Briefing on Pres. Bush with PM Singh of India
Press Briefing on the President's Meeting with Prime Minister Singh of India
R. Nicholas Burns, Under
Secretary for Political Affairs; Mike Green, Senior
Director for Asian Affairs at the NSC
James S. Brady Briefing Room
July 18, 2005
12:00 P.M. EDT
MR. JONES: Good afternoon, everybody. This afternoon we have with us Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Nick Burns, and Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, Mr. Mike Green. Both are here to discuss the meetings today surrounding the visit of Prime Minister Singh. Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, happy to be with you. I'll just say a few words about what the President and Prime Minister were able to achieve, then be happy to take your questions.
First, this is, for the United States, one of the most important visits of the year because the President and Prime Minister were able to agree on a new global partnership between India and the United States. We consider India to be one of our most important partners worldwide. We are the world's oldest and largest democracies. And the two leaders, in the conversation in the Oval Office -- which began with a one-on-one meeting that lasted about 15 minutes then extended into a meeting with both delegations -- the two leaders focused on that partnership and its constituent parts. And I'll be happy to take you through the highlights of that.
But what we've done is to develop with the Indian government and this administration a broad, global partnership of the likes that we've not seen with India since India's founding in 1947. This has consequences for American interests in South Asia, but also has larger consequences for what we are trying to do globally, in terms of promoting democracy, fighting terrorism, fighting HIV/AIDS -- and all of those issues were discussed by the two leaders.
We will be issuing a joint statement of the two leaders in a little while, once we're able to just finish mopping up the text. That joint statement will say that the two leaders will embark on a democracy project together, and specifically will both be contributing to the United Nations fund for democracy, which is a fund intended to promote democracy in countries and regions where it currently does not exist. That was a suggestion President Bush made to the U.N. General Assembly when he last spoke there.
They are also going to be announcing a new project, U.S.-India, on HIV/AIDS. They will be announcing the fact that we have completed the next steps in strategic partnership. In January 2004, President Bush and the former Indian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Vajpayee, initiated this, and this was the major architecture for the new relationship in a variety of fields between the two countries. And we're happy to say that has been completed today.
The President and Prime Minister just launched the CEO Forum between executives from both countries. That was over in the White House, itself. Some of you, I think, were there. We're going back to where we were in the 1950s, in the first decade of U.S.-Indian relations, in promoting further contacts and programs between our agricultural universities with a U.S.-Indian knowledge initiative on agriculture that would focus on teaching, research, and commercial activities.
I mentioned before the broad nature of this relationship, and I think the Prime Minister mentioned in the press conference the fact that we have an agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation. We'll be getting into that later. That's a very important part of this dialogue.
In terms of the rest of the relationship, you saw after the tsunami disaster six months ago, the United States and India cooperated together to bring relief to the countries of South and East Asia, and we do have an agreement on disaster relief that we'll be announcing; a science and technology framework agreement; a space exploration and satellite navigation and launch and commercial space agreement -- all of this a dramatic departure from where we were just several years ago. And there was also a good deal of discussion, and has been for many weeks, and some discussion today about the fact that India is a candidate for the United Nations Security Council. The view of the United States is that India has a perfect right to apply for membership. The United States, at this point, is only supporting Japan.
We're also hopeful that there won't -- will not be a vote to enlarge the Security Council until there's been broader reform at the United Nations, a point we've made to both the Indian government and others frequently over the past couple of weeks. But, obviously, we also believe that institutions like the United Nations need to take account of the fact India is a rising power, a rising democratic power in the world, and I think when you see the joint statement, you will see that it says that international institutions must reflect on the changes in the global scenario that have taken place since 1945. Certainly President Bush has made it clear that international institutions will have to go further to adapt to reflect India's central and growing role in the world. So that is a very brief review of the joint statement that you will get.
In the Oval Office meeting, the two leaders focused on our bilateral cooperation, the initiatives that I just mentioned. There was a discussion of our civil nuclear energy cooperation, a discussion of India's relations with Pakistan. There was also discussion about the wider region and South Asia. And they agreed that on the question -- on the case of Nepal, it's going to be critical for the King of Nepal to restore civil liberties. And both of them hoped that that would happen as soon as possible.
There was a discussion about events in Burma, and certainly President Bush made clear our view, that Aung San Suu Kyi is a heroine, that she is someone who needs to be supported and listened to. And I think all of you know the well-known policy of the United States towards Burma. Discussion of the situation in Bangladesh, and also a discussion of what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. So a wide-ranging discussion on foreign policy issues, in addition to the economic, scientific and other cooperative issues that are discussed in the bilateral arrangement.
So with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: You alluded to this just a minute ago, but was there any progress -- can you tell us if there was any progress made on India's request for nuclear power materials?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have had, over the last six or seven weeks, a series of discussions with the Indian government, culminating in discussions over the weekend, and again this morning here at the White House, about what we might be able to do to cooperate in the field of civil nuclear energy power. And I believe we'll have something further to say when we issue our joint statement. And when we do issue that joint statement, we'd be happy to put a briefer in front of you to go through that.
QUESTION: What did the President tell the Prime Minister about their request for a U.N. Security Council membership?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the President reaffirmed the fact, and Secretary Rice also did this when she met with the Indian Foreign Minister last night, that on the one hand, the United States does understand, and we embrace the fact that India is now a global power, that institutions like the United Nations cannot be -- need to modernize and need to change, and that they need to adapt to new realities. So in that sense, it is understandable to us why India would want to put itself forward to membership.
But both the President today and the Secretary last evening made it clear that at the current time, the United States actually is hopeful that there will not be a vote in the coming weeks to enlarge the Security Council because we think that there have to be reforms made to strengthen the institution itself: the creation of a human rights council, of a peace-building institution, of a convention on terrorism. And, particularly, the reforms need to be made to strengthen and reinforce the budget, administrative and functions in New York itself. Once those reforms are made, then of course we'd be willing to look at the question of U.N. Security Council expansion. But at this point, we're hoping there won't be a vote. And we say that very respectfully to all the countries who wish there to be a vote.
But I think when you see the joint statement, what will be impressive about it and might leap out at you is the fact that we believe that the United Nations needs to look more like 2005, than 1945. We fully understand the fact that India has put itself forward for membership. And we do believe that the international institutions need to adapt themselves to that. But our position at the U.N. is we don't want a vote at the current time on that particular question for the reasons that I cited.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, if there's a vote and India -- like you said -- has the right to apply and they apply for membership, you think then the U.S. will veto it?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I don't want to get ahead to a hypothetical question. I learned when I was State Department spokesman never to answer a hypothetical question.
QUESTION: Follow-up on the civil nuclear power issue. Any other details you can tell us would be helpful. But, also, does the U.S. have to in any way relax any rules regarding proliferation in order to go forward? Because that's been the big stumbling block in the past.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Actually, this is the issue -- this is an issue that required a lot of our attention over the last couple of days, this issue of civil nuclear energy cooperation. And we're just now going to be looking at some language that we'll be issuing as part of the joint statement, so I'd actually rather wait until that joint statement is issued, and then would be happy to come back and answer your questions.
QUESTION: But on the rules change --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, I don't want to get into the details until we have -- we've nailed everything down and we have something to announce to you.
QUESTION: That's today, right?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's today, yes.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion of trying to get India to become more of a participant in efforts to reduce global warming?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't -- in the meeting in which --
MR. GREEN: Well, there was -- I mean, one of the interests that we have in civil nuclear cooperation with India is precisely that.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Take the mic --
MR. GREEN: One of the interests we have in civil nuclear cooperation with India is precisely the issue you just alluded to, and that's how to fight global warming in a way that makes good technological and economic sense. When you look at demand in India, likely growth trajectories for their economy, for China and elsewhere, it's an area where cooperation on civil nuclear makes some sense, and that's why it was a key focus here.
QUESTION: Did the President raise investment barriers, red-tape corruption issues that businesses in the U.S. complain about with regard to India? And could you elaborate a little bit more about what role the CEO Forum is going to play?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The President and Prime Minister had a general discussion about commercial opportunities, trade and investment between the two countries. And that discussion was of a positive nature. The fact is that the United States is now the largest investor in India. The other fact is, of course, that Indian Americans have been a real engine for growth of small businesses and the high-tech industry in the United States. And the President acknowledged that.
It's also true that there are more foreign Indian students in the United States than any other country. So the commercial relations between the two countries have expanded dramatically. We expect that to continue. We expect that to branch into new fields. And I think it's one of -- when you see the joint statement, you'll see that the first order of business is to strengthen the commercial and economic relationship further.
So there wasn't any kind of pointed difference between them. In fact, they agreed on what needs to be done to strengthen that cooperation.
QUESTION: In the conversation on Iraqand Afghanistan, did the President ask for, or did the Prime Minister offer, any more involvement on the part of India in any way?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It wasn't that type of conversation. The President offered his views as to our policy in Iraq, as to the future of our involvement there, and they had a general discussion about the situation in Afghanistan. But there were no requests made by the United States.
I would just say that part of this global partnership that is being announced today -- and I think you'll see when the joint statement is issued just how broad this is. We've never had a relationship in nearly 60 years with India like the one we have now established. But one of the things that we're now doing much more frequently with the Indians is having conversations about how we can cooperate together on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, and more broadly define how we can operate together globally. And that's why the two leaders are announcing today the democracy initiative and the HIV -- the global HIV/AIDS initiative.
I think it's probably one of the most significant changes in our relationship. You remember during all the history of the Cold War, India and the United States were in different camps: India was non-aligned; the United States was very much aligned under the NATO Alliance. And we didn't really have a connection to cooperate on foreign policy and strategic issues. That has changed. That change began to occur in the 1990s, but it's really reached its crescendo now, and we consider India to be one of our most important partners. So that increasingly takes up a lot of time -- or a lot of the agenda, when we meet together.
QUESTION: Nick, what's the hold-up on the civil nuclear power information? The President announced in his press conference and you're not prepared to talk about details?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Not a substantive hold-up. What's happening is that this was one of the more complex issues that we had to discuss with the Indians over the last couple of days. And we literally have just made some last-minute changes to the text that you will see when we were upstairs. And so we're simply trying to make sure that when we type it up, it's conformed, and we'll get it out to you.
QUESTION: You mentioned the list of countries that the President and the Prime Minister talked about, you didn't mention Pakistan.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I thought I mentioned Pakistan.
QUESTION: You did mention Pakistan?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm sorry. Yes, I'll be happy to mention it again.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There was a good discussion about relations between Pakistan and India. The President also described the very strong relations that the United States has with Pakistan, and described that in a little bit of detail. And, of course, you heard the President answer the question that was put to him.
QUESTION: Just one more.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: On when discussion came on the U.N. Security Council membership, what was the reaction, or how the Prime Minister or the Indian delegation reacted?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we've been -- the Indian government has known our position on the Security Council now for a good month: the fact that we wanted to avoid a vote because we think that a vote would be divisive at this time, and that we also believe that the other reforms need to be considered before a vote on Security Council expansion can be taken. This was not a surprise. It was -- our position was simply reaffirmed today, and I don't believe there was any degree of disappointment because we've talked about this so frequently, including in the trip that I made to Delhi where we had full discussions on this.
QUESTION: Is there something you are not telling us that you have told India and U.S. already, that both leaders know already? You are saying that time is not right at this time?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm telling you everything. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, no --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm being completely open. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What I'm saying is really that there should not be a vote now. And what I'm saying is have you told the Indian leaders something else, that wait now, and then we'll vote with India?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No. No, what I've told you today reflects the totality of what our policy is. I think Secretary Rice has spoken frequently about this. And what she's said is that we do support the idea of Security Council enlargement. We want the Security Council to look like 2005, not 1945. The G4 countries, the four countries that are putting themselves forward for permanent membership on the Security Council are all friends of ours -- Japan and Germany and Brazil and India. And so we've gone to each of them to say that our reluctance to have a vote in the U.N. this week or next week or the following week is not -- has no bearing on our bilateral relationship, but it has a lot of bearing on how the United States views the Security Council: it's a relatively effective institution.
We are in favor of a more modest expansion of both the permanent members and the nonpermanent members, because as a permanent member with a veto, we want the Security Council to be effective in the future. And we're concerned that a dramatic expansion in the number of countries on the Council might dilute the effectiveness of the Council, itself. So that's our position.
We also believe, if you look at the Gingrich-Mitchell report in the United States, look at the bills passed in the House of Representatives, Chairman Hyde led in the House that now Senator Lugar and Senator Coleman are sponsoring in the Senate, there's a lot of concern in our Congress -- and we listen to our Congress -- that the United Nations needs to be strengthened at its core in New York in terms of budget, administration, and the functioning of the Secretariat, as well as in some of the specialized councils. We're right in the middle in New York of debating those changes. We'd rather see those changes agreed upon first in New York, and then the Security Council debate to take place following that.
MR. JONES: Last question.
QUESTION: Could you just elaborate a little bit more about what the two leaders told the CEO Forum and what this forum is designed to do?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think Mike will do that. Let me just say a last word, I think it's apparent to all of us in the U.S. delegation -- has been today and has been for many, many months -- that one of the great strategic changes underway as to how the United States conducts itself in the world is this development of a new global partnership with India. And today is the culmination of the first phase of that. Of course, we look forward to the President's visit to India to continue this discussion.
But we consider what had happened here today in issuing this joint statement and agreeing to all these different initiatives as a major and dramatic departure for our country, and we think our relationship with India is as good -- it's certainly as good now as it's ever been since 1947. So in that sense, we're very pleased about the developments today.
MR. GREEN: Briefly on the CEO Forum. We have had for some years now an economic dialogue with the government of India. That dialogue is now run our side by Al Hubbard, who was the President's National Economic Advisor, and on the Indian side, by Montek Ahluwalia of the Planning Board. And they agreed that as part of our revitalized dialogue, we ought to set up a forum where we can draw on the expertise of leading CEOs, executives from both Indian and U.S. industry, to get recommendations for the government on how we can take steps to remove the obstacles to our economic relationship, to expand trade and investment, to work together on global economic issues, and also to put the word out to CEOs in both countries about all of the opportunities that India represents.
And they had their inaugural meeting today, the President and the Prime Minister met with them. And it's a forum that we have used in the past in another bilateral relationship, for example with Japan. Several years ago we set up a business-government roundtable, and we found in that case that it was a very effective way to get independent voices into the government dialogue on how to strengthen economic cooperation, increase opportunities for business, and put out the good word about those opportunities. And we're off to a very good start with this forum. They'll meet regularly, and make reports to the two leaders.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:20 P.M. EDT
Released on July 18, 2005