Briefing: Previewing Secretary Kerry's Travel to Bangladesh and India

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
August 29, 2016

MODERATOR: Thank you, Operator. And thanks to all of you for joining us. It’s a pleasure today to welcome our senior State Department official, who will preview the Secretary’s trip to Bangladesh and India. For the purposes of this call, our speaker will be known as a senior State Department official. For your information only and not for reporting purposes, we’re pleased to be joined by [Senior State Department Official]. And with that, I’ll turn it over to our senior State Department official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [Moderator]. And thanks to all of you. I’m looking forward to this important and timely visit. I wanted to give you a little bit of background on the two stops and then respond to your questions.

First, on Monday, August 29th, Secretary Kerry will be arriving in Dhaka on that Monday morning for his first official visit to Bangladesh. He’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Hasina and will underscore the enduring partnership between the United States and Bangladesh. He will, of course, convey the sympathies and support of the United States in the face of recent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and will be discussing our growing cooperation on a broad range of global and bilateral issues.

Foreign Minister Ali will be hosting a lunch in honor of the Secretary, a working lunch where they will review our partnership on a broad range of issues, including democracy, development, security, and human rights. In the afternoon, the Secretary will be meeting with U.S. embassy staff and their families. And finally, he will be giving some remarks later that day outlining the importance of the U.S. relationship with Bangladesh and the potential for advancing stability, security, and prosperity by strengthening our cooperation. We do anticipate other engagements with civil society, labor, and political leaders may be announced in the coming days.

Then the Secretary will be departing that evening for New Delhi, India. The Secretary will arrive in Delhi the evening of Monday, August 29th for the seventh U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which was announced and established in 2009. In 2015, the United States and India added the commercial track to the dialogue in recognition of the importance of the two countries’ trade and commercial relationships.

So on August 30th, Secretary Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will co-chair, along with their Indian counterparts, the Strategic & Commercial Dialogue, and they will be joined by senior officials from 12 U.S. Government agencies and institutions. During this visit, the Secretary will have bilateral meetings with External Affairs Minister Swaraj, National Security Adviser Doval, and with Prime Minister Modi.

On Wednesday, August 31st, the Secretary will address an audience of students, academics, business leaders, and journalists on the U.S.-India relationship at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, which will be followed by Q&A from the students.

Again, additional meetings and interactions may be announced in the coming days. But I wanted to note that this will be Secretary Kerry’s fourth trip to India during his tenure as Secretary of State.

And with that, I think I would welcome your questions.

MODERATOR: That’s great. Operator, if you can take questions, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Once again, if you do have a question, please press * then 1. And we do have a question from Steve Herman, Voice of America. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon, and thank you for setting up this call. I’m just wondering if you could a little bit more about the stop in Dhaka and especially engagement on fighting terrorism. It seems like it’s a very brief visit there. As you noted, it’s his first official visit there. And in light of what happened July 1st in Dhaka, are we expecting to see any sort of agreement that’s going to be announced on further cooperation and terrorism?

And perhaps if you could talk a little bit more – the interviews that I’ve done, people have said that the United States has actually been pushing for closer cooperation, but it’s been the Bangladeshis that have been resistant. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any change in attitude since July 1st on that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Certainly, I think that there is a tremendous amount that we are already doing with the Government of Bangladesh in strengthening their capabilities with respect to addressing the challenges that they’re facing right now. It is a longstanding partnership, and we have actually had programs in place for many, many years that deal with counterterrorism and security partnership.

But I will say that in the past several months there has been an intensification of the dialogue, and we are deepening that partnership and engaging with both civilian law enforcement bodies and with the military. So we will certainly seek to have those discussions and conversations to see what more we can do to support Bangladesh as it faces these challenges.

MODERATOR: That’s great. Operator, we can go to our next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If there are any additional questions, please press * then 1 at this time.

MODERATOR: Thank you. If there’s no – I’m sorry, go ahead, Operator.

OPERATOR: Yes, sure. We just got someone to queue up. We have a question from David Brunnstrom with Reuters. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Many thanks. Hi, [Senior State Department Official]. Thanks for doing this. I just wondered how much discussion there’s going to be on – in current India-Pakistan tensions and Kashmir and how much of a concern those are right at the moment for the United States.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we will certainly have conversations and dialogue in all three of the bilateral meetings – both with the external affairs minister, with the national security adviser, and certainly with the prime minister himself – on regional issues and relations across the board. And so I suspect that there will be conversations with respect to not only India-Pakistan but also developments in Afghanistan and other parts of the neighborhood.

I do believe that the current situation – and I’ve seen all of the reporting around that as well – is very much going to be part of the conversations. We have a longstanding policy of encouraging and advocating for greater dialogue between the two countries on addressing areas of difference, and that continues to be our position. But we also have underscored that combatting terrorism is a high priority for the United States in its bilateral relationships with all of the countries in the region, and that all the countries in the region have an obligation to address these issues, and that we don’t make any distinctions with respect to terrorist groups in any part of that region, that there are no good or bad terrorists, there are only terrorists, and that all countries have an obligation to ensure that there are no safe havens for terrorists.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, I mean, is – how would you characterize the situation in Kashmir at the moment? Would you say that tensions were particularly high, and do they need to be calmed down a bit?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would say that there is certainly a greater degree of protest and violence that we’ve seen, and that underscores our longstanding position that there needs to be a dialogue process that takes these issues into consideration. And we have always urged for that, but that is a process that needs to be determined by these two countries, and we are supportive of anything that will move that process forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Operator, are there any more questions?

OPERATOR: We have a follow-up from Steve Herman, Voice of America. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Yes, just one follow-up on Bangladesh. Will the Secretary be meeting with anybody from the BNP?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As I said, while I don’t have anything to announce at this point, we do anticipate that we will be announcing additional meetings and interactions as they get finalized.

MODERATOR: That’s great. And, Operator, do we have any last questions? This will be our last.

OPERATOR: At this time, there are no questions in queue. Actually, [Moderator], we do have a question now from Nicolas Revise, AFP. Please, go ahead.

MODERATOR: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, and sorry I was five minutes late on the call, so sorry if you addressed already this. I have an economic question. I’d like to know where exactly the U.S. and India are in the sector of civil nuclear cooperation. And more broadly, is your target still at 500 billion U.S. dollar of trade and investment between the two countries?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Thank you. On the latter, certainly we have set that ambitious and aspirational goal that we seek to move from a trade and investment relationship of about roughly over 100 million to quintupling that. And that was something that was set forward by both the President and prime minister, and that continues to be our ambitious and aspirational goal.

Clearly, for two-way trade to reach that level, much needs to happen in terms of trade and economic reforms, and we have seen some movement in that direction. Certainly, we welcome the passage of the Goods and Services Tax. And – oh, I’m sorry if I said million. I meant billion. But I think you know what I was referring to. And so again, we think that further reforms will only help unleash greater trade and investment, which is something that I think will benefit the people of both countries.

With respect to the civil nuclear cooperation, we continue to pursue that very aggressively and ambitiously. As you’ve seen through the past two years, beginning with the understandings that were achieved during President Obama’s historic Republic Day visit, that the obstacles that had bedeviled civil nuclear cooperation for many, many years, we believe, have been addressed. And now it is really for the commercial entities to be able to work through those issues with the Government of India. We believe that there has been strong progress on that, and things are moving well in that direction.

MODERATOR: That’s great. And if we have any other questions?

OPERATOR: There are no questions at this time. Please continue.

MODERATOR: That’s great. I want thank our senior State Department official for [the] time on this call, and we wish you all a very safe trip.