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Briefing on Obama's Recent Trip to India

Foreign Press Center Briefing on Obama's Recent Trip to India

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2010 AT 2:45 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah and Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake. They are here to provide a readout of President Obama's trip to Asia, and they will start out with opening comments and then take your questions.

ASSITANT SECRETRY BLAKE: Thanks very much, Doris. It's great to be back here at the Foreign Press Center. I'm really delighted to be joined by my friend and colleague, AID Administrator Raj Shah. Let me just open with kind of a broad-brush review of some of the highlights of the President's trip, and then Raj will talk a little bit about some of the development achievements.

Raj and I were very fortunate to participate in the President's really historic three-day visit to India, the President's longest trip in a foreign country since taking office. President Obama and Prime Minister Singh, I think, took substantive and significant steps to expand and strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership. The two leaders affirmed that the U.S.-India relationship is indeed an indispensable partnership for the 21st century.

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To make that a reality, the two leaders resolved to intensify cooperation between the United States and India, to promote a secure and stable world, to advance technology sharing and innovation, expand mutual prosperity and global economic growth, and exercise global leadership in support of economic development, open government, and democratic values.

The trip produced a number of critical accomplishments that, amidst the Security Council endorsement and the First Lady's bhangra dancing, some of the foreign press may have missed. So I thought I would just take a few minutes to briefly highlight some of those accomplishments and then let Administrator Shah talk more about the development-oriented achievements, which are many. And then we'd be glad to take some questions.

The big headline maker was, of course, the President's endorsement in his parliament speech of a reformed United Nations that includes India as a permanent member. The two leaders also agreed that the U.S. and Indian delegations in New York should intensify engagement as India joins the UN Security Council in January for a two-year term.

To illustrate our global partnership on nonproliferation, the United States and India decided to take mutual steps to expand U.S.-India cooperation in civil space, defense, and other high-technology sectors. First, the U.S. removed the remaining Indian space and defense entities from the U.S. entity list. Second, the United States agreed to support India's full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes - the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement - and to do so in a phased manner as India takes steps towards full adoption of the regime core requirements. Third, we signed a memorandum of understanding that provides a general framework for cooperation in connection with India's Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership, which India announced during the 2010 Global Nuclear Security Summit here in Washington, D.C. We intend to give priority to discussion of best practices on the s
ecurity of nuclear material and facilities, on development of international nuclear security training curricula and programs, and joint outreach on nuclear security issues to our respective nuclear industries.

Another significant outcome in the nuclear area was that both sides completed the government pieces of the civil nuclear deal, opening the way for U.S. companies to compete to supply billions of dollars worth of civil nuclear reactors for India's growing energy market. Prime Minister Singh committed India to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation within the coming year and to ensure a level playing field for U.S. companies. U.S. firms have already begun negotiations with their Indian counterparts.

Also on the energy front, we signed a number of agreements and arrangements linked with our Partnership to Advance Clean Energy. Several milestones that I would highlight are U.S.-Indian cooperation on developing alternative fuel sources, such as shale gas, and the establishment of a joint clean energy research center.

On the economic side, the visit helped to highlight the growing and balanced trade and investment ties between our two countries. Commercial deals were announced exceeding $14.9 billion in total value, with $9.5 billion in U.S. export content supporting an estimated 53,000 U.S. jobs.

On the foreign policy side, an important focus was Pakistan. The President welcomed dialogue between India and Pakistan, and highlighted our shared interest in reducing tensions between India and Pakistan and in a stable and more prosperous Pakistan. President Obama praised Prime Minister Singh's efforts to reduce tensions, stating that he is sincere and relentless in his desire for peace. The joint statement also called for action against the Mumbai perpetrators, as well as for the defeat of all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e Tayyiba. With respect to Afghanistan, the two leaders agreed to pursue joint development projects in agriculture and women's empowerment.

Last, the President and Prime Minister launched a U.S.-India open government dialogue to democratize access to information, support global initiatives in this area, and share our expertise with other interested countries. They also agreed to explore cooperation in strengthening elections organization and management in other interested countries. This is another new and concrete area of global cooperation between the United States and India.

The joint statement and our numerous fact sheets highlight many, many other important steps that were taken. I don't want to take any more time now, but I'd be happy to take questions on any of those. And let me just conclude by saying that Prime Minister Singh and President Obama really took relations between our two countries to a new level and highlighted the growing cooperation between the United States and India at all levels.

Let me now turn to Administrator Shah to talk a little bit about some of the development achievements. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. And I will just build on Assistant Secretary Blake's comments very briefly so that we have an opportunity to have a dialogue. As Bob mentioned, the goal of this trip really was to take this partnership to a new level, to recognize India's emergence as a partner with the United States in so many different areas: commercial ties, security concerns, and in our joint ambition to tackle tough global challenges like hunger and climate change, and the health and education of populations around the world. And to that end, I think the President and the First Lady had the opportunity to visit with Indians from all walks of life. They met underprivileged children in schools. They met with college students and had a very open and honest dialogue about their aspirations and concerns and opportunities. They had the chance, of course, to meet with public and private sector leaders and to expand the nature of many of the partnerships that the assistant
secretary just defined by bringing with us as part of the delegation a number of U.S. business leaders and entrepreneurs as well.

Both the President and the Prime Minister, for more than a year now of dialogue, have committed to expanding our partnerships in agriculture in particular. And President Obama and Prime Minister Singh announced on this trip a major new partnership geared at agricultural development, which was titled A Partnership for an Evergreen Revolution. And the United States has a very rich history working with India to improve its agriculture and food security. In fact, in the 1960s and '70s, U.S. investment in technical partnership led to the creation of an agricultural university system in India and the introduction of both crops and fertilizers that helped a country that was - where tens of millions of people, probably hundreds of millions of people, were facing starvation become a net exporter of food, and significantly improve its own food security.

The President had a chance to launch a modern version of that with the Prime Minister. He visited with technology entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs and leaders in the agriculture field in India, together with myself and Secretary Tom Vilsack from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There was an Ag Expo. He had the chance to walk through and visit with people creating really unique solutions for a rural India, whether it was technology-enabled extension services, people who were creating farmer-to-farmer YouTube systems that would allow farmers to tape messages and then have their neighbors essentially - or neighboring villages hear what they were doing to deal with drought or changing climate conditions or whatever the challenge of the time was.

He had the chance to meet with university leaders in India that are partnering between Punjab Agricultural University and United States agricultural universities to expand those partnerships, and really had the opportunity to launch a very specific program that will focus on agricultural - joint agricultural research, joint investments in agricultural extension, and efforts to reach some of the poorest of the poor in the rural parts of India, and marketing efforts so that farmers can get crops to market in a more effective way. And this was really one part of an agenda to reach out to the 90 million farm households and more than 600 million rural Indians that, of course, have not experienced the same economic benefits of the last decade of tremendous growth in India.

The President and the prime minister, also as part of this effort, launched a joint aspiration to bring some of the unique technological and organizational solutions in India to places like Africa, as part of President Obama's Feed the Future food security initiative. And so I'm happy to speak more about that, but I thought that component of it was really reflective of a basic theme of this visit, that in India as an emerging - as a global power that has emerged, to use the President's terms, has responsibilities and opportunities to tackle tough global problems around the world, and this was just one example of coming together to do that.

I'd also just highlight that the President had the chance to visit with people who were bringing technology to open government in India, had the chance to see and communicate directly with farmers in a rural village via a system called e-Panchayat that allows people to demand more of their government. This, of course, is consistent with the President's theme overall on transparency in government effectiveness and accountability to people, and we look forward to continued partnerships with India in that space.

So I'll just conclude with the short anecdote that the opportunity to sit and listen to this President's speech to parliament there was really a unique moment when I think that speech really captured the full breadth and nature of our shared histories and our shared aspirations going forward. And while that served as the venue to announce some of these development-oriented efforts, it's really the broader framework, I think, is the message that's important, that this is now a partnership with two countries standing together as peers capable of addressing the challenges that the world faces these days. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Just a reminder to please state your name and wait for the microphone on either side of the room. And we'll start in the front here with Aziz.

QUESTION: Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad and Rediff.com. I've got a question for Raj and also one for Ambassador Blake. Raj, like you said, the President did say that India is not an emerging power but has emerged. And with all the compulsions that USAID has in terms of Haiti, et cetera, and the fact that there has been some campaign that India, being a donor country, should no longer get mostly World Bank/IDA aid, what are going to be sort of the agenda of USAID in India in terms of the compulsions and the budget restrictions that you all have in terms of the work you will do in India?

And for Ambassador Blake, while, of course, now that the endorsement has been made, you will have to wait for UN - expansion of UN reform for that to take place, and the fact that the President is now going to be faced with a lot of domestic compulsions* and probably won't have the bully pulpit that he wants to use in terms of U.S.-India relations necessarily, in terms of the nonproliferation regimes, how is the bureaucracy going to act towards including India in those nonproliferation regimes?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: So, Aziz, let me just address that first question first. I'd offer two answers. One is, I think, consistent with what we did on this trip, our development relationship has already evolved and will continue to evolve tremendously from a traditional partnership where a donor provides resources and technical expertise to really a peer-to-peer partnership where we explore real technical cooperations and look for those opportunities where Indian innovators and scientists and entrepreneurs can create solutions that apply all around the world.

One great example is we had the chance as part of the Ag Expo to see micro-irrigation systems that were solar powered, where the solar panel came from a manufacturer in Atlanta. The rest of the system was entirely PVC piping based - very, very, very low cost applications so that would have broad applicability through rural India. And now we're working with those partners to take those systems to Africa as well, where food security remains a tremendous concern, and this could be part of the problem - the big part of the solution. So the first thing is this shift to real technical cooperation and instead of thinking of it as a traditional development partnership, looking at how we can work together to solve global problems.

And the second one is that we really are working in greater partnership with the Indian Government, so they have asked us to focus in certain parts of the country and on certain issues like certain diseases in certain states, and so we're reshaping our program to align against that request.

ASSISTANT SECRETRAY BLAKE: Aziz, thanks. With respect to your question about the role of the bureaucracy in nonproliferation, I think that I can speak for the bureaucracy in saying that we, of course, very much support the President's actions that he took that I outlined, both on removing ISRO and DRDO from the entities list, but also the broader efforts to bring India more closely into the major nonproliferation regimes.

As you know, one of the criticisms in the past of this has been that the United States sometimes regarded India more as a target than a partner in nonproliferation, and I think that the steps the President announced in the course of this visit show definitively that we now see India as a partner in the global nonproliferation space, not only in terms of the actions that I just talked about, but also in terms of our growing efforts in the nuclear area. The Prime Minister and the President announced this Center for a Nuclear Energy Partnership that will be built by India. We see that as a very important area for cooperation, and we look forward to working in new areas, things like nuclear smuggling. So I think that there's really a very good basis to move forward on this. And India can play such an important role in strengthening the overall nonproliferation regime.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let's go right here in the middle and then we'll go here.

QUESTION: Hi, Daniel Ryntjes with Feature Story News. I'm reporting for Channel News Asia today. I just wanted to ask about the UN Security Council. Obviously, it's a very complex issue going forward and there's lots of ifs and buts. But can you clarify, is the U.S. support at this stage unconditional? There wasn't an explicit U.S. statement about this in the joint statement, so I just wanted to get some more clarification on that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, actually, there was a fairly explicit - if you read the joint statement closely, there is something, because the joint - one of the reasons the joint statement wasn't issued until later was to make sure that we could reflect what the President said in parliament.

But just to reiterate, the United States committed to continued engagement on Security Council reform. I think the President and others have made it clear that this is going to be a long and complicated process and that we're committed to a modest expansion both of permanent and non-permanent seats. So the only real change that we announced in India was our support for India's permanent seat for India in a permanent - as part of a reformed UN Security Council. But we've always been clear that this is going to be a long-term and very complicated process.

QUESTION: Is there any conditionality -

MODERATOR: Wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Sorry. The question is focusing on whether, in the future, there might be conditionality to U.S. support for a UN Security Council seat.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, there's not conditionality. But the President did make clear that with this new responsibility also comes the burden of responsibility to take on some of the more challenging aspects of managing the international system. And that includes difficult issues such as Burma and Iran and so forth. And so I think you heard the President talk about Burma in his statement to parliament, and you heard - you saw the references in the joint statement to the importance of Iran.

MODERATOR: Right here.

QUESTION: Welcome back. This is Tejinder Singh from TV Today Network, that is India Today Group. Following on the President's promises, I have just two questions, simple ones. One is about the UNSC seat. Where the U.S. is heading today? Because in New York, in the UN circles, they say the U.S. is sluggish in pushing the reforms. So then in that case, it will become an empty promise. So where are we heading to push those reforms?

And the second question is, you also mentioned about that Pakistan has been told about Mumbai perpetrator. What, where, when we can expect some real action, please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me take the second question first about Pakistan, which was I think the President, over the course of his three days, talked at great length about the importance of Pakistan, about the shared interests that the United States and India have in a stable and prosperous Pakistan, but also of the need for Pakistan to take concrete steps to address the terrorism that is emanating from its soil and to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice as quickly as possible. So I don't think I need to say any more than what the President himself said, which was very, very clear.

Sorry, can you repeat your question on the UN Security Council? The United States is being sluggish?

QUESTION: Yes. The UN, if you go to it, they said that the U.S. is sluggish, the day U.S. decides to move, the reforms will move. You know it better than me.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I would go back to what I said earlier, which is that this is a very complex process that is going to have to take place. There are many, many contenders for permanent seats. There's the whole question of the veto. And so we need to have a very detailed and serious conversation with all of our friends who are competing for these seats.

And I would deny that we're being sluggish on anything to do with the UN. This is a very important priority for us. But again, there are many different equities that have to be weighed here, so I would caution against expecting any kind of breakthrough anytime soon.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on the second?

MODERATOR: A quick one.


QUESTION: A quick one. You again repeated that what the President said, but that was all said in India to the Indians. But the action needs to be taken from Pakistan, so what has been told to Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think we've been clear throughout that we have welcomed the steps that Pakistan has taken thus far in, for example, the Swat Valley, in South Waziristan, places like that. But I think the President and the Secretary and others have been very clear that those actions must continue. And for example, there must be progress in places like North Waziristan and there must be progress against the Punjab-based groups such as Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which pose a threat not only to India but to Pakistan itself. I think the President was very clear that Pakistan itself has been the chief victim of international terrorism, and so it's very much in its own interest to crack down on these groups which increasingly are operating as a syndicate and it's very difficult to really distinguish between them. But they're also operating against American interests, not just in our homeland but in places like Afghanistan and in the Mumbai attacks where six A
mericans were killed. So this is a very important priority for all three countries.

MODERATOR: Come right here.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today. The question is, Mr. Shah and for - and also for Mr. Secretary, sir, what was your mission as far as visit to India is concerned? Because many Indians are facing now as far as clean water and health care is not - has not been brought up, and also many other like you said, poverty and hunger. Are we talking about again the second revolution or green revolution like in the '60s that because it's time now when the Indians are asking?

And Mr. Secretary, as far as this presidential visit it concerned, Indians were ready to welcome the President and of course they did with open hearts and minds. My question is that how this visit was different than President Carter visited? He opened the India-U.S. doors, of course, and then President Clinton and President Bush. Now, people are still remembering as far as President Bush and Clinton's visits are concerned. How much more do you think this President has left in India for years to come? How - where do we go from here? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, on the first part of your question, I'll just say that I thought it was very important for both the President and the First Lady, who made a personal commitment to make sure that they were connecting with all aspects of Indian society and India's population, so they reached out to rural communities electronically through the video chat. They visited with schools and underprivileged children and listened to their life stories and concerns. They, through their own example, motivated millions of people who, of course, saw them in those roles. So that was very much an intention of this visit was to really connect with the Indian people broadly and recognize and honor so many different parts of the Indian experience.

In terms of our development partnership, the Partnership for an Evergreen Revolution is a major new step forward in our relationship. And it is intended to be cast in the same way that the previous Partnership for a Green Revolution 30-40 years ago had impacts that reached hundreds of millions of people. We think we will reach tens of millions of farm households with benefits through this partnership, which is a real technical partnership between ourselves and the Government of India. We also think we're going to showcase this new way of working where we bring so much of the innovation that exists in so many different parts of India to other parts of the world that could benefit from having that kind of greater Indian engagement. And so that's why the President and the prime minister both made significant reference to this effort because it really embodies a new way of working together.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: On the question of how is this visit going to be remembered, I think that you have to look at all those visits that you mentioned as part of a continuum. And clearly, President Bush's visit will be remembered mostly because of the civil nuclear deal, which turned one of the most significant irritants in our bilateral relations into an area of cooperation.

But I think now we're entering into a sort of new and more mature phase of our relations, where increasingly we are thinking and acting strategically about how the United States and India could work at the global level. And I think that what this visit will be remembered for is that it will mark, really, the first time that we have really embarked on serious, specific, global strategic cooperation, in areas like open government, as Dr. Shah mentioned, in areas like working together in agriculture, or in women's empowerment, or working together in Africa, working together in Afghanistan. We talked about some of the cooperation that we're doing together to protect the air and the sea and other lines of maritime cooperation and things like that.

So this is - this really is a global strategic partnership now, and we're beginning to put the flesh on that in very concrete ways. And I think the other part of this that people sometimes forget is the very important value of having the two largest democracies in the world, two of the largest economies in the world, market-based economies, and then, even more importantly, our two societies working together. And there's this vast, complex web of our scientists, of our business people, and so many others who are cooperating together in this knowledge-based innovation society that both the United States and India have.

And I think that's what really makes this global strategic partnership unique, and it's something that's going to be sustained over many, many years, and it's a partnership that we have confidence will grow over time because of these shared interests and shared values that we have, and again, the very - the promise of these two. And people will look back, I think, on this visit and will say that this really - that this visit really marked the concrete beginning of this global cooperation.

MODERATOR: We have time for just two quick questions, so we'll go here and then here.

QUESTION: Yung Jian De from China News Service. China is not on President Obama's itinerary, but there are also reports saying that the trip can be used as a - the trip can be used as U.S. presence in Asia and that it will be a kind of balance as China emerges in Asia. So do you have any comment on that?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I don't think you heard anybody say that in the course of the President's three-day visit that we're looking to counterbalance China in any way. On the contrary, the President repeatedly made clear that we want positive, cooperative, and constructive relations with China in the same way that India does and in the same way that all the countries in East Asia want as well.

So I think much - this is much more about how to expand India's role in some of these global institutions and in some of the Asian institutions. And we expressed clearly our support for that. But we do not see that growing role as coming at the expense of China. Indeed, we welcome China's growing role itself. And I think Secretary Clinton, in her trip through Asia last week and the week before, repeatedly made clear that we do not seek to contain China.


QUESTION: Thanks, Ambassador Blake. Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times. Two questions, both on the UNSC. You said endorsement of India's claim to permanent seat comes with responsibility, and the President spoke about Iran and Myanmar. What did - did they do - say anything to these two - what was India's reaction to this?

And the second question is joint statements are not usually the last thing to be done, and you said a joint statement was released late because they're trying to work in the President's speech into the statement. And I'm asking it only because the UNSC endorsement came as a surprise to a lot of people here in D.C., too. And so was it a surprise and was it a last-moment thing that was worked into the statement? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, it wasn't a surprise and it wasn't a last-moment thing. This was something that was very carefully thought out. But it obviously was one of the big news items of the entire visit, so we didn't - we wanted the President's speech before parliament to have an impact, so we didn't want to have it obviously leaked beforehand. So that's why we waited until the end to put that into the joint statement.

But I don't want to suggest in any way that there were difficulties negotiating the joint statement or anything like that. On the contrary, we had very, I think, good relations with our friends in the MEA and in the prime minister's office to move ahead on all aspects of the visit.

What was your first question?

QUESTION: About Iran and Myanmar. What was India's reaction to Iranian -

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I'll let India characterize its own reactions to these things. But I think India does understand the importance of taking greater responsibility for some of these very important global issues, and we look forward to working with India as it takes up its seat in January for its two-year term in the UN.

Be glad to take one more question.

MODERATOR: Oh, he can stay on so we can -


MODERATOR: Narayan had his hand up.

QUESTION: Narayan Lakshman of The Hindu. It's nice to see you back at the FPC.


QUESTION: You spoke about a number of achievements and joint cooperation. But was one of the things that was not achieved - was it the United States had been hoping that India would sign the military interoperability agreement, and how big a blow is that that hasn't materialized, and how do you see that unfolding in the months ahead?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That really wasn't a focus of the visit. As you know, [Defense] Secretary Gates and others have had discussions with their Indian counterparts about that. We'll continue to work on those. But we're not pressuring India. I mean, when India feels the time is right to negotiate and finalize these agreements, that will be fine with us. And we obviously believe that now that organizations like DRDO have come off the list - off the entities list - that there are, in fact, new opportunities to cooperate together in defense sales.

Of course, there's the very important multirole combat aircraft contract that is still going on. And I think already we've seen a tremendous amount of new business between our two countries on the defense side. That will continue. And I think that as those contacts and as those contracts multiply, India will see it as in its own interest to sign these agreements, which, after all, we have with many, many partners around the world. These are not unique to India. And I think that in that way that they will become a bit more demystified and it will be clear that it is in India's interest to do this. But again, we're not pressuring India to do this. They will do this when they feel comfortable, and we're pleased to work with them.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Geeta Goinda with India This Week and Express India. I'd like to follow up on Tejinder's question about the UNSC. You know, when this announcement was made, I was reminded of the time when here in the U.S. Congress another announcement was made on the U.S. - on the civilian nuclear deal, and there were so many naysayers at that time. And - but it sailed through Congress. It just passed, you know. And here again, you know, there are so many doubts about this seat, but four of the five permanent members have already endorsed India's bid, and I really don't understand if the U.S. does put its full might behind this, I mean, why should it be a long, drawn-out, and complicated process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I don't think I have much more to add from what I've already said, but there are many, many countries who are competing for these seats, and we need to find a fair and balanced way to reform the UN Security Council while preserving its effectiveness and its efficiency. And so that's where our - I think our efforts are focused.

It's really my colleagues up at the UN who are working on this, so if you're interested in a more detailed briefing, I'm sure we could arrange that, and they can discuss in more detail the various interests that need to be weighed as we move forward on this process.

MODERATOR: Unfortunately, we're out of time. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Blake. Thank you all for coming.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you all. I appreciate your interest. Thanks a lot.


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