, and particularly the option of the two sides looking at practical new projects that could impart new momentum to the defence relationship. We are looking at certain areas of high technology. As you know, we are a major defence partner of the United States. We are working on operationalizing the 4 foundational Agreements. The Defence Policy group is due to meet shortly in Washington, at the level of Defense Secretaries. We have the Chief of Defense staff also visiting the United States. So there was a sense by the two leaders that there should be some thought given to how we can identify important new projects, high technology projects in the defence domain.

There was some discussion on our cooperation in the UN Security Council. There was appreciation of our Presidency of the council, especially on the issue of Afghanistan, but also on the overall cooperation that we have with the United States in the UN in general and the Security Council in particular.

President Biden was very specific in stating that he felt that India should have permanent seat in this UN Security Council. And I think when you see the joint statement, also, this would be reflected appropriately. The both sides felt that India and US were natural partners based on democratic traditions.

There was, this was supposed to be one hour meeting but it went on to something like 90 minutes. The discussion obviously was very comprehensive and wide-ranging. As I said, in fact, President Biden said, it should have been a two-day, exclusive India-US Summit. In other words we needed much more time to discuss the many areas of our very, very multifaceted comprehensive in-depth relationship that the two countries today enjoy. I don't know if you have seen the joint statement, it might not have reached you yet, because we're waiting for final confirmations.

I can, if you permit briefly share with you some elements so that you have them on a timely basis. First and foremost, I think as I said there was a welcome. There was ,the US side welcome our announcement that we would resume its exports of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines. There was, we were finalizing what is called a memorandum of understanding on health and biomedical sciences, very comprehensive document that provides for cooperation in the health sector across the board and it also goes into areas like pandemic preparedness and biomedical research, to reduce the risk of future pandemics. There was a support for the Prime Minister's initiative to achieve domestic goal of installing 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. I think the US side, both sides referred to the importance of mobilizing appropriate financing, green technologies, capacity building in that regard. The Prime minister had also some initiatives in the area of climate change and clean energy, which was discussed at the QUAD, but I'll come down to that subsequently. President Biden reaffirmed the strength of the defence relationship and an unwavering commitment to India, as a major defence partner. There was, the two leaders welcomed the deepening of advanced industrial cooperation in the defence sector. There was emphasis, as I said on co-development, co-production and expanding the area of industrial cooperation in the defense sector. There was of course, both sides agreed that the issue of terrorism is very important. Obviously, counter-terrorism efforts and cooperation between the two countries would be given a lot of emphasis. In that context, both sides denounced any use of terrorist proxies and emphasized the importance of denying the logistical, financial and military support to terrorist groups, which could be used to plan or launch terror attacks. That they also noted that the US and India would be organizing a counter-terrorism joint-working group meeting, a designations dialogue and there was also going to be a renewed US-India homeland security dialogue in the areas of law enforcement and security.

So on Afghanistan, of course, there was a lot of importance attached to the fact that that the UN resolution 2593, as you recall was adopted under India's Presidency of the Security Council, an important resolution, which reflected the international community's general view on the situation in Afghanistan and the obligations of the ruling dispensation there to fulfill certain conditionalities that the international community felt were important. And so the two sides underscored the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan. They called the Taliban to adhere to these and all of its commitments under resolution 2593, that includes obviously the issue of as I said ensuring that Afghan territory is not used to threaten and attack any countries, to shelter or train terrorist groups, to plan a financed terrorist attacks and underscored as I said the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan. It also called upon the respect to human rights of women, children, minorities, provision of humanitarian assistance and access to humanitarian workers and of course, called upon the two sides to secure an inclusive political negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.

So this is an important point. I think the fact that the government, the current dispensation and the ruling dispensation did not appear to be an inclusive one that did not involve the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan to the extent that, that it should, that it not did not include the participation of women in the government and was I think a point that was noted. It also, I think there was very careful consideration by both sides on the support given to certain hard line elements in that country, including terrorist groups by certain neighbor of Afghanistan. I think there was there was a clear concern expressed in that regard on Pakistan's role in Afghanistan and their continuing support for a certain approach that did not seem to be conducive to the international community's, expectations of what Afghanistan should be like. And as I mentioned resolution 2593 is the, is the gauge by which the international community would judge that situation in that country and developments there off.

As I mentioned, trade was an important factor, trade and investment relations and the areas of technology, in particular, space, cyber, health etc, AI, 5G, 6G, cyberspace, vulnerabilities in cyberspace and these are important things. You would have all seen the remarks that the Prime Minister made when he first met President Biden.

From our perspective, encapsulated our approach to the relationship. I'll try and walk you through some of what was already conveyed by the Prime Minister who envisioned a decade of transformation, transformational partnership in the US- India relationship articulated by what he called, you know, emphasis on tradition, technology, trade, trusteeship and talent. Tradition being democratic traditions and values which both our countries enjoy. Technology being the most important driving force in the world but in particular in the US- India relationship. Trade given the strong complementarities between Indian and US markets, increasing bilateral trade was a priority, trusteeship was the instrument, instrumental in dealing with the emerging global challenges of climate change. Trusteeship, as in India, including what was espoused by Mahatma Gandhi himself, for the planet was the way that we secure the future, secure the planet for our future generations. India believes, has always believed in a close link with nature and living in harmony and compatibility with nature. So, trusteeship of the world given to mankind is something that was mentioned and finally talent. Talent, which signifies the people-to-people linkage between our two countries, which is manifested by the contributions made by the Indian- American community. And I think the 5 Ts is in some senses summarize, our relationship and I repeat tradition, technology, trade, trusteeship and talent. The Prime Minister viewed the India-US, India and the US, as I said as natural partners, endevours to consolidate and strengthen our partnership of trust so that we can together make a difference. And of course the fact that I think President Biden noted that India and US working on issues that were not only bilateral, but regional and global in nature made a difference to the way we can shape the world around us, in particular, our own region, the Indo-Pacific region.

Let me come down to the second part of the day's meetings which was the QUAD. Again a very very important meeting, you are all aware that this is the first in-person QUAD Summit that has taken place with the leaders of all four countries present with high-level delegations. The meeting enabled the leaders to share views on contemporary issues in the region. They shared perspectives on the situation in Afghanistan, emergent challenges in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, reaffirmed their commitment to work together to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and work towards preventing other pandemics that would come in the future. Evolving a common approach to emerging technologies, cyber security and addressing the challenge of climate change was something that the leaders discussed. They took stock of the factors that would address the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, the vaccine partnership. This is considered the most important of the deliverables that QUAD is looking at most immediate and most eminent also from the point of view of the concerns with Covid-19. In that context, the Prime Minister announced not only the resumption of vaccines, but at the request of the QUAD, the Prime Minister said that India would make available eight million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is Janssen vaccine, which as you know, is manufactured in India by Biological-E, this would be made, this would be ready by the end of October. It would be compatible with our decision to export vaccines and of course I think QUAD will pay for the vaccines. India will provide a certain, will of course bear a certain share of those. But this is an immediate delivery, from the QUAD into the Indo-Pacific region. And I think this factor found lot of residents and I would say appreciation by the QUAD leaders.

What was also emphasized was that in order to ensure that India can continue to produce quality and affordable vaccines not only for itself but for the rest of the world, it is important that the supply chains and the supply of raw material for vaccine production was continued and this is also something that I think was discussed.

In terms of climate change, of course, they said Prime Minister proposed the concept of a global green hydrogen initiative. This is something that would require the four countries to come together to take fullest advantage of our renewable energy program, particularly solar energy that would be necessary for the production of green hydrogen. We have already identified green corridors, including green ports in India. And the idea is that we cooperate to develop India as a hub of green hydrogen.

Australia did also point out that there was a lot of technology and expertise among the QUAD countries and that there was a need to look at the standards, setting standards, not only for green hydrogen but also the manufacture of green hydrogen. The Prime Minister proposed a common international traveling protocol that involved mutual recognition of Covid-19 certification. This was, I think well-received by President Biden and other QUAD leaders as well. And I think it is something that, as you're aware India has made that, taken that initiative and we will continue to work with the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific countries, other partners in pushing the idea of mutual vaccine recognition, that could enable our people to travel more freely.

Cyber-security discussions in the group, I think this enabled more discussion and collaboration, sharing information. Prime Minister highlighted India's ongoing Digital India program, offered to make India's digital technologies available to different parts of the world and, and with the QUAD supporting the efforts to provide that level of access that other developing countries could get to these platforms. Technology, clean energy, supply chain resilience was discussed. There is an important proposal from Australia in that regard and that was also something that was discussed by the leaders. At the, coming back sorry to the bilateral meeting, the Prime Minister did invite President Biden to visit India. This is something that President Biden noted with thanks and appreciation. And certainly we look forward to visit by the President of the United States at the earliest convenience and mutual convenience.

From the point of view of the QUAD statement, I just will probably flag a few points because you will get the statement in any case. This is in terms of cooperation. I think we are looking at fairly strong language with regard to the QUAD's commitment on terrorism and the need to counter terrorism anywhere in the world. It reinforces the QUAD's thinking on this issue and the need to combine efforts to deal with this common scourge. Also with regard to Afghanistan again, that is similar language, in especially with the main points of resolution 2595 mentioned therein. There is also a reference to a QUAD infrastructure partnership, which is something new and the setting up of a working group that will go into some of the aspects of ensuring sustainable infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. In terms of people-to-people cooperation there was a decision to inaugurate, what is called QUAD fellowship program that would enable stem students from the four countries to study in each other's countries through a scholarship, fellowship program and of course, this would be strongly supported by all the four QUAD countries.

There was also space. Space, I think was an important area of cooperation and, and I think the QUAD countries, all of whom have fairly developed space programs will pool in resources and look at how to cooperate further in the space sector. So I think in all of this you will, of course, find more detailed version of what was discussed and what was agreed upon. What are the new initiatives? How do we look at the next steps? Both in the bilateral relationship and in the QUAD, in the joint statement issued after the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister and President Biden, you will also have the details of what was discussed at the QUAD and the QUAD joint statement, which will be issued soon as well as what is called fact sheets which would give you some details on some of the areas of cooperation that we have concluded. So maybe I'll stop here and we will see if there are any questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We are ,sorry we're actually in a very tight timeline since Prime Minister has to leave, so, I'll take the first round. Okay. I saw your hand first, but then I'll come back, please.

Speaker 1: Mr. Foreign secretary, the comments from President Biden before the bilateral meeting on democracy were rather pointed, if I may say so, and I was wondering how India looks at it. He says, you know, shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, commitment to diversity, family ties, etc, then he again points to Mahatma Gandhi's birthday and tells, like talks about non-violence, respect, tolerance. You think there's a message here?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Here please.

Speaker 2: I am Palki Sharma from WION. You spoke about the infrastructure partnership. Can you detail something on the scale and the scope of this? And is this in any way comparable to China's BRI, which has pushed countries into debt, also, is QUAD going to have a military dimension.

Speaker 3: Mr. Foreign secretary, Reena Bharadwaj from ANI. Was there any discussion on the over the horizon counter-terrorist strategy in Afghanistan between the two leaders in the bilateral.

Speaker 4: Yashwant , Hindustan times. FS, you mentioned discussions featured trade , H1B . On trade was GSP part of the discussion? (Inaudible) and H1B and Social Security (Inaudible). These have been long pending issues, and we have talked about these for a long time. Any assurances that were given on these?

Speaker 5: So how much there was emphasis on Pakistan, Pakistan’s support of terror both during the bilateral meeting and the QUAD meeting. Secondly, on QUAD, is it? It's now formalized, will we see annual QUAD summits happening, Sir, corrected question. How is specific was reference to Pakistan in the context of the situation, regional situation in Afghanistan and particularly its connection with terror. Also Part B of the question was there in specific mention of China when QUAD meeting happened?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: That should keep us busy for a while, questions. With regard to Seema's question. I think it's important to keep in mind that the QUAD itself represents like-minded countries with shared values and principles, the most important of those is represented by the fact that we are all democracies, we are vibrant democracies, we are in many senses whether it is large or old, but we have been at that process for some time. And I think like any other democracy there is always room, not only for self-improvement, but also room for working with other countries on you know, the fact that working with other democracies across the globe. And I think QUAD's real focus is to see how we can work with other like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region. So, democracy is an important factor that binds us together, but it's also an important factor that enables us to work with other democratic countries and work within democratic frameworks. So I would see the President's remarks in that context that we are all countries that have we you know, the points you mentioned in terms of, you know, shared responsibility is diversity, family ties, emphasis to family ties, emphasis on non-violence, tolerance, respect, are those that we fully believe in .In fact, India is ingrained in exactly those areas that you mentioned. So I would see it as a reaffirmation of our democracy. A sense of the fact that the India and the United States represent two vibrant dynamic democracies that are on the move.

Palki's question on the infrastructure initiative of QUAD. I think this is the new partnership that we're looking at which would look at mapping the region's infrastructure needs, coordinating regional needs and opportunities, providing technical assistance, empowering regional partners with evaluative tools, promoting sustainable infrastructure development. I think the idea is to provide certain standards to ensure a certain level of transparency. I have to say that, you know, the way we look at things, it is not in comparison to any other parameters that are there. I think the QUAD is working on its own defined objective of seeing a free open transparent, inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region is an important factor. Towards achieving that objective, I think an infrastructure partnership is something that is desirable. It would, also I think have the support of many of our other partners in the Indo-Pacific. As I said, we are working with many other partners. We see, ASEAN as central to the Indo-Pacific strategy of the QUAD and I'm sure this infrastructure partnership is one that would be of, not only of interest, but of utility to many of our partners and friends and neighbors that we work with in our neighborhood.

I think Reena had a question on counter-terrorism strategy. I think I spend some time explaining about some of the discussions within QUAD on counter-terrorism. If you see both the joint statements, which are bilateral, as well as the one on the QUAD. There is strong language on counter-terrorism. There is a strong emphasis, by all countries, by all countries, I mean QUAD countries but also in our bilateral relationship with the United States on the issue of counter-terrorism.

This is an important issue , one of the most important issues that we are dealing with today. One of the most critical issues that the QUAD and India and the United States are considering, and certainly one that has found ample amplification both in the discussions as well as in the outcomes of these discussions that are there. So, yes, the answer is yes. Short answer to your question.

Yashwant your question was on trade, H1B totalization. I think, again a strong emphasis on seeing how we can push straight forward. As I said, the two ministers have been tasked with looking at how to energize the trade relationship, whether that is what means that we can use mechanisms that we can device to do that ,that is something that the ministers will look at. But I think the direction of the two leaders is to look at how we can take that important trade relationship forward. With regard to GSP, I think the fact that we have a trade policy dialogue, we have several mechanisms on the trade from that, we'll meet, and go into the details of the trade and economic relationship would mean that certainly many of the issues that you mentioned would be discussed in greater detail. So that is not off the table but obviously, when you have a meeting of 90 minutes, you cannot go into each and every issue that is there but the larger I think overriding sense was that all these aspects would be discussed in some detail. I don't know the, if the Ambassador wants to comment and say anything more on trade part, economic side.

Sidhant, you spoke about Pakistan's support to terrorism with the QUAD, you know, whether of course and there was a supplementary question also on the Afghanistan- Pakistan angle. I think again, I did go into a little bit on that. I think the both in the bilateral relationship as well as bilateral discussions as well as in the QUAD discussions there was a clear sense that a more careful look and more careful examination and monitoring of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. Pakistan's role on the issue of terrorism, had to be kept and that certainly the, whether it's a QUAD with its other partners had to keep a track of that factor. An important factor, which sometimes gets overlooked, when you see Pakistan projecting itself as a facilitator whereas, it has really been in many senses an instigator of some of the problems that we're dealing with, in our neighborhood and beyond. Whether the QUAD would be formalized, whether there would be annual meetings. I think one thing is, for certain, we have had two meetings of the QUAD leaders. The level of the QUAD has been elevated to the level of head of state and government. I think we will continue to meet at all levels, but including the level of the highest levels, so QUAD has been elevated to the highest levels. I think you will see regular meetings of the group. You will see more activity and more, I would say, pointed deliverables. If you see the vaccine area, the fact that we are already talking about delivery of significant quantities of vaccines to the Indo-Pacific is a sign of delivery, within a few months of the first QUAD Summit being held. That shows that QUAD is serious about what it is doing. It shows that the members of QUAD have a certain focus that is, that is very concentrated on outcomes. That the leaders are committed to ensuring that QUAD has a certain level of outreach to the Indo-Pacific region. And India, of course through its contribution with affordable, high-quality vaccines is at the center of that delivery. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Yeah, sorry.

Speaker 6: Inaudible

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: let me tell, let me say that ask Palki a counter question. I mean in all of this. Do you see a military dimension? Whether we are talking about the joint statement, about what I mentioned an array of global initiatives that are positive and proactive in nature whether it is vaccine cooperation, climate change cooperation, cooperation in critical and emerging technologies, infrastructure development and space cooperation. I think you will you will see that it is strongly loaded in what the Prime Minister calls working for the 'common global good' working for humanity. I think QUAD's success lies in its ability to work with its partners in the Indo-Pacific region with the ASEAN partners, other friends and neighbors in ensuring that we work with them, we co-opt them, maybe we provide options that are of utility to them and I think that is the important message of the QUAD at this time,

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We just have a few more questions? Yes, please. No, not a second round please. Yeah.

Speaker 7: Thank you for the..( Inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: microphone Quickly.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, I think it'll keep it close, last question, Yeah

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No last question. yeah please. Sorry, we just ran out of time. This is the last one.

Speaker 8: Sir Maha Siddiqui from CNN News 18. Sir trade is such an important component of the India- US relationship, but we haven't really heard much in the Biden tenure about the possibility of a trade deal. Has it been put completely on the back burner and why?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Okay, so very briefly because we are running out of time and there's a hard stop, because Prime Minister has to leave for New York. Of course. I think we are scheduling another press interaction in New York. So if some of you are going to be there, you know, feel free to ask your questions. Why is it the new chapter in the relationship? Is that it's an evolving relationship. It's a fast-moving relationship, and it's a relationship that has required tremendous momentum. Take the economic relationship. I mean, I think, 10 years ago we were not even at hundred billion dollars, today we are you know, at hundred fifty billion dollars. Today at the investments, the situation you've got, you know, very large number of US companies that have invested significant sums in India, Indian companies in the United States. So, there is a bilateral element that is that is really swung in a positive direction in the recent past. So as we look at all this, we look at a strong, you know, new chapter. In other words,we have been moving so quickly that we are developing new chapters. With the family, you know, there is a lot of research going into that. I think the fact that there were four different families that went by the name of Biden in Maharashtra, it needed some examination. Our Joint Secretary America's have done extensive research on that issue. Another time we will share some of the Biden family stories when it comes to India. With regard to, you know, whether a trade, a Free Trade Agreement or a limited trade deal is off, is I think that is not correct. The fact that you know, the Minister and the two Ministers have been tasked with looking at how to impart dynamism actually leaves it wide open to the different mechanisms we can resort to impart that dynamism.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, I think we'll have to close it here. Thank you very much.
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