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India’s Visit to Iran: Syrian-led Inclusive Solution, Peace is our concern, not USA (Full Text & Video)

August 25, 2012 (TSR) – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was personally invited and will be participating at the XVI Summit level meetings of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement to be held at Tehran, Iran on August 30-31, 2012. Foreign Secretary Shri Ranjan Mathai briefed the media on the PM’s visit on today at XP briefing hall, Shastri Bhawan.

Below is the full transcript and the recorded live stream video.

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Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for coming for this media interaction with the Foreign Secretary on the Prime Minister ’s visit to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement Meeting.

As is usual, we will begin with a few opening remarks by the Foreign Secretary followed by any questions that you may have.

Before I begin, I also wanted to mention that along with Foreign Secretary is Mr. Yash Sinha who is Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan & Iran) and he will be assisting the Foreign Secretary in case there are any questions that you may like to ask on that matter too.

With that I request the Foreign Secretary to make his opening remarks, and then we will follow with the Question & Answer Session. Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Ranjan Mathai): Thank you, Akbar.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh will be visiting Iran to participate in the Sixteenth Summit Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement which is being held at Tehran on 30th and 31st August, 2012.

This will be the third NAM Summit in which Prime Minister Dr. Singh is participating. He had earlier participated in the NAM Summit held at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in July 2009, and earlier at the Summit in Havana in Cuba in September 2006. PM will address the Summit during the General Debate on 30th August.

The theme of the Tehran NAM Summit is “Lasting Peace through Joint Global Governance”. An interactive debate on this subject is expected at the Ministerial Segment of the Summit on 28th and 29th August.

As is customary in NAM Summits, the Tehran Summit will also have comprehensive discussion on major global regional and sub-regional issues as well as issues relating to social and economic matters. The Summit meeting is expected to adopt a Final Document, which is a rather lengthy document, listing the Movement’s position on all important international issues.

The Summit level meeting will be preceded by a customary Ministerial meeting, to which I referred, which will be on 28th and 29th August, and a Senior Officials Meeting on 26th and 27th August. The External Affairs Minister Shri S. M. Krishna will represent India at the Ministerial Meeting. The External Affairs Minister will also represent India at the NAM Ministerial Committee on Palestine which is scheduled to meet separately in the evening of 28th August. I will be leading the Indian delegation for the Senior Officials meeting which starts tomorrow.

Non-alignment has been the bedrock of India’s foreign policy since it was enunciated by the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In the post-Cold War era, when the world is no longer divided into two military blocs, the Non-Aligned Movement has a renewed role to play in the emerging world order. Today NAM seeks to articulate the concerns of the developing countries regarding the contemporary global challenges facing the international community such as food security, protection of the environment and the reform of the institutions of global governance.

As a founding-member of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has consistently striven to ensure that the Movement moves forward on the basis of cooperation and constructive engagement rather than confrontation, and that it straddles the differences of the traditional North-South divide. India’s commitment to NAM is firm and abiding and this will be the guiding principle for our participation at the Tehran Summit.

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As a founding-member of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has consistently striven to ensure that the Movement moves forward on the basis of cooperation and constructive engagement rather than confrontation, and that it straddles the differences of the traditional North-South divide. India’s commitment to NAM is firm and abiding and this will be the guiding principle for our participation at the Tehran Summit.

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Prior to this multilateral event, Prime Minister will have bilateral engagements with the Supreme Leader and President of Iran on 29th August. This will be the first bilateral visit at this level after 2001. India shares historical and cultural links with Iran and in recent times the relationship has expanded to include cooperation in diverse fields like hydrocarbons, trade and economic matters, consultations on important international and regional issues, cultural and people-to-people contacts.

During the Prime Minister’s meetings with the leadership of Iran he will review the state of bilateral relations and discuss all issues of interest to us. The Prime Minister is likely to meet representatives of the Indian community based in Iran.

Finally, Prime Minister will also be meeting with some of the leaders from other NAM countries participating in the Summit. This is subject to scheduling arrangements because arrivals and departures of various leaders makes the time available somewhat limited. Many of the other leaders are arriving only late on the 29th and some on the 30th. But we expect to fix meetings with the leaders of Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan. And we are scheduling a pull-aside meeting, subject to time constraints making it possible, with the President of Egypt.

Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Before we open the floor for questions, may I request that all questions related to NAM and Iran be asked first. And if there is time, then Foreign Secretary will take questions on any other issue. We will begin with NAM and Iran.

Question: Sir, Susan Rice was here a few days ago. The US is obviously a factor when it comes to India’s relations with Iran in terms of their views and their perceptions on the bilateral engagement. Have they formally raised any concerns that they would like India to take to Iran when this visit does take place both at the NAM level and at the bilateral level with the leadership of Iran, America’s concerns and how India will sort of negotiate or navigate?

Foreign Secretary: Susan Rice was here on really what was a private visit, but we did have a full discussion. NAM as such was not a topic for discussion with Ambassador Rice. We did discuss matters relating to Iran and other issues in West Asia, but formally no such issues were taken up.

Question: Sir, there was a report just this week that the Iranians would be giving the green signal to the Chabahar port investment deal. In the same story there was this reference that Afghanistan might not be very keen on that. So, I was wondering, what is the Indian position? Is there a possibility of an India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral meeting?

Foreign Secretary: Yes, in fact we are hoping to schedule a trilateral meeting, this is what the Iranians had suggested, in fact tomorrow. This would be a meeting at the level of the Foreign Secretaries or Deputy Foreign Ministers of the three countries. The discussions between India and Iran on this issue have been under way for some time now. We have just received a report analyzing various options in the light of what Iran plans for the port. And this report has been given to us, which we had commissioned by the Indian Ports Association. It has a number of different possibilities and we are studying it. So, at this stage it is a little premature to prejudge the outcome of how the discussions would take place. But we have been told that a trilateral meeting would be held at my level.

Question: What is the present state of bilateral, economic, trade relations between India and Iran, and how the US sanctions come in the way of deepening economic relations between the two countries?

Foreign Secretary: Relations between our two countries have been strong. Trade relations have in fact been improving over the last few years. The balance of trade is still decisively in the favour of Iran because of the large scale oil purchases and the relatively small level of Indian exports. It is around 11 to 12 billion dollars from one side and two or three billion dollars, give or take a little, depending which year’s figures we use. We would certainly like to expand Indian exports to Iran. To give you the exact figures, total bilateral trade in 2011-12 was around 15.9 billion US dollars, of which imports to India was 13.5 billion dollars and exports from India was around 2.4 or 2.5 billion dollars.

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The balance of trade is still decisively in the favour of Iran because of the large scale oil purchases and the relatively small level of Indian exports. It is around 11 to 12 billion dollars from one side and two or three billion dollars, give or take a little, depending which year’s figures we use. We would certainly like to expand Indian exports to Iran.

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We have emphasized again and again that we formally accept only the sanctions which are those implemented by the United Nations. But given the fact that there are a number of sanctions which have been introduced by other countries, there are problems which arise in terms of banking arrangements for trade, for shipping, insurance, and so on. So, these have had an impact on the level of the trade, particularly in the level of oil imports from Iran.

Question: Sir, the Iranians are coming up with a Resolution on Syria to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis there. Does India have a stand on this? Could you elaborate a little bit on India’s stand on the current situation?

Foreign Secretary: Actually the position of the Non-Aligned Movement in the final outcome document, that is the Declaration, was concluded in Sharm el-Sheikh one or two months ago. After that, we have not been told of any formal intention to have a separate declaration on Syria. What was agreed at Sharm el-Sheikh was, in fact, “that the Heads of State and Government took note of the efforts of the international community to deal with the situation in Syria. They welcomed the efforts of Mr. Kofi Annan and called for full implementation of the Joint Envoys Plan and its six points as well as the Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043. And they welcomed the acceptance by the Syrian Government of this plan”. This is what is in the document as it has been negotiated at the Meeting of Senior Officials in Sharm el-Sheikh. We fully endorse this position.

Question: Sir, you spoke of the meeting with the Supreme Leader Khamenei. We hear from the Iranian side that India wanted the meeting. Can you tell us what the issues are going to be? Also, Victoria Nuland last night has said specifically that America would be happy if India expressed American concerns about peace and security to the Iranians. Can you react to that please? What kind of American concerns are these and what really would be expressed by the Indian side, if they are?

Foreign Secretary: First of all, let me say that we have indeed proposed to schedule a meeting with the Supreme Leader. We have been told that it is being arranged. The exact timing will be known very soon. During this meeting, Prime Minister will of course raise all issues of importance in India-Iran bilateral relations, and issues of interest and concern to us. Peace and security is indeed our primary concern given just how important the entire West Asian region and the Gulf region in particular is for India’s security for the very large number of Indian citizens who live in that region and for the Indian economy both in terms of our oil imports and our exports. So, this is our own concern and we do not have to take anybody else’s concern as being a priority over that. This is indeed our own very specific concern. Prime Minister will raise those and definitely discuss issues relating to West Asia and issues relating to peace and security in the region from our perspective.

Question: Sir, there was this case of some Indian students being expelled by Iran in an apparent retaliation of some Iranian students being expelled from India. This matter was raised at various levels. Will it be coming up at the bilateral with Iran? And what is the status on this issue?

Foreign Secretary: This issue has been discussed with the Iranian side during various meetings including what was called the Bilateral Consular Committee, which was held some months ago. We have not had a final outcome of that, but we will continue to discuss it, probably while we are there in Tehran, and we hope that this issue will be resolved soon.

Joint Secretary was there at the Consular Committee’s meeting, maybe he will tell you.

Joint Secretary (PAI) (Shri Y.K. Sinha): There is this issue of certain Iranian students also who had left from here over the last two years and three Indian students were also asked to leave from there. We are seeing how we can amicably resolve this issue, as Foreign Secretary mentioned. It has been discussed in various fora and various bilateral meetings and we would be taking this up again in Tehran, and we hope for an expeditious resolution of this issue.

Question: Sir, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was here a couple of days ago. I believe there were discussions on Syria and Iran. In the context of the bilateral meeting, does the US expect us to carry any message to the Iranian President? Second, what proposals are we carrying to reinvigorate Non-Aligned Movement? What will be our pitch at the Non-Aligned Movement?

Foreign Secretary: I have answered the question regarding my discussions with Susan Rice. She was here on what was essentially a private visit but we took the opportunity to raise issues. We discussed, let me just clarify this, issues in front of the United Nations. That is the basis on which I had a discussion with her and that certainly included both Syria and Iran, and I have already said what was discussed at that level.

In terms of reinvigorating NAM, I think we are looking at NAM focusing on issues which unite the entire movement and the membership of the Movement rather than divisive and contentious issues. What we would like is a greater focus on issues of global governance, how the balance in international institutions should be, including the reform of the United Nations, reform of international financial institutions at one level. We would also like a focus on food security, on energy, on issues of sustainable development. We have had these major conferences at Rio, and this issue will be coming up in a number of other conferences. The time has come for the members of the NAM, which includes almost all the developing countries in the world, to give greater emphasis to finding common positions in regard to these global issues so that they can subserve the common interest of all developing countries.

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What we would like is a greater focus on issues of global governance, how the balance in international institutions should be, including the reform of the United Nations, reform of international financial institutions at one level. We would also like a focus on food security, on energy, on issues of sustainable development.

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Question: Sir, there was the issue of the attack on the Israeli diplomat here in Delhi and of course a series of other attacks elsewhere that also linked with the Iranians, and also the Delhi Police team that went to Iran alleged that they actually were not given much cooperation, how will this issue play out? Will there also be message that New Delhi should not be turned into some sort of a chessboard between these forces?

Foreign Secretary: Let me start by saying that we have not received the report of the police team which went there. As soon as we receive it, we would be able to decide what needs to be done. But in general terms when we are in Tehran and we meet at various levels – at the officials level, Ministerial level – we will certainly emphasize to Iran our desire that they should cooperate fully with us so that we can get to the bottom of this attack and ensure that India is not drawn into other people’s conflicts. But as I said, at this moment, I cannot comment in greater detail as we have not received the Delhi Police report yet.

Question: Sir, the last two meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement attended by the Prime Minister saw very big news between India and Pakistan, as you know, in Sharm el-Sheikh and Cuba. Do we expect anything substantial coming out of the proposed bilateral? Can you tell us what the focus would be from where new news can come out? As you know, Sharm el-Sheikh was a kind of a milestone.

Foreign Secretary: All I can say is that, as I mentioned in the beginning, we are scheduling these meetings. As soon as they are over, I will do a briefing.

Question: You just said that you are not aware of the Delhi Police team’s report.

Foreign Secretary: I have not received it.

Question: Isn’t that unusual that they went there without keeping the MEA in the loop?

Foreign Secretary: Let me clarify. They went abroad in a meeting which was arranged by us. What we are saying is their conclusions at the end of their visit, normally there would be a report which has not been received yet.

Question: The US and Israel have suggested that Tehran is not an appropriate place for a UN Secretary-General to visit, even if it is for the NAM Summit. Does India have a position on this?

Foreign Secretary: This is a matter for the UN Secretary-General to decide.

Question: Sir, you mentioned that you are going to meet your Iranian and Afghan counterparts in a trilateral. I know it is sort of before the event happened, but what are the proposals for example that India would be looking at?

Foreign Secretary: The proposal is specifically for a discussion on Chabahar. And when I say my counterparts, I know that the Iranian counterpart is there. Whether the Afghan counterpart would be the same person who normally interacts with me, I am not sure. But they have said at Deputy Foreign Minister’s level they will be represented. The idea is to take forward a kind of general discussion as to what we need to do about Chabahar, what is our common interest in the development of the infrastructure, the port, developing the use of Chabahar and the related infrastructure as an alternative route into Afghanistan which we certainly regard as being of very great significance. So, we will discuss it.

But as I said, there are a number of options which are on the table given that the Iranians have a certain amount of infrastructure, they have a two-phase plan for developing that infrastructure – Phase 1 and Phase 2 – and there are options of participating in these. Separately they have an idea of developing an industrial zone just on the side of it and they are inviting investments in that zone. Beyond that there is a road infrastructure which already links Chabahar to the border of Afghanistan. The Iranians have plans for developing also the rail lines which will go from Chabahar not only towards the Afghan border but further to the Turkmen border through Mashaq. All these raise a number of very interesting possibilities in terms of the reconstruction at the industrial developments in Afghanistan in which we have a very large stake. Afghanistan certainly also finds it of interest being an alternative route into their country from which they can get vital supplies. So, I think this is a common interest, and we are going to look at it. But as I said, between these very interesting concepts and general matter of interest, there is always the nuts and bolts of how it works, how much it will cost, whether it can be cost effective, if not this model what is a better model which could be more cost effective, these are the kinds of things on which we need expert level advice.

As I said, we have received some expert opinion from the Indian Ports Association. I will be discussing some of those issues with the Iranians and with the Afghans and then we will take it forward. What we would probably need is a kind of a Joint Working Group at experts’ level to take up what we mutually decide is probably the best way to go. But it’s early days yet.

Question: Going back to the Syrian issue that will be one of the agenda items in Tehran, …(Inaudible)…Sharm el-Sheikh Summit but on the ground situation has evolved dramatically and a lot of things happened. …(Inaudible)… And on the other side, do you have any bilateral scheduled with any other delegation?

Foreign Secretary: Let me clarify. What I read out was not from the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit but it was from the Sharm el-Sheikh Senior Officials / Ministerial Meeting which was held I think two months ago. That Senior Officials Meeting prepared the document which should be now the document which is the outcome of the Tehran Summit. We have not been told that that language anyone is seeking to change. That language, as I read out to you, is based on the desire of the international community and the NAM itself that there should be peace and reconciliation in Syria, that the former United Nations and Arab League Joint Special Envoys Plan with its six-point agenda is endorsed and supported, and that the Syrian Government’s acceptance of the plan is a very positive development. So, that is the position.

Certainly during the general debate we expect that various leaders will express their own views. We would certainly express our view which is already known from our position which we have clarified every time the matter has come up for discussion, and we have said this also in our bilateral engagements that we would like to see a Syrian-led, inclusive process for reform and change in Syria to bring an end to the current conflict. We believe the international community’s role should be to assist that Syrian-led process. In that the United Nations has a particular role to play. And that is why if you look at the record of our voting, we have voted consistently in favour of the United Nations having a role, whether it was through a monitoring mission or through support to the Joint Special Envoys. We will continue to take that position and support it.

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We would certainly express our view which is already known from our position which we have clarified every time the matter has come up for discussion, and we have said this also in our bilateral engagements that we would like to see a Syrian-led, inclusive process for reform and change in Syria to bring an end to the current conflict. We believe the international community’s role should be to assist that Syrian-led process. In that the United Nations has a particular role to play. And that is why if you look at the record of our voting, we have voted consistently in favour of the United Nations having a role, whether it was through a monitoring mission or through support to the Joint Special Envoys. We will continue to take that position and support it.

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I have said that we would certainly like to schedule a meeting with the President of Egypt. We have been told that possibly Mr Halqi the Prime Minister of Syria, would also be coming to Tehran. The exact details we do not know. But when we are there we will see if there is a need and a possibility to have short meetings with other leaders. There would be one or two other leaders at Head of Government, Head of State level. In fact, in total we were told originally 30 countries are to be represented at Head of State, Head of Government level. We now understand the number may go up even higher. So, depending on who is there, what time available is, certainly Prime Minister would like to engage in discussions with this. Our position has always been in terms of trying to win support for an outcome which helps the Syrian people achieve their own objectives.

Question: So far as this nuclear policy of Iran, there is a lot of push and pull in the global scenario. I want to know what India’s position is before this visit. There is a theory that for nuclear deterrence it is better to be a nuclear Iran. It is a developing situation. So, I want to know the latest position of India before this visit?

Foreign Secretary: In the NAM itself there is no specific reference to Iran per se. There is a discussion relating to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. I will just mention it because this is significant and it leads on to the second part of your question.

Question: Sir, bilateral meeting also.

Foreign Secretary: Yes, but let me finish this, if I may because it leads on, as I said, to the bilateral. The Heads of State and Government took note of the adoption of what is being discussed in the IAEA Board of Governors, etc., etc., and then it says at the end, “The Heads of State and Government emphasize that decisions should be made by consensus with the participation of all IAEA members states, and that the decisions of the IAEA must be consistent with its statute without any prejudice to the inalienable right of its member states to research, develop and use for peaceful purposes, of nuclear sciences in all its aspect including the inalienable right of each state party, if it so decides, to develop for peaceful purposes a full national nuclear fuel cycle in accordance with its rights and obligations under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. This is the language which has emerged.

In effect, this is precisely the language we have used in all discussions relating to the Iranian nuclear programme. This has been our position, it has been explained in the IAEA, we believe that there is a right of each state party to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and this has to be done in a manner which accords with both their rights and their obligations which they themselves have entered into.

Question: I want to seek two clarifications from the Secretary. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa has written a letter to the Prime Minister stating that two military personnel of Sri Lanka are getting training secretly at Nilgiri. Not only the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu but all the political parties of Tamil Nadu demand that these two people be sent back to Sri Lanka immediately. Secondly, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has demanded that Kutch island is the only solution for the Tamil fishermen, the Tamil fishermen being targeted by the Sri Lankan naval force on day-to-day basis. Now the political parties of Tamil Nadu feel that getting back Kutch island is the only permanent solution for the Tamil fishermen problem. Would you like to comment on these two issues?

Question: Sir, it is the Defence Services Staff College. That is where they are.

Foreign Secretary: I am not aware of this latest letter, but there were some letters which we have seen earlier, and these are addressed to the Prime Minister and not to our Minister. As far as we are concerned, this is a matter for the Ministry of Defence and we are in touch with the Ministry of Defence and whatever decision they take we will be supportive of that.

As far as the fishermen’s issue is concerned, the question of the India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary was settled in 1974. In MEA I am not aware of any proposal before the Government to reopen that question.

Question: I just wanted to know if the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is off the board because it is no longer talked about.

Foreign Secretary: I think it has been talked about. Would you like to mention it?

Joint Secretary (PAI): This issue was dealt in the Joint Working Group between India and Iran, which is having its next meeting next month in Delhi. It is the Joint Working Group on Hydrocarbons.

Question: Sir, you told us that there is a meeting scheduled between Prime Minister and Pakistan President on the sidelines of the Summit. What would be the issues the Prime Minister would like to flag in that meeting? And would Prime Minister like to raise concern about the recent hate campaign that was emanating from Pakistani soil on social networking media?

Foreign Secretary: As I said, we are in the process of scheduling meetings with various leaders including the leader of Pakistan. As soon as that meeting is over, I will do a briefing and I will give you all the details of what was taken up.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.

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