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Diplomacy in Action

Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Trip to India

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route to India
July 29, 2014


MODERATOR: Okay. You ready to start? All right. Welcome, everyone. This is a background briefing to preview Secretary Kerry’s trip to India. We have [Senior State Department Official One] with us to give an overview of the trip and answer questions, and [Senior State Department Official One] will start with an overview of the trip, and from here forward [Senior State Department Official One] will be State Department Official Number One.

With that, I will turn it over to you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Thanks a lot, [Moderator]. So I think all of you probably had a chance to see the speech or hear the speech that the Secretary gave yesterday at the Center for American Progress, which kind of framed the opportunity here. And the trip really is going to be about how we capture that opportunity. We will have the Strategic Dialogue between the United States and India, which is an annual event, but we will be doing that for a second consecutive year in New Delhi, again, as an indication of our desire to really engage with this new government and across the broadest spectrum possible.

The Strategic Dialogue itself is going to focus on some of the big priorities that Prime Minister Modi and the Modi government have put forward on economic revitalization, on energy security, on homeland security, as well as the robust cooperation between our two countries in science and technology, in space, in skills and education, and in health.

The Secretary, in addition to the Strategic Dialogue, will have bilateral consultations with the External Affairs minister on a range of regional issues, including, of course, the political and security transition in Afghanistan, other relationships in the region, including the India-Pakistan relationship, India’s engagement in East Asia. And then we will also be having – he will also be meeting with the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, with Minister of Finance and Minister of Defense, which is concurrently held right now by Arun Jaitley. And the final meeting that the Secretary will have in the government will be with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. That’ll take place on Friday.

In addition to the government meetings, the Secretary and Secretary Pritzker, who will also be joining the Strategic Dialogue along with Deputy Secretary of Energy Poneman, will attend a dinner with Indian CEOs on Wednesday night after we land. It’s an opportunity to hear from the Indian private sector about the opportunity that they see in the Modi government for India’s economy, and to hear also about what are the challenges, the constraints on a more robust partnership between the United States and India on the economic front.

We will also have a roundtable conversation that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Pritzker will participate in with Brookings India that will focus on climate and energy issues. And that’ll be an opportunity to engage in a private discussion with key experts and think tanks and academics on the important issues of sustainable growth, energy security, clean energy, and climate change. That’ll be a roundtable discussion over lunch on Thursday.

That pretty much rounds out the schedule that the Secretary has. We may have, in addition, a opportunity to do an additional public event, but we’re still working out all the details of that, so we’ll probably be able to give you more information on that as we get closer to landing.

With that, I think the key focus here is going to be through both the bilateral engagements and through the broader Strategic Dialogue in how we position the U.S.-India partnership and prioritize the issues in that partnership to really deepen and strengthen the engagement between our two countries. And as we see a new government coming in that has an ambitious agenda, what we can do to help that government realize its agenda, because we see India’s economic rise as something that is deeply in the U.S. interest. And we believe that American companies have a role to play in that rise, and so part of the discussion over the next two days is really going to be focusing in on what are the shared priorities and shared goals that we want to focus on.

With that, I think I would pause and just maybe take questions and answer any questions that you guys have.


QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much for the briefing. I just wondered, are there any specific outcomes, deliverables we can expect from this round? And how much concern is there about the – India’s stance on the WTO? And is there any concern that that might sort of – that that raises questions about the commitment to reform of this new government?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, David. With respect to the specific outcomes, I think what you will find is that we’re going to really focus on three key areas where we hope to have some announcements to be able to make. On the economic front, Secretary Pritzker’s been focusing on manufacturing, on infrastructure, and on enabling environment, and how we can set up the engagement and the partnership to really bring American technology, American knowhow, American private sector expertise into meeting the goals and objectives. And I think that they will be fleshing out a few areas. And we’ve got participation from our other partner agencies, Ex-Im, OPIC, and TDA in terms of the tools and resources that they bring to the table as well in terms of how we help American companies be part of this economic recovery.

With respect to the energy sector, of course we had the Energy Dialogue earlier this year, and this is a key area of our partnership. I know that there’s an opportunity to engage the Indian Government on various aspects of energy security. We’re going to be looking at conversations that Deputy Secretary Poneman and his team and DAS Amos Hochstein from the State Department can have looking at both the civ-nuke arena and start to engage the government on the way forward there, also have conversations around clean energy. We have the partnership for clean energy between the United States and India, which has already enabled about two billion in financing for clean technology and to look at where we can go with that.

And on homeland security, we have Under Secretary of Homeland Security Frank Taylor who’s part of the delegation, and he will be joined by the State Department’s Assistant Secretary Tina Kaidanow. And they’re going to be looking at ways that we can strengthen the counterterrorism collaboration both in terms of the intelligence sharing and joint trainings and such that we do, but also in terms of where we go on advancing our technology partnership with India on counterterrorism as well. So those are specific areas that they’re going to be looking to try to move forward on.

With respect to your question on the WTO, this is an area where we are in ongoing discussion with our Indian friends, because we believe that if the trade facilitation agreement does not move forward, that that really does on the one hand bring down an agreement that stands to provide tremendous benefits to developing economies around the world.

And secondly, we don’t think it’s in India’s interests. I do think that the Indian Government has made clear that they have some concerns about food security, and we certainly understand those concerns. The Bali agreement sought to put – bring into balance both those concerns and advance the trade facilitation agreement. We’re hopeful that as we engage in those further conversations over the next few days that some agreement will emerge that will allow the TFA to move forward. We think that that is India’s interest, and we hope that that’s going to be the right outcome.

QUESTION: Thanks. Wow, that was loud. Sorry. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how the Modi government, if – or it shows some steps, if this is in fact the case – has been more open to foreign investment from the United States since May, and how they counter that with foreign investment interests from China.

And then also, if you could speak a little more broadly about the U.S.-Indian relationship since the start of the Modi government, but also since – going back to December with the arrest of the consul in New York, and just speak a little more broadly about how – what steps have been taken or not been taken or just where we stand right now.

And then also – I’m sorry I don’t know this – has there been a new ambassador to India nominated yet from the United States? Okay.

QUESTION: And my one tack-on: Why hasn’t – if India is so important, how come you haven’t nominated an ambassador?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, so there’s a lot in there. I’ll just briefly answer the last question first, which is that there’s a whole process that the Administration goes through and the White House goes through in terms of nominating an ambassador. India is a really important country, this is a very important position, and I know that it is being addressed as a priority within the White House.

Beyond that, I think that you have to look and see for that process to conclude itself, and so I don’t have anything more to add on that. I think the announcement, when it comes, will come from the White House.

We did take the extraordinary step of making sure that we had a charge with the rank of ambassador who was put in place in India during the first week of the Modi government. And Ambassador Kathy Stephens is there in that capacity. She previously served as our ambassador to Korea. She brings a tremendous amount of expertise on East Asia, on the trade and economic front, and I know she’s doing a great job in ably representing the United States there.

With respect to what we have seen in the very early days of the Modi government with respect to openings for American business, I would say that it is very early days, but we see some – several very positive indications – most particularly as the new budget came out, we did note that the FDI caps in the defense sector and in the insurance sector, two very important areas, were raised to 49 percent. We also think that there’s been some positive signals that have been sent in a variety of other areas. But clearly, this budget is an interim budget, is a first step, and many, many more steps are going to need to be taken.

We’re hearing from our companies that they also perceive to be some positive signals in their engagements. A number of CEOs have already been to Delhi in the first two months of the government and have had meetings with government and with the prime minister and have come away in their representations optimistic about the opportunities ahead. We hope that actions will follow through on that promise, and we want to engage early on that basis.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) China? China?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t think it’s necessarily a zero-sum prospect here. I think that the Indian Government has said that it’s seeking a positive economic relationship with China, with Japan, and certainly have indicated that they see the United States as being a very critical partner on that economic front, particularly because of the modern, cutting-edge technology that our companies bring to the table, because of the private capital that comes from the United States. It’s a very important relationship for us and for them. And so we don’t necessarily see that as being one or the other. We recognize that India’s going to be a attractive destination for many different companies from many different countries, and we think American companies are well positioned to be able to compete in that respect.

And I think your final question had to deal with how we’re addressing some of the issues that emanated out of the incident with the diplomat earlier in the year. And I think we’ve spent a lot of time between our two governments working through all of the issues that came to fore to make sure that we have worked through in our systems and have clear understandings in our systems of our expectations and our obligations to each other. We’ve had a working group between our two governments that has met repeatedly over the last several months, and we think we are in a good position both with respect to our people and our institutions in India, and vice versa.

QUESTION: May I ask a quick follow-up (inaudible), I’m sorry, just a very fast follow-up. Sorry, just a very fast follow-up. Some of the U.S. companies that you say have gone to Delhi and feel encouraged, what companies, or at least what sectors? Is it mostly technology or what? Is it Apple? Like, I’m just curious on some of the specs.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I don’t want to speak on behalf of our companies, but I know that the CEO of Ford Motor Company was in New Delhi and had a meeting with the prime minister. We know the CEO of MasterCard, Ajay Banga, who also represents the U.S.-India Business Council, was in Delhi recently. We know that the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, was in Delhi and met with the prime minister, and probably a range of others that have also done that. And like I said, across the board, the reaction from all of those in what they’ve said to us is that they see a very positive opportunity, and I think that that’s a good indication.

QUESTION: Thanks. Going to one of the issues from the past, obviously there’s the visa issue with Prime Minister Modi before he was elected. Obviously, he’s coming to the United States in September. That’s passed. But the issues that were raised by that, the issues of religious tolerance, of human rights – do you expect those issues to be part of the conversation with Modi and with his government, or do you think that there is a sensitivity about that or there’s issues that are not really going to be discussed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. Clearly, issues of human rights, issues of political inclusion, of religious freedom, are issues that we raise in every relationship we have with every country, with every government, and it has been a consistent element of our dialogue with India throughout our decades-long relationship, and we expect that to continue to be the case with this government. In fact, with us on this plane is our Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador Cathy Russell, who hopes to be engaging in a women’s empowerment dialogue with the Indian Government that we hope to launch this fall.

And we have a global issues forum with our under secretary at the under secretary-level with the Indian foreign secretary, where we talk about issues of human rights, religious freedom, issues of gender, issues of rights for other minorities, for LGBT rights, and other issues like that. And we will continue to have that forum. But I also expect that we will engage at the leader level as well, and I know that the Secretary noted in his remarks yesterday that when the prime minister says that he wants to pursue an agenda of inclusive development, that that is something that we absolutely support and want to see happen, and we look forward to engaging on that basis.

QUESTION: Hi, Will Mauldin. Just wondering what else the Indian side is going to want to put on their press release at the end of the Strategic Dialogue. What are they looking for? Is it capital, as you alluded to, with some of the FDI and opportunities for investment coming from the U.S.? Is it visa issues, some kind of broader visa regime? What do you think – expect that the Indian side will be pushing for, and is any of that achievable? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. I think that the issues that I raised are clearly issues that are priorities for the Indian side, for the Indian Government.

The other element that I may not have stressed enough was on the education and skills side of it, which is a large – a big priority for the Modi government and where we have a lot of collaboration. And we’re going to be looking to see what we can do to advance the higher education partnership and what we can do to really move forward on the Community College Initiative, because the Modi government has said that they want to be able to establish 10,000 community colleges across India, and we think that the United States brings a lot of – again, through our excellent community college system – a lot of opportunity here for our institutions to collaborate in India and set up Indian institutions as well. So we look forward to seeing what we can do there.

By and large, we have aligned our agendas on the issues that we want to talk about, both in terms of the bilateral relationship, on the economic, the energy, the homeland security, and education, but also on the regional agenda. And I think what we have heard increasingly from the Indians is their desire to have closer consultation with us on the region, and we welcome that and we look forward to that, and I know that the Secretary is looking forward to engaging on those issues.


QUESTION: Hi. I have two unrelated questions. One is: What are – what’s the prospects for the bilateral investment treaty, which I gather has been stalled for a while now? And apparently, the gaps on it are quite wide. Are you going to be addressing that and what’s the kind of timetable?

And the second question, unrelated, is what about the NSA spying issue? Do you expect that eavesdropping issue – do you expect that to come up in the talks? Are there still some rough patches over that issue? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks. On the bilateral investment treaty, I mean, this has been an area of ongoing effort between the United States and India, and it has been slow moving progress. I think we look forward to hearing from the Indian side on how they view that and how much of a priority it is. We think that it is in the interest of both countries, but it really is for the Indians to kind of define how they want to move forward on that, and we can see based on that.

With respect to – sorry, what was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: The NSA spying.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the NSA issue, it was certainly something that the Indians have registered with us as a concern. They’ve raised it with us in Washington and they raised it on Deputy Secretary Burns’s trip. We have ongoing close consultation with the Indians to address their concerns, and so I think they may well raise it again, but I think we, again, continue to work very closely with them to assure them about the relationship that we have. And we have a growing and closer intelligence relationship between our two countries, and we’re working actively together, particularly in areas where we see a threat to shared interests, and we’ve been doing that for quite some time, including in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: You mentioned at the top that one of the issues would be regarding the future of the U.S. and India partnership regarding Afghanistan. Could you preview a little bit more of that, explain it, hit some of the high notes that you think will be at the top of the agenda there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. Clearly, the Indians have a very big stake in a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan. They’ve had an important role to play over the last several years, including providing over two billion in economic assistance to Afghanistan. And they continue to be very concerned and interested in ensuring stability and security there. So clearly, they’re very interested in having close consultations with us.

This was a area of discussion during Deputy Secretary Burns’s trip. I know that the Secretary has invested quite a lot of time and effort in advancing the political process and the political transition in Afghanistan, and I know that he looks forward to being able to share his perspectives and engaging the Indian Government on our mutual interests, our shared objectives in Afghanistan. So we see an area of closer collaboration, closer information and analysis, and engagement to advance, like I said, our shared and mutual objectives there.

MODERATOR: All righty. One more?

QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just pursue – on the issue of climate change, that’s something very dear to the Secretary’s heart and he mentioned this last time he was in New Delhi and in his speech at the Center for American Progress. What type of cooperation are you looking for in climate change? Are you looking for more in international negotiations? Are you looking for more in terms of technological cooperation? Or is it just more generally speaking that you think both countries have a common cause in climate? Are there specific outcomes that could – that the U.S. and India could work together on in climate?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I think it’s a little bit of all of the above. As the Secretary noted in his speech yesterday, that the impact of climate change is very real and very immediate and urgent as it’s being felt in India, as it’s impacting its economy, its food security, its air quality, its health, et cetera. But as the Secretary also noted, that we have a lot that we can do together on the technical cooperation side, which we look forward to engaging on.

We also look forward to having the Climate Change Working Group convene during this visit, and I know that Ambassador[1] Stern is already in New Delhi and is having some of those meetings with his counterpart. So we look forward to that, and we think that there’s a lot of progress that can be made, both on the technical areas as well as on how we address these issues in the multilateral forum. And so I think that sitting down and talking to the new government about its perspectives – and I think the prime minister has made some strong statements with respect to climate change himself, and so we look forward to engaging with him on those, and I know that this is something that’s very important to the Secretary and that he looks forward to having those discussions on.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

[1] Special Envoy

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