Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here for our usual interaction.
I have a couple of announcements to make which I will make at the beginning of our interaction, following which you are free to ask me questions on those announcements or on anything else that you would like to have but the sequence will be, first, questions on what I have to indicate, then on anything else. As you know, I can only respond to one question per person. So, please follow the norm. With those initial remarks, let me try and put out the announcements that I have to make. The first announcement is regarding the Strategic Dialogue that was held this morning between the External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj and the visiting Foreign Minister of Canada, Mr. John Baird.
The discussions covered the entire spectrum of our relations with Canada and I will quote to you a few excerpts of what each of them said so that you get a flavor of what the relationship is all about. The External Affairs Minister in her opening remarks said that we see natural synergy and tremendous potential for a deepening engagement in several critical areas of mutual interest including energy, education, skill development, trade and investment, nuclear cooperation to name a few. These aspects and many more were covered. She also said that it is our intention to accelerate the pace of our growing partnership and it is our manifest desire to deepen it further. I hope that encapsulates to you what the Indian approach to our relations with Canada is.
On the Canadian side, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr. Baird said that improved relations with India is a priority for Canada. He said these were exciting times for India and Canada is keen to engage and enhance its partnership with India and this is a partnership that really matters for Canada. He then went on to indicate that he was in New York at the time when Prime Minister was there. He said, in fact, he was amongst the people in Central Park and he could understand the enthusiasm that is there now for India in the US and in Canada. So, one of his initial suggestions was that the Prime Minister should visit Canada at an early date. This has been accepted in principle and Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of External Affairs will work out a mutually convenient date in consultation with our Canadian interlocutors.
Now, I will try and take you through some of the issues that were discussed. I would not be able to capture all of them but I will try to highlight some of the main ones. One of the major areas of this discussion was energy and there was an agreement that there was a synergy in India’s needs to acquire as much energy from as many sources as possible and Canada’s desire to be a long term and reliable partner in India’s energy needs. So the Foreign Minister of Canada did lay out the plans that they have for rapidly expanding their hydrocarbon production and he indicated that by possibly 2020, they would be producing something like 7 million barrels per day of oil. He indicated that they are also working on outlets on the Eastern Coast of Canada and that would be easier for India to off-take once these come up. So both from our perspective that we need hydrocarbons and Canada is a growing supplier of these, there is a synergy and both felt that this would augur well for our bilateral relationship.
Any discussion of energy is not complete where we are concerned without discussion of nuclear energy. So there was a discussion about nuclear energy and it was explained that Canada’s Cameco and the Department of Atomic Energy are now in the process of working out commercial contracts for purchase of Canadian Uranium for our nuclear power plants and they were satisfied with the progress and we hope that these agreements, once commercial terms and legal matters are sorted out, will come into place in the not too distant future.
Also, there was discussion on three other aspects of nuclear and I will share those with you. Number one, there was a discussion on India and Canada jointly hosting a workshop on nuclear security. This workshop is going to be held later during the month. It is the first of its sort that India is cooperating with another country to host a workshop on nuclear security. Fifteen countries have been invited along with the International Atomic Energy Agency resource persons and this is a first of cooperation and collaboration between India and any country on nuclear security. There was also discussion relating to possibilities of research and development on nuclear power plants. You are aware that we are intending to scale up our indigenous production of nuclear power plants and the pressurized heavy water reactors that we are planning are for approximately 750 megawatts which is what the Canadians are also with similar technology working on.
So there is a synergy in both our approach to increase nuclear power and Canadian capabilities in this regard and it was felt that we should not only be seen as buyers and sellers, I mean Canada the seller and India the buyer of Uranium but also possibilities of working together in research activities for nuclear power plants or nuclear reactors.
Then there was a fairly long and detailed discussion relating to what Canada can work with India in terms of our economic development efforts and in these areas, the topics that we are focused on was a) skilling and there was a fairly detailed discussion on what would be the areas that Canada can specifically contribute in terms of specific projects on our skilling projects. The areas that were highlighted were; One was in the hydrocarbon sector. The second was related to hydrocarbons but can be used elsewhere i.e. welding processes and the third was on water-related activities which is clean water, cleaning of rivers etc. So these were the areas that there was a fairly detailed discussion and the technical ministries are now going to take this thing forward in terms of further cooperation on specific projects.
Both the Canadian Foreign Minister as well as the External Affairs Minister were quite excited about the possibilities and the range in which we can cooperate in these two specific areas. In addition, there were discussions on people-to-people cooperation. Perhaps you are aware there are approximately 1.2 million people of Indian origin in Canada. They are an extremely useful resource in bridging India and Canada. So there were discussion on that. There were discussions on trade and investment. Currently, our trade figures do not reflect the potential of India-Canada relations. It is approximately $5 billion plus. The target was $15 billion by 2015 and if we have to reach anywhere near that target, we need to exponentially increase our trade.
The other area was investment. While India is open for investment, we noticed that the Canadian investments into India are fairly limited. It is approximately $4 billion of investment of Canada into India. On the other hand, Indian investments into Canada are in the range of $15 billion. So there was an acknowledgement that investment opportunities from both countries need to be expanded especially in India because as India opens up its opportunities for manufacturing, investment etc., we hope that Canada can also be a useful partner in that.
If I have to sum up this discussion, it was one in which both of us felt that there is immense synergy, possibilities of cooperation across a vast spectrum of activities and hope that we can utilize the opportunities that are arising in India. It is expected that the Canadian Prime Minister will also be participating in the G20 Summit in Brisbane during which Prime Minister is also expected to participate and there are possibilities that if we can work out a sort of a short meeting, that would be their first meeting after Prime Minister’s election in India. That is about Canada.
I have another announcement to make following and that is tomorrow, the External Affairs Minister will be receiving the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Mr. Carlos Raul Morales Moscoso. This is the first visit of Foreign Minister of Guatemala to India. Those of you who are following Latin American affairs are perhaps aware that there is a conclave being organized by FICCI on India and Latin America and he comes as part of several Latin American leaders who are coming to participate in that conclave. Guatemala is the largest country in Central America. Our trade with them is approximately $225 million, very heavily weighted in favor of Indian exports which include pharmaceuticals, automobiles, IT and yarn for textiles.
I have one other announcement and then I will stop at that and this relates to the External Affairs Minister’s visit to London. As you are aware, the External Affairs Minister is also the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs and in that capacity, she will be visiting London on the 16th and 17th of this month. This visit is to participate in the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas which is being held in London on the 17th. Those of you who are aware of these arrangements, usually every year, there is one Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas organized outside India apart from the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas that is organized in India.
Usually, the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in India is organized in January and depending on the region, the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in one region is organized outside India. This time, it is focused on Europe and the External Affairs Minister will be there. Utilizing this opportunity of a visit to London, she will also be meeting her counterpart Mr. Phil Hammond and call on the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Mr. Nick Clegg. The Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron is out of London because he is participating in the ASEM meeting in Milan. You are aware that the Minister of State for External Affairs Mr. VK Singh will be the Indian participant in the ASEM meeting.
I think I will stop at that and if you have any questions on each of these, sequentially I will answer them. Otherwise on anything else the floor is open.
Question: Akbar there is this question of a large number of Indian medical doctors ending up as taxi drivers in Vancouver and several places because Indian medical degrees are not recognized by the Canadian Medical Institute, Association or whatever, this has been a problem going on for several years. Did this by any chance figure in the talks today and is there any plan by the government to take it up, thanks?
Official Spokesperson: This issue did not figure in the talks but the issue that figured was in terms of ease of Indian professionals traveling to Canada and is related largely to IT professionals who go there on short term visas and who previously had a much easier ability to travel to Canada but there were some changes that were made in Canadian domestic legislation not for India but for across for all countries and that did figure but not the topic that you are mentioning.
Question: Sir we read that Sushma Swaraj, our Foreign Minister raised the issue of pro-Khalistan elements in Canada, did that issue figure in the talks and was there any kind of specific information shared or database is shared?
Official Spokesperson: Yes, this is an issue that figures in our bilateral discussions. We have a dedicated forum for this and that is discussions between our deputy national security advisors. So there is an annual meeting and they have met twice during which, they do share information in terms of activities that we consider detrimental to our interest and vice versa. Now the issue that you are referring to figured in some way and that is Foreign Minister Baird himself acknowledged that as a young person when he was growing up, he was deeply deeply affected by the Kanishka air crash because there was a student from his class or his neighborhood who was killed in that and he acknowledged that since then, Canada has come a long way in terms of acting against terrorists. Also, he acknowledged our concerns in terms of radical elements perhaps misusing opportunities available in Canada and we both agreed that counterterrorism is an important part of our cooperation between the two countries and in our case, it was radical groups who may tend to misuse Canadian soil to promote that. That is the extent to which we discussed this.
Question: Trade and investment, is there any particular sector the investment will come?
Official Spokesperson:No, at this stage, actually let me try and put, there are two issues in trade and investment and both are a work in progress. One issue is related to a) BIPA i.e. Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement. This was touched upon. The issue is that you are aware that in India, we are undertaking a review of our BIPA arrangements in order to ensure that certain lacuna that we had experienced in the arrangements in a generic sense, not with Canada but in the generic sense need to be addressed, we are working on that and the new government hopes to be ready with a template. Canada on the other hand is extremely keen to have a BIPA with us. It is a matter of priority for them. So they will have to wait till we finish and this is a work in progress and we have updated them on where we have come and we expect as I said in the not too distant future this template is likely to be ready and available. That said, the other part is a free trade agreement with Canada. Now, Canada Foreign Minister John Baird mentioned that it was a priority which was mentioned in the manifesto of his party that a free trade agreement with India or a trade agreement with India should be agreed upon and this is therefore a very matter of high priority for them. I understand the Canadian Trade Minister is here, Mr. Ed Fast, tomorrow is meeting with our Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman and they will address these issues and our respective approaches to that there.
Question: Sir ye ab London jaa rahi hain Pravasi Bharatiya ke liye, kya wahan par kuch ground level preparation is sandarbh mein bhi hoga jaisa ki jaankari aa rahi hai ki Prime Minister 30 January ke aas paas UK jayenge aur wahan Gandhi ji ke statue ko inaugurate karenge?
Official Spokesperson:Ye jaankari jisne likha hai aap unse poochhiye. Mujhe to aisi koi jaankari nahi hai. Ye bas aap koi kuch likh dete hain, koi kuch likh dete hain, aap inko serious mat lijiye. Ye to bas likhne ki aur hawa banana ki baat hai. Jab taiyar hoga next year ka program, hum apke saath share karenge. Is saal to abhi next year ki baat hi nahi hui. Abhi pradhan mantriji ke kai visits taiyar ho rahe hain. Aap unke baare mein sochiye. Ye to agle saal ki baat, ye to bas aise hi hai.
Question: Apne kaha unki kai visits taiyar ho rahi hain, uspe sochiye to sir kahan kahan ke liye soche, kahan kahan wo jaa rahe hain sir?
Official Spokesperson: Theek hai, apko bata dete hain. Maine pehle bhi bataya tha lekin dobara keh deta hoon. Agle mahine 3 summits hongi, ye hai Naypyidaw mein jo hai East Asia Summit. Iske baad ek hogi G20 Summit jaise maine abhi bataya tha ki shayad pradhan mantri ji Canada ke Prime Minister se wahan par milenge aur teesri hai SAARC Summit jiska apko pata hai humne kai din pehle keh chuke hain wo November mein hogi. To ye 3 bade bade summits hain November mein. Iske alawa aur bhi kai visits hongi jo incoming visits hain uske baare mein hum batayenge. Agar ek hi din mein main sab bata doon, to fir kal kaun aayega mere liye?
Question: Was this issue of food security cooperation discussed and if it was, what kind of cooperation India Canada want to have in this area?
Official Spokesperson:You see, Canada is an important agricultural producer. We import significant share of our lentils from Canada, also potash which is required in agriculture etc. However, these were not addressed at great length but we look to Canada in terms of cooperating in areas relating to agriculture and food security because Canada is a very important international player in this area.
Question: Sartaj Aziz ji ne pichhle hafte UN ko chitthi likhi thi aur Kashmir maamle pe dakhal dene ki maang ki thi UN se. UN ki taraf se uska koi jawab nahi diya gaya hai. Iska arth ye nikala jaa raha hai ki Bharat ki sthiti ko reaffirm karta hai. Apka kya kehna hai?
Official Spokesperson: Agar aap mujhe agya dein to main isko angrezi mein jawab doon kyonki ismein kuch pecheedgiyan hoti hain jo meri Hindi jaise aap jaante hain tooti footi si hai. Main dakshin Bharat se aaya hoon, to Hindustani mein vartalap kar sakta hoon lekin ye jo bahut hi aham mudde hain, in par mein apko samjha nahi sakta. To agar aap agya dein to main angrezi mein iska jawab doon?
Official Spokesperson: Thank you. India’s position on this matter is very clear. The only framework in which all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan can be resolved and peaceful and cooperative ties can be built between the two countries is the one that both countries have agreed to, that is the framework agreed under the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. Now I have repeatedly said from this podium and I will repeat, we have already stated that we are willing for a serious dialogue in this framework. This dialogue will cover all outstanding issues and if you would like to know, this includes the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. It seems from what Pakistan is doing, it is not interested in that sort of a dialogue. The sending of a letter to the United Nations Secretary General by Pakistan is a well-known tactic. It has not worked earlier, it will not work now. The road to a peaceful and cooperative relationship between India and Pakistan runs from Islamabad via Lahore to New Delhi. If you divert that road to New York or elsewhere, it will not serve any purpose because there is no place for third parties in India-Pakistan relations. Also, India will not accept violence on the border or the Line of Control or continued terrorism against our citizens. It is up to Pakistan to deescalate the situation and we feel that Pakistan must take immediate steps to restore peace and tranquility along the international border and the LOC in J&K and end its sponsorship of terrorism against us. Our security forces have been and will continue to respond appropriately to any attempts by Pakistan to undermine peace and tranquility along the international boundary and the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir. I hope I have made it very clear.
Question: Sir you just said that Pakistan writing letter to the UN, the tactics are well-known. Do you think that Pakistan is trying to play the victim card by writing a letter and trying to buy time?
Official Spokesperson: Ma’am I said if Pakistan is interested in a serious dialogue, then the road is from Islamabad to Lahore and from Lahore to New Delhi. Any diversion is a diversionary tactic.
Question: Mr. Akbar, you just now said, twice you said that you will start talking to Pakistan if certain conditions are met, that is what you imply and that is what I understood.
Official Spokesperson: That is what you have understood.
Question: Okay fine. Now if you have said something different, you can correct me. Now my point is N number of times you have stopped talking to Pakistan, then you have resumed talking to Pakistan, then again you have stopped talking to Pakistan, when will this end, when will you proceed any further and what will you do after this?
Official Spokesperson: If we knew the solution to India-Pakistan problems, I would be a soothsayer, not an ordinary official spokesperson.
Question: Sir, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jaya has been convicted and sentence for her allegations right now. So at this point of time, will the MEA make sure that the issues relating to Tamil Nadu fishermen and issues related to the Sri Lankan Tamil, will the government take immediate action towards all these things to solve because she has been the runner who brings to the attention of Prime Minister (Inaudible), this question is being asked for the reasons, just need a clarification towards this issue because there are lots of fishermen units are asking this question, thank you?
Official Spokesperson: Let me assure through you the fishermen units that are asking you this question that the central government or the Government of India is always cognizant of the humanitarian dimensions of the problem that our fishermen face when they go out for fishing and we understand the problems of Indian fishermen who are based in Tamil Nadu and the problems that they face in Sri Lankan waters. These are not based because they are from a state or another state. After all when India speaks on international affairs, we speak with one voice.
Question: Sir Mukesh Kaushik from UNI. Ms. Malala Yousafzai has invited India and Pakistan leaders to accompany her to Nobel Prize ceremony. My question is does her proposal needs to be accepted by India in principle right now and in practical in later date?
Official Spokesperson:Apne jo sawal poochha tha, ye rashtrapati ji ko bhi poochha gaya tha aur jo sawal ka jawab wo nahi de sake, main kaun hota hoon usko dene ke liye.
Question: Aaj apki taraf se jo baat kahi gai hai Pakistan ko le kar ke, ye baat pehle bhi kahi gai hai aur main jaanna chahta hoon ki uska kya response kuch aaya hai Pakistan ki aur se?
Official Spokesperson:Maine apko jab jawab diya, maine kaha it seems that Pakistan is not interested. So agar jawab aata to hum apko kehte. Aap log thoda sa dhyan se suniye jo main keh raha hoon. Hum bhi kuch soch samajh kar kehte hain.
Question: Sir the charges against Devyani Khobragade still stand. She has been indicted twice. Is the MEA still in touch with the US on the issue and is there a solution?
Official Spokesperson: You are aware that the issue that confronts us is not merely one that executives or the administrative authorities can decide. It is an issue which has legal and judicial dimensions and we have indicated that we will work through these. These are issues which take time and patience is required. If your question is whether the Government of India is working on this, my answer is yes, it is working on it.
Question: What is the Ministry’s response to Devyani Khobragade’s interview that she has given without MEA’s clearances?
Official Spokesperson: I am the spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. I do not comment on the internal affairs of the ministry. Ordinarily, I would answer it. However, you presumed a lot of things in your question. So therefore, that is my answer to you.
Question: Sir Gaza reconstruction ke liye government ne kya kuch kiya hai?
Official Spokesperson: You are aware that there was an international conference held in Cairo which was hosted by the Government of Egypt and the Government of Norway. It attracted participation from 75 countries and international organizations. India was one of those countries. The Palestinian authority submitted a plan for reconstruction. That plan for reconstruction, they assessed it to be approximately totaling US$4 billion. The commitments made at that conference for this reconstruction plan totaled $5.4 billion. The Indian commitment is $4 million. This commitment is for specific humanitarian and development projects. Let me give you some examples. There is an IBSA project that India is working with Brazil and South Africa on a hospital in Gaza. Also, India is providing food and humanitarian relief through the UNRA. The UNRA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine and they operate in Gaza. So we will work through them, we will work with our IBSA partners and we will work if necessary independently working with our Palestinian interlocutors and how best within the limited capabilities that we have to try and help in a humanitarian effort.
Question: Sir, did Devyani Khobragade speak to the media with MEA clearance?
Official Spokesperson:Let me tell you once and for all. I never respond on intra-ministerial or inter-ministerial matters. However, I will answer this once and we close this issue because I am not going into the depths of this question of what is purely an intra-ministerial affair. Devyani Khobragade is a officer of the Ministry of External Affairs. Number two, she has made it clear that these were her personal views. Now if your question is whether she has sought permission and been granted it, my answer to that is no on both counts. I will further not discuss this because this is as I told you it is a matter of an internal nature, it has nothing to do with an external affairs issues at all.
Question: Excuse me but I have a specific question on South Korea. I am (Inaudible) from Japan. Our correspondent was indicted recently by South Korean prosecutors on church. He (Inaudible) South Korean President by his article on website. Moreover, he wrote (Inaudible) South Korea and this order has been extended several times and some journalist associations as well as United States expressed a concern on that. India is biggest democracy and I believe it is a leading country to guarantee the freedom of speech. So if possible, I would like to seek your comment on this issue.
Official Spokesperson:Thank you very much and I appreciate your effort to think that I am a sage who will pronounce everything from this stage. That said, I think each country’s approach to foreign policy is different. There are those who use the megaphone to announce things. There are others who work differently. As far as India is concerned, we do not use megaphones neither in the case that you are referring to or in other cases. Our credentials need not be bolstered or embellished by what we pronounce or do not pronounce outside India. Our credentials of a democracy stand on their own. We do not need any certification from others on what is a vibrant, robust and living democracy.
Question: Sir, we have been in any discussions within the government or with Italy on resolving the marines issue?
Official Spokesperson: I think you took away maria’s question. She is waiting so long. Anyway is this the same question? I am not aware. First of all, let us go one by one. I never answer on intra-ministerial things. I just mentioned this before and on that issue also, I will not answer because if there are any issues of an intra-ministerial nature which have not been finalized, I do not think that we will share it in the public domain. Now if your question is that are there negotiations between Italy and us on this, the answer is as of now, no.
Question: With (Inaudible) of the ISIS, three days ago in Kashmir, flags of the IS was found, so is the government monitoring this?
Official Spokesperson:I am not the Home Ministry Spokesperson. This is a matter for those who are responsible for the security and safety of Indians in India to respond to and I am certain given that it has received attention from so many quarters, those who are responsible for these, will take action, I would suggest that you direct that question to them.
Question: A Bangladeshi cabinet minister who has been sacked this weekend over alleged blasphemous comments has apparently taken refuge in Kolkata and he has made it clear that he wants to live in India till he is able to return to Bangladesh. My question is are you aware of this development and if yes, what is your stand on that?
Official Spokesperson: Just for your information, we do not have a refugee law. So I do not know what you are talking of.
Question: Regarding the summit ASEM in Milano, do you know if Mr. VK Singh is meeting also some authorities by (Inaudible)?
Official Spokesperson:I do not have that information of whether he will meet any Italian dignitaries but it is normal. India and Italy have good relations and it is normal for the host to meet delegations which come from outside. I do not know the specifics. I will find it out for you and certainly let you know by the end of the day but what is normal will be done.
Question: Sir, what is the last you have heard on the plight of the construction workers who remain in captivity in Iraq?
Official Spokesperson: The same that I have told you. Thank you very much, we end this interaction.