Senior State Department Official On the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue

MODERATOR: Okay. [Senior State Department Official] needs no introduction. Everybody knows her. I’ll just go ahead and let you start. We have – you want your opening remarks to be on the record?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’re doing background. Is that right?

MODERATOR: You want background on the whole thing? Okay.


STAFF: Yes, we can do it on background.

MODERATOR: Oh, okay. Never mind, on background.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right. So thank you for coming today. Obviously, I realize it’s a big news day, but I’m delighted to have a chance to talk about the growing strategic partnership, and a little bit later this afternoon you’ll see a very substantial sort of six-page joint statement that accompanies the 2+2 and really, I think, demonstrates the breadth and depth of the partnership that Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper have achieved with their Indian counterparts, Minister Jaishankar and Minister Singh.

The U.S.-India Strategic Partner[1] is of paramount importance for both countries, and to – it’s important to both, I think, the immediate region but also to the broader Indo-Pacific region. It’s a partnership that’s grounded in shared values and common interests and strong people-to-people ties, and I was struck during the press conference that was held about the terms that you were hearing the principals use – the age of ambition by Secretary Pompeo; you heard Minister Singh talk about the convergence of views; Jaishankar, the increasing consensus; the – Secretary Esper, the substantial progress that we’ve seen in the relationship. And I want to highlight sort of three buckets of issues: regional cooperation, defense engagement, and people-to-people.

In terms of regional cooperation, as partners in the Indo-Pacific we’re committed to working together to support a free and open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. And today you’ll see several new initiatives to jointly train peacekeepers in the Indo-Pacific as well as expanded judicial training to countries in the Indo-Pacific and capacity building, again, in third countries. We’re also collaborating on disaster relief, we’re advancing the health of our oceans, and we’re achieving tangible results in the Quad with Australia and Japan, as evidenced by the meeting of our cyber experts last week,

In the defense sector, it’s been a transformation, I think, in the level of cooperation between our countries. We’re seeing greater private sector involvement in the defense field, which is a priority for both governments. The Industrial Security Annex, which is one of these enabling agreements that was signed after the COMCASA was signed last year at the 2+2, will be a game-changer for U.S. and Indian companies because it allows greater information sharing for defense co-development. We’ve also made tremendous progress under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, including completing the industry-to-industry framework that will, again, facilitate the involvement of the private sector in these projects. We also agreed to expand our military liaison relationships, which will enhance interoperability and maritime security cooperation across the region, and we’re excited about new lines of effort to increase army-to-army cooperation as well as to expand information sharing through the COMCASA secure communications agreement.

I think a trend that I’m seeing is that the really advanced naval-to-naval cooperation is now being sought in the army-to-army and air force and among our special forces, as the results of this enhanced interoperability are seen.

On the people-to-people side, I mean, this traditionally is really a bedrock of the U.S.-India relationship. We see those bonds on a daily basis across the United States. We have 200,000 Indian students currently studying in the United States, a record high. They contribute about $7 billion to the U.S. economy. Indian Americans make invaluable contributions to the U.S., both in uniform and in elected office. I’m pleased to announce that this year’s 2+2 resulted in two new exchange programs: a parliamentary exchange program where our India Caucus, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will have reciprocal visits with Indian parliamentarians; and we’ll also have a U.S.-India Young Innovators Initiative, which will support internship opportunities for emerging young leaders in key areas of scientific and economic endeavor.

Again, these people-to-people ties are – extend not just between our two countries but they’re also global. The U.S. and India concluded a new science and technology agreement that will strengthen collaboration on particle research. We’re also working to increase cooperation on space situational awareness. It’s the kind of relationship where a six-page document doesn’t capture what we’re doing, it just gives you sort of a taste of how all of our technical agencies are looking for opportunities to take advantage of what is a dynamic, entrepreneurial, and, again, a democratic society.

So I’m confident that this partnership is going to grow. That was the tone of the very warm and substantive three hours of – more than three hours of conversation that were held today. Thank you.


QUESTION: Can I – you meant on the – I – this isn’t really your lane, I realize, but if it’s going to – maybe it’ll be in the joint statement as well. But there was a mention – I can’t remember which person it was, maybe the Indian defense minister – when you were talking about defense cooperation and increasing it, he said that one thing was to increase the force levels for the joint exercises that you guys do. Was that addressed at all in the statement?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the statement discusses the new tri-service exercise. The first one was just held in November. And we’re also expanding these military-to-military exercises, increasing the frequency, and particularly, expanding beyond navy to increase our army-to-army and air force and special forces.

QUESTION: Okay. But there isn’t any, like, number or something attached to that?


QUESTION: And then just a second thing, also on the same. You were talking about the peacekeeping capacity improvement, which is for whom, like, Bangladesh, for —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That hasn’t been determined yet. We already have a track record of working with India to train peacekeepers from Africa, and so this will – that program wound up this year, and so now we’re looking at the Indo-Pacific region to identify countries where we can work together to improve their capabilities.

MODERATOR: Okay, Humeyra.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the religious affairs freedom question that was asked at the presser. I mean, the citizenship act is – it’s criticized by everyone and it comes across as extremely discriminatory towards the Muslims, and this administration and Secretary Pompeo has talked about religious freedoms at length. Isn’t this a contradiction? Are you guys not bothered about this? And if you are, have you conveyed this to them? What are you thinking about doing to address this?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think Secretary Pompeo was very clear that we care deeply about the rights of minorities and of – and the need to protect religious freedom. It’s an integral part of our diplomacy. You see it in the reports we draft every year and the ministerial conference we held the last two years running on international religious freedom, so obviously this is a core issue for this administration and for this Secretary. The Secretary also noted that India is a vibrant democracy. There is a debate going on in India over this very legislation. It’s legislation that will be reviewed by the courts. It’s being protested by political parties. It’s being debated in the media. All of these institutions exist in a democratic India and so we respect that process.

QUESTION: But do you have a stance on it now that it’s been passed? Do you think it’s —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think as Ambassador Brownback has already commented, we have concerns about religious criteria, but again, this is a piece of legislation now, an act, that is continuing to be reviewed within the Indian system.



QUESTION: Sure. Just briefly following up on that. Was it actually discussed behind closed doors in addition to it coming up at the press conference? And if I could ask you, Jaishankar said – he mentioned Chabahar in Iran saying that he thanks the Secretary for continuing on that. Was that a matter of discussion, and has the U.S. given assurances that the Chabahar project can continue despite the sanctions on Iran?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can say generically that we engage on the full range of issues with India and that, as I said earlier, religious freedom and human rights are a regular part of our dialogue.

On Chabahar, we have provided a narrow exemption for the development of Chabahar that allows for the construction of the port and the rail line that allows for the export of refined oil products to Afghanistan, and there’s a third element that I’m forgetting off the top of my head but I’ll get it to you. And all of this is contingent on there not being any IRGC involvement in the economic activity or IRGC-related entities being involved in those activities. We recognize that Chabahar potentially plays an important role as a lifeline to Afghanistan in terms for India to be able to export humanitarian supplies and potentially helping Afghanistan diversify its export opportunities, and so we – there was – that was the reason that drove the Chabahar exemption, and we continue to support it.

QUESTION: Thanks. Do you mind if I just press briefly? You said generically that these issues come up. Was it actually raised in these talks? Did specifically the citizenship bill come up in these talks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wasn’t in every element of the talks, so I don’t want to – I just want to leave it at we regularly raise these issues.

QUESTION: What about the internet and the imprisonment of politicians from mainstream parties; was that raised?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You know that we have discussed our concern over what the roadmap is in Kashmir to a return to economic and political normalcy, and what has concerned us about the actions in Kashmir are the prolonged detentions of political leaders as well as other residents of the valley, in addition to the restrictions that continue to exist on cell phone coverage and internet.

MODERATOR: Okay, Jennifer.

QUESTION: Did you seek any specific assurances on restoring those services in Kashmir, any ultimatum of any sort on that issue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is not a relationship where we deal in ultimatums. Again, I think this is a country, a democracy where these policies are being voted on, they’re being debated, they’re being reviewed by a judiciary, and so I would not use that terminology.

MODERATOR: I think you mentioned to me, too, that it’s important to point out that this is only the second 2+2 that we’ve had with India, the first one here, obviously, that you guys know. We have briefed you on the importance of India, the Indo-Pacific strategy, and so, I mean, you have to understand that meetings this big and this significant, too, that’s part of the main thing that we’re focusing on.

Do we have anybody else that hasn’t gone yet, before I go back to Nick?

Go ahead, Connor.

QUESTION: Just real quickly on defense cooperation, whether or not the potential S-400 purchase came up and whether or not the administration’s so far failure to sanction Turkey over a similar purchase has perhaps influenced India’s decision.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The S-400 has been a longstanding issue. I mean, India’s very well aware of the concerns we have both over – our concerns related to Russia and encouraging Russia (inaudible) behavior, but also our concerns over our ability to achieve the interoperability that we seek with India. And with today’s signing, or yesterday’s signing of the Industrial Security Annex, we have almost finished all of the enabling agreements that will allow us to have the maximum level of collaboration and cooperation with India, both in sales as well as coproduction.

And so at a certain point in time, there is a strategic choice that needs to be made about platforms and systems, and our – certainly, we are encouraging India to look at our platforms and our systems as the most efficacious as it’s facing challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, I promised Nick. Go.

QUESTION: I just – sort of from the 30,000-foot level, and given what’s happened in Kashmir and then the citizenship law, and then just broadly more general criticisms about the Modi government’s attitude toward Muslims in particular, do you think that India under Modi is headed in the wrong direction?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would not – I think what we see in India is, again, a vibrant democracy. And I would remind you that it was – what was it, in the May elections that were held, 67 percent of the Indian people came out to vote, that it was the – I think the largest percentage of women voters that we’ve seen. It was peaceful, it was contested, it was contested at national-level politics, at local-level politics. And we have to respect that process. And there may be individual policies that are going to evoke concern. We will express our concern, we engage with the Indian Government regularly on the full spectrum of issues. But you can’t ignore that these are not policies that are being done in the dark, and so we have to respect that debate, and as well as add our voice to it when appropriate.

MODERATOR: I think you guys are very focused on the news of the day – I get it, that’s all of your jobs, and these are a lot of really important issues. But like I said, I do think it’s important maybe for some of you to take a step back and look at the broader significance of the fact that we are holding these talks the – the second time we’ve done it, first time in the United States, and sort of how this plays into the President’s National Security Strategy as it relates to geopolitical competition and what we’re trying to do with the Indo-Pacific strategy.

So I get that the majority of you are focusing on the news of the day, but it would be great too to think a little bit broader and conceptually about what we’re trying to accomplish. Kylie.

QUESTION: With regard to that, just broadly, what is the message that’s being sent to China today when you guys stand side-by-side with leaders from India talking about collaboration, technology-wise and all that, and the Trump administration is pushing for countries to not adopt Chinese technology worldwide?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think it’s very powerful to have like-minded democracies that stand for free and open Indo-Pacific working together, and working with Australia, working with Japan, encouraging other countries to ensure that principles are adhered to for infrastructure development, and that sovereignty isn’t lost in the goal of economic – in the pursuit of economic development. And that’s important. It’s important that countries of the region that need infrastructure see countries like the United States and India seeking to provide solutions. And so I think it’s a powerful message.

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one question. Did the Indians give any commitment on 5G to the U.S.? And to what extent bilateral trade be discussed with this 2+2?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is not the forum to discuss a bilateral trade deal, and so I think all the leaders noted that there is a productive conversation that’s going on between the U.S. Trade Representative and the minister of commerce in India. And we look to see a deal emerge from those discussions soon, and welcome that in addition to welcoming what has been more generally just a significant increase in trade between the United States and India. U.S. exports having increased over 12 percent. We’ve seen very strategic investments by India in the energy sector totaling about 6.7 billion to date.

With respect to 5G, this is an ongoing conversation that we have with India and our other partners about the security-related concerns we see in a system where there really is no periphery and no center, and so the security of the entire system is paramount. And so those conversations continue.

QUESTION: How close are they to making any kind of a decision on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I mean, they’re doing test trials, but I don’t think there’s any —

QUESTION: Close as they are to S-400? I’m just – (laughter) —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I couldn’t – I – you’d have to ask the Indians on that. I think they still haven’t done test trials yet, so it’s still a ways away.

MODERATOR: Christina.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just want to follow up on something. Because you guys have been saying these are rare, these bilats, we haven’t had that many, and you’re focused on the bigger issues, are you saying that the issues that we’ve talked about – the citizenship bill, and Jammu and Kashmir – that they didn’t come up this time?


QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to clarify.

MODERATOR: No, I’m just chastising you guys for being myopic. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s not very myopic. I mean, it’s a pretty big issue.

MODERATOR: I didn’t say it’s not a big issue; I’m talking about the fact that you all ask the same thing, and you can’t get past your nose.

QUESTION: We’re just trying to get an answer.

QUESTION: If we just would —

MODERATOR: I think she just answered.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Each of the ministers have their own bilaterals with their counterparts. And so a range of issues are going to have been discussed in those meetings. And then the actual 2+2’s agenda is more focused on Indo-Pacific and military interoperability and our security initiatives. That doesn’t preclude those other very important conversations on – from taking place.

MODERATOR: Okay. That’s it.


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