Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Meeting With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
New Delhi, India
August 1, 2014

MODERATOR: Okay, so Senior State Department Official readout of meeting with Prime Minister Modi.

QUESTION: Thank you, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. No, this was a very good meeting, a very strong and a very positive meeting. The prime minister was joined by his national security team: by the national security adviser, by the external affairs minister, by the foreign secretary, the Indian ambassador to the U.S., as well as some of his staff. In the meeting was Secretary Kerry, Secretary Pritzker, Chargé Kathleen Stephens, myself, and the Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer. The Secretary started the conversation by first acknowledging that this was a unique moment in the U.S.-India relationship, and that the prime minister’s vision was one that the United States was very excited about, and that --

QUESTION: Was what?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- the prime minister’s vision is one that the United States was very excited about. He also noted that President Obama’s letter to the prime minister is a characterization of the power and the potential of the relationship and where we would like to see that relationship go, and said that he, Secretary Kerry, was looking forward to getting a sense of what the prime minister wanted to see – what the ambitions and the scope of the strategic agenda laid out in broad directions, to see how we can bring that into concrete actions. He said, “We’re genuinely excited about your vision and we want to see what we can do to be part of that and to advance that.”

The prime minister welcomed the Secretary and said – and Secretary Pritzker and said, “You both play very important roles in two key areas that are big priorities for India.” And so that kicked off a conversation on that. The prime minister also said that there were two or three key points that he wanted to make. One, that it was the U.S.’s turn to host the strategic dialogue, and yet Secretary Kerry took the initiative to come to India and that meant a lot to the Indians. He also said, “We recognize that the events in Gaza are of critical importance right now, and yet you still came here, and that shows the importance that you place on this relationship, and we deeply appreciate your being here.” And then the prime minister noted that he was very grateful for the Secretary’s speech of July 28th, where he helped to create the understanding of Prime Minister Modi’s vision and how he, Secretary Kerry, framed the relationship and the priorities, and he thanked him for that speech.

What followed was a discussion of the priorities that Prime Minister Modi has set forward and what the two countries can do together to advance those priorities. The prime minister noted that they had received very well the letter from President Obama, as it sets the tone for the relationship and the priorities for the future. He said that, “Two countries that are committed to democracy, such as ours, should be able to get together and work for the future in a way that benefits the world.” He said, “The relationship will always be in a process of improvement, and there will always be areas of difference, but it is also critical how we build and enhance our trust.”

QUESTION: I’m sorry, there will what?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: “It’s also critical what we do to enhance and build on our trust between our two countries.”

QUESTION: Who is saying that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was the prime minister. He said, “Why can’t the two of us, the United States and India, get together and give a new direction and a new voice to hope and aspiration of the people?”

The Secretary noted that President Obama and the United States are committed to India’s rise because India is a partner that shares the values, the democratic values of the United States, and India’s commitment and passion for democracy is one we deeply appreciate. But he said, “We need to put some meat on the bones of this relationship so that we take these very positive words and these very positive values and we bring some action to it, and let’s think about where we want to place those actions.” And that’s where they focused the bulk of the rest of the conversation, and they talked about the economic growth agenda; they talked about energy and energy security; they talked about climate change, and they had quite a good and strong conversation on climate change and particularly on how clean technology and particularly clean energy can be a win-win for the economy and the environment.

Secretary Pritzker talked about the importance of India’s economic revitalization. She noted that she has in her office a little sign that says, “Open for business,” and that Prime Minister Modi has been signaling that India is open for business. And they talked about the areas where American companies can play a critical role in advancing India’s economic agenda, particularly in areas of renewable energy and solar energy, which the prime minister has said is a priority for India. She also noted that the prime minister had made some positive signals on economic reforms in his budget, some positive signals on FDI, on taxation, and that those were welcome.

They talked a lot about the different areas of collaboration where American companies can bring tremendous value added in terms of some of the focus on smart cities and on Modi’s desire to create new solutions, like taking waste and turning it into energy, which will help both with the waste management problem and with the electrification agenda. And they talked about perhaps having a team from the U.S. come to see how American companies and American technologies can be part of some of these areas. And they talked about the need to spend the next six weeks in taking these ideas and creating some concrete steps that can be highlighted during the prime minister’s visit.

The Secretary noted that as the prime minister is very focused on this signal of being open for business and on creating opportunity, that the failure of implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement sends a confusing signal and undermines that very message that India is seeking to send.

QUESTION: You said that Kerry said that?


QUESTION: And did --

QUESTION: Undermines the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Undermines the very image that Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Secretary Kerry said that. He raised the point and he made the comment that while we understand India’s food security concerns, that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is one that will bring tremendous benefit to emerging economies and particularly to the world’s poor, and India’s actions, therefore, are not in keeping with the prime minister’s vision, and urged that India work with the United States to quickly come up with next steps that would allow this to be brought back into focus, that it is not in India’s interest for a solution to be made that does not include India, and asked that we put ourselves on a timetable for quick action to resolve this.

And he noted that we understand the prime minister’s concern for the poor, particularly with respect to food security, and that President Obama in particular was very much a champion of the poor, but that we felt that there was a way forward here that could both address India’s concerns and preserve the Bali agreement.

QUESTION: Sounds a (inaudible) part of the conversation. They covered a lot of ground, but it sounded like you were on that for 10 minutes?


QUESTION: On the situation in --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, we probably did spend a good 10 minutes of the conversation focusing on WTO hearing the Indian perspectives – their concern about food security; their concern about the fact that when the monsoons fail, they have no other recourse, and that this is a very deep issue in India; but also that, from the Secretary’s perspective, these concerns are not inconsistent with what Bali achieved, and that the main concern that the prime minister seemed to be putting out is that they wanted some degree of simultaneity of having TFA and food security issues move forward together rather than – and so I think that that’s where perhaps there is some movement of trying to move forward on their concerns on food security at a faster pace that would allow them to unblock their concerns on TFA implementation.

MODERATOR: I’m just going to stop you for a second because we don’t have time to actually hold here. We have to --

QUESTION: We have to get --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So let me just tell you very quickly that they concluded by – they spent the remaining 15, 20 minutes focusing on the region, on foreign policy, on Afghanistan, on Pakistan, on the broader Asia region, on China, on SAR, and essentially talked about the need to have greater consultations. The prime minister thanked Secretary Kerry for his personal involvement in Afghanistan, which helped the – move forward the political impasse, which was deeply in India’s interest, and pledged to work with us and talked about the relationship in the region as being important to India, one that we support. Talked about the relationship with China as being both cooperative, collaborative and competitive. The Secretary said we certainly support greater collaboration, we understand the areas of competition, but we think that it’s important that India have a good, constructive, positive relationship with China.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And that’s basically where it ended.

MODERATOR: Thank you. All right, we’ve got to go.