• WHAT: Washington Foreign Press Center On-Background Briefing

  • WHEN: Thursday, December 19, 2019 at 1:30 p.m.

  • WHERE: National Press Building, 529 14th Street NW, Suite 800


MODERATOR:  Okay, everyone.  Thank you so much.  We’ll go ahead and get started.  So just a good afternoon and thank you for joining us today at the Washington Foreign Press Center.  Today’s briefing is on the topic of the U.S.-India 2+2 Dialogue.  The briefing is on background and off-camera, just to note.  Our briefer today is a senior State Department official.  He will make opening remarks and then take your questions.  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Great, thank you.  Thanks for joining today.  It’s great to see you all.  So I’m glad to be here at the Foreign Press Center to talk about yesterday’s U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue that Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper hosted for their Indian counterparts, Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar and Minister of Defense Singh.

The 2+2 format is a special one reserved for our closest partners.  Yesterday’s meeting, which was the second time that the U.S. and India have met within the 2+2 framework, underscores the depth of the U.S.-India partnership.  This is a relationship of crucial importance to the United States, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world.

As Secretary Pompeo said when he visited India last summer, the U.S.-India relationship has evolved dramatically from a relationship of great potential to one of great achievement.  The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue demonstrates how much progress we’ve made.  Yesterday’s 2+2 advanced the U.S.-India relationship across several sectors.  I’d like to focus on the advances that we have made in three specific areas:  regional cooperation, defense cooperation, and people-to-people ties.

First, regional cooperation.  As two democratic pillars of the Indo-Pacific, the United States and India are committed to work together to strengthen the regional architecture and uphold the international rules-based order.

To that end, both sides agreed in the 2+2 that the United States and India must work together in order to maintain a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, and that we should do so in cooperation with other likeminded partners, such as via the Quad that also includes Japan and Australia.

We discussed U.S.-India cooperation on a range of other issues from Afghanistan to Iran to North Korea.  We also reaffirmed the United States strong support for India’s permanent role in a reformed UN Security Council and for India’s early entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

I’d now like to turn to defense cooperation.  We have also seen considerable growth in the relationship.  As part of the 2+2, the United States and India have committed to hold the very successful tri-service exercise called Tiger Triumph on an annual basis.  We’ve also agreed to increase our military cooperation through expanded liaison officer relationships.

I am pleased to announce that we signed another defense-enabling agreement, the Industrial Security Annex, which will foster greater defense and industrial cooperation between our respective private sectors.  We also agreed to continue efforts to finalize an agreement for sharing geospatial information.

These efforts build on the signing of our Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement, or COMCASA, at last year’s 2+2, and these are collectively enhancing the ability of the United States and India to work together to improve interoperability, information sharing, and strategic trade.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the progress that we made in our people-to-people ties.  This area has been the bedrock of the U.S.-India relationship, the foundation upon which our partnership is built.  As Prime Minister Modi saw when he and President Trump participated in the Howdy Modi Event in Houston a few months ago, the Indian American community is rightly proud of its contributions to the United States.  The United States also hosts 200,000 Indian students, a record high number this year, and we benefit greatly from their presence in cities and towns across the country.

I am pleased to say that as part of the 2+2 we finalized two new exchange programs, the U.S.-India Parliamentary Exchange, which will facilitate bilateral visits by parliamentarians of the two countries, and the U.S.-India Young Innovators Initiative, which will support opportunities for emerging young leaders in key areas of scientific and economic endeavor.

One of these key areas of scientific endeavor is in space, where the United States and India have agreed to increase our cooperation on space situational awareness through greater information sharing.

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.  His life and message have inspired generations of Indians and Americans, and I know that his vision will continue to inspire us as we continue to strengthen the United States-India relationship.  Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Great.  And just a reminder, I will call on you folks.  We have a short amount of time, so please state your name and your outlet.  So Seema, thank you.

QUESTION:  I’m Seema Sirohi from Economic Times.  [Senior State Department Official], I wanted to ask about the 5G discussions.

MODERATOR:  It’s a senior State Department official.


QUESTION:  What was the nature of those discussions?  Did you get any assurances from India about Huawei?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we have had a number of conversations with the Indians on issues related to 5G and cyber more generally, and including in discussions with the Indians yesterday and through our Cyber Dialogue and ICT Working Group.  And we have sought in those engagements to make clear our concerns about the importance for countries to consider the security of vendors that they may use in their ICT networks and 5G in particular, and to take into account not only economic elements but also national security elements.

Again, it’s an ongoing conversation with – having with the Indians, and obviously, we await their own ultimate decisions on what vendors they might choose to introduce into their system.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Lalit.

QUESTION:  The Joint Statement talks about to establishing secure communication lines between Defense Ministers and, Defense Secretary and between External Affairs Minister and Secretary of State.  Have they been established?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yes.  So it was at the last – the first inaugural 2+2 in Delhi that the two sides agreed to do that, and in the intervening months they have been established.  And I can speak on the part of the State Department that we have put that hotline to use.

QUESTION:  And how have they used it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So, I mean, it’s available for use at any time.  And really the idea behind it is to facilitate secure conversations among these two cabinet ministries on an ongoing basis, when there are periods of crisis or whenever it’s important for us to be able to coordinate and communicate securely.

QUESTION:  This also talks posting liaison officers, Indians to U.S. part of the defense collaboration and U.S. to India?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we’re pleased that the Indians are going to assign a liaison officer to the – what we call NAVCENT, so the naval operation with our Central Command in Bahrain.  And we’re looking at other opportunities, which we will continue to discuss.  The Indians have invited the United States to assign a liaison officer to their new maritime Fusion Center outside of Delhi, and that’s something we’re also seriously considering.

QUESTION:  If I could follow up.

MODERATOR:  Can you say your name and your outlet?

QUESTION:  Yashwant.  About the exchange of liaison officers, I think India will be sending somebody to the Special Operations Command.  What will that be about? Are we looking at joint operations?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So I’m not in a position to confirm or speak to, again, other future liaison relationships that we may establish.  But the goal in general is, again, to facilitate ongoing, real-time communication and coordination.  So one of our key objectives is to increase information sharing, increase coordination, increase interoperability among our militaries, and that would exist at a macro level, and increasingly as we try to build out some of the service-to-service relationships as well.  So liaison officers are one way that we look to achieve that objective.

QUESTION:   S-400 (inaudible) buying from the Russians.  Was that discussed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we have regular discussions with the Indians on the S-400 as well.  Our position on that is – I think we’ve articulated quite clearly as it relates to India, but to all countries around the world, we are concerned about Russia’s malign behavior, and we’re concerned – and we are urging other countries to join us in seeking to avoid making significant purchases of Russian weapons and equipment.

From our perspective, in India’s case, it’s important not only because it precludes the possibility of sanctions, but also because we think it’s important for India to make informed decisions about the platforms and systems that it deploys and the impact that those might have on our ability to achieve this integration and interoperability of which we speak.

QUESTION:  And last one.  The Secretary and Jaishankar, they also discussed Iran, and Jaishankar is – will be visiting Iran next couple of days.  Is he carrying a message for —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So again, Iran is another subject on which we continue to have regular and high-level discussions with the Indians.  Again, our views and positions on Iran are quite clear, and we’re eager for India and other countries really to join us in this maximum pressure campaign and in trying to constrain and constrict Iran’s nefarious and malign behavior in the world.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  It looks like we have a question from New York.  Let’s go to New York.

QUESTION:  Arul Louis from IANS.  This is a follow-up to what he said – the question about Iran.  A couple things.  One is that you – the U.S. seems to have allowed India to proceed with Chabahar port, and how is that going to impact the future in terms of helping Afghanistan?

The second one is regarding the maritime patrols that the U.S. wants in the Gulf region (inaudible) Iran.  India has by itself been running its own maritime patrol, so to say, to avoid having – to protect itself its maritime resources in the area.  Will you please comment on those two things?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we decided to adopt a narrow exemption of sanctions related to Iran to promote Afghanistan’s development.  And as part of that effort, there was a decision to allow the continued use of Chabahar and for imports through Chabahar for development of the Chabahar port and for development of a rail line from Chabahar to the Afghanistan border.  And again, it’s – that decision was made in the context of being able to support Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development, to be able to allow for humanitarian and other supplies to reach Afghanistan more efficiently, and to allow Afghanistan to be able to export products and ultimately integrate with the regional and global economy.  So that’s the current status of Chabahar.  That exception remains.

And with regard to your – the other question about maritime – I’ll just add to that more generally.  So we’ve actually had, I think, a lot of great progress with India in the area of maritime security.  So maritime domain awareness is a big part of some of our collaboration and allowing our navies to be able to sail together, to operate together, to be able to, for example, conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations together.  That’s a shared goal of both our governments, and so we see the value of that increased maritime and naval cooperation expanding really across the region and India – ultimately across the globe.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  So why don’t we go to Goyal and then we’ll go here.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.  Sir, thank you.  As far as Howdy Modi is concerned, sir, in Houston between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, two issues were there:  One, Indian American community and their contributions, that they are concern is basically visa, H-1B visa and many other visas from (inaudible) taking about 15, 20 years for them to get green card or legalized or they have been deported or denied H-1B and other visas.

Second, where do we stand as far as Prime Minister Modi’s Make in India and President Trump’s Made in America?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So thank you for that question.  So as I said, Indians are the second – or the – I should say Indians are the second-largest group of students who come and study in the United States, so over 200,000.  So we’re pleased to issue them student visas to come and study here.

Indians are also, as you probably know, by far the largest beneficiaries of the H-1B program, with roughly anywhere from 65 to 70 percent of H-1Bs issued to India nationals.  There’s been no change in the H-1B program – no legislative or other changes.  So again, Indian nationals continue to enjoy the benefits of H-1B and come here and work and contribute to the economy in a way that we certainly appreciate.

Again, we issue I think over a million visas to Indians every year, so we’re pleased to welcome Indians to come to the United States for lawful purposes, whether it’s tourism or business or studying, and that’s I think an objective we’ll continue to support.

And Make in India.  So United States companies are the largest source of foreign direct investment in India.  Nearly every large American company that you can name likely has operations in the country.  I expect that they will continue to look to India to help grow their businesses and provide value to their shareholders.  That will in part be dependent upon the business-enabling environment in India, so we also continue to talk to India, encourage India to undertake reforms that would invite further investment from U.S. and other foreign firms.  So as it relates to infrastructure, as it relates to tariffs and non-tariff barriers, as it relates to taxation policies, these are all areas in which we think further reform by the Indian Government would help stimulate further trade and further investment.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  You had a question.

QUESTION:  Hi.  My name is Grigory Dubovitsky.  I am from Russian news agency RIA Novosti.  I would like to go back to S-400.  So does it mean what you said that United States is ready to impose sanctions if India gets S-400, or it is possible that India gets some waiver from the United States?  And if so, under what circumstances?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So I cannot prejudge the outcome of the decision that the Secretary may ultimately make if India chooses to deploy the S-400.  That would be a decision that would be made at the time that the Secretary deems that a significant transaction has taken place.  So we’ll just have to see, again, what the circumstances are at the time and what his – the ultimate disposition of a decision.

But again, our encouragement to India is that it should refrain from procuring the S-400 system.

QUESTION:  Excuse me, does it also means – does it also mean that United States will not sell India same air defense systems like Patriot if India buys S-400?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So I don’t want to speculate on the outcome, but again, it’s an issue on which we continue to have high-level conversation with the Indians and, again, we continue to deliver a message that I think is consistent and clear.

QUESTION:  Do you have understanding with India on position?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  That’s all I’m going to speak to that.

MODERATOR:  So we have time for two more questions.  And just a reminder, it’s on the U.S.-India 2+2.  So Seema.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask you about the domestic developments in India, how they impacted the 2+2 dialogue.  What was the discussion like on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the situation in Kashmir?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So I will say that, again, as in other areas, we have regular conversation with the Indians about a full range of issues, to include issues affecting human rights and religious freedom.  We recognize and, frankly, appreciate that India is a vibrant democracy, as are we.  And the issues you speak are obviously being actively debated and discussed in India at this time.  You made reference to the Citizenship Amendment Act.  Obviously, we are seeing the active political debate, the discussions in parliament, the protests by people who are espousing their views on that law, and we’re also fully aware that there is a judicial process that’s underway.  And we respect India’s democratic institutions and India’s democratic practices, and we’ll continue to observe it I think on an ongoing basis.

And the other point is that we also have to talk to India about the fact that as democracies, issues around minority rights, religious freedom, human rights are important pillars of democratic societies, and obviously encourage India and other democracies to adhere to those principles.

QUESTION:  And Kashmir?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Applies also to the same subject.  I mean, in the case of Kashmir I just would add that we’re – we have spoken publicly about our concerns around some of these prolonged detentions, and of course welcome a return to economic and political normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, welcome the release of those who are detained, welcome the lifting of all restrictions on communication and such, and active engagement with stakeholders.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Yashwant, you have the last question.


MODERATOR:  Oh, we have one from New York.  Okay.

QUESTION:  I can wait.

MODERATOR:  Yeah, let’s go to New York.  Okay.  Go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I’m Nikhila Natarajan from IANS in New York.  Would you like to give us a quick update on how the counterterrorism cooperation is going between India and the U.S.?  Thank you.

QUESTION:  I have a similar question.



QUESTION:  What about Pakistan and the FATF.  Did that come up, and what was conversation?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we have – again, we consistently speak to India and work closely together with India on issues related to counterterrorism.  It’s, again, I think one of the key areas in which our relationship has deepened.  I could refer you to the joint statement, where there’s pretty clear language with regard to our counterterrorism cooperation and also makes specific reference to concerns about cross-border terrorism emanating from the territory under Pakistan’s control, and also to the importance – the role that FATF plays with regard to Pakistan.  We also welcome the fact that India has passed legislation that allows for designations of individuals, and India for its part was – welcomed and appreciated U.S. support in the UN’s designation of Masood Azhar.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So with that, we will end this session.  Just a reminder that please attribute this to a senior State Department official.  And we will conclude this briefing now.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

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U.S. Department of State

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