South and Central Asia: Joint Press Conference with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon everyone. Delighted to be here; I’m sorry that we’re running a little bit late. I’m delighted to be joined by my co-chair, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj; by my cabinet colleague, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; and by her counterpart from India, Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

We’re each going to offer some very brief opening remarks and then we will open up to the questions. I know we have to limit that a little bit, I apologize again, just because of time.

We have just completed the 2015 edition of the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, which this year includes the commercial component for the very first time. And I want to thank Secretary Pritzker for leading that track, together with her counterpart from India, which is a critical component of our bilateral relationship.

This is the second strategic dialogue that I have chaired with my friend Sushma, and I think she would agree that the level of our cooperation is impressive; it is expanding in ways that will benefit not only our countries but will benefit the world.

For starters, we have concluded a very significant Memorandum of Understanding on energy security, climate change, and clean energy. India’s commitment to reach 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 is the world’s most ambitious target in the area of renewables. American companies and research institutions are committed to help our partners achieve that goal. We’re also launching a Fulbright Climate Fellowship program to facilitate the exchange of key research information.

More important still, both of our governments are firmly committed to reaching a truly meaningful, truly comprehensive, and truly ambitious climate agreement in Paris later this year. And that is absolutely critical and reflects the responsibility of world leaders to show the way on problems that profoundly affect not just our countries but all of the citizens of this planet.

Energy and climate change are but two of the many issues on which our governments made progress over the last couple of days, and particularly today in our plenary session. For example, our governments are leading on efforts with 21 other nations to end preventable maternal and child deaths. Our hope is that this initiative will spell the difference between life or death for millions of children and for women between now and the end of the decade.

Second, we agreed on a joint initiative to train troops in six African countries before they deploy to UN peacekeeping missions. This responds to a growing need for effective professional international peacekeeping in regions of conflict. And regrettably, there are too many regions of conflict. The increase in peacekeeping demand is high, and we are very grateful to India for its expertise and for its willingness to help lend that expertise to this task.

Third, we have renewed our joint commitment to maritime security, international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

Fourth, we will be implementing measures to deepen even more our cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, which has claimed too many lives in both of our countries.

Fifth, we reaffirmed our joint commitment to a secure and stable Afghanistan, a sovereign Afghanistan, and discussed next steps in helping the government in Kabul to strengthen its institutions and combat the threat that is posed by violent extremists.

Sixth, we’re launching a promising new Ocean Dialogue to – in order to promote the sustainable – and I emphasize sustainable – development of the blue economy, as we call it. The world’s oceans are being challenged everywhere. The fisheries of the world are either dramatically overfished or in a or near extremis, and it is imperative for countries to come together in an effort to try to manage the fish stocks of the world and in order to make sustainable practices the practices that are accepted across the planet.

Seventh, we established the PACEsetter Fund, a joint $7.9 million fund to promote innovative, off-grid clean energy solutions.

And finally, during the UN General Assembly sessions next week, Sushma and I will join Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida in the first trilateral ministerial meeting to coordinate policies among our three great democracies.

In closing, I want to once again thank the members of both the U.S. and the Indian delegations for their very hard work and for a very productive and candid exchange today. The U.S.-India relationship is a bright spot on the international landscape and is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. President Obama and our entire administration are strongly committed to this relationship, to this friendship. And President Obama looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Modi next week in New York.

Our talks today have given us a platform for further progress. I mentioned at the end of the meeting today that one of the reasons we were late is there was so much to talk about. There are so many areas of cooperation. There is so much going on between us. It is clearly one of the most fruitful, one of the most productive bilateral relationships that I have the privilege to work on, and I’m very grateful to our colleagues, my colleagues for helping to make it so.

So with that, it’s my pleasure to yield the floor to Minister Swaraj.

EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER SWARAJ: Thank you. Friends, Secretary Kerry has just now told you that we have just concluded the first India-U.S. Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. Our discussions have been most productive and fruitful and allowed us an opportunity to assess and review all the good work being done on both sides in different fields. We have also charted new ideas and initiatives to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation in different domains. We also reviewed the outcomes of the bilateral health dialogue, energy dialogue, and the joint working group on climate change. All of these dialogues and meetings were held in the last couple of days.

In my meeting with Secretary Kerry earlier this morning, we shared our strategic priorities, interests, and concerns on issues of mutual interest, including security and counterterrorism, confidences in India’s Act East policy, and the U.S. rebalance in Asia. Secretary Kerry and I agreed to work towards forming India’s membership of APEC.

A main takeaway from our discussions includes our shared view that we need to keep the big picture, the strategic framework of relationship, in mind, especially when it comes to our strategic security and political interests regionally as also internationally as also when we deal with trans-sectional issues.

We also talked about creating new substantive underpinnings to deepen bilateral engagement, including in the fields of defense, security, cyber, energy, climate change, science and technology, space, health, and other areas of economic development.

We have launched a new high-level dialogue between India’s foreign secretary and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State on Regional and Global Issues. We welcomed U.S. reiteration of their support for India’s membership of the four major multilateral export control regimes, including the NSG.

We spoke of India’s aspiration for greater participation in internet governance organizations such as ICANN and related bodies. We agreed to convene a track 1.5 program to further cooperation on internet and cyber issues in this regard.

We have agreed to step up our cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism. We have recognized the threat posed by Lashkar-e Tayyiba and other groups operating from safe havens in our region, and the need for Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. I’m happy that we have been able to conclude a joint declaration on combating terrorism, to expand our counterterrorism partnership.

We recognize climate change as one of the most pressing challenges of our times. We have agreed to maintain close consultation in the run-up to the COP 21, the Paris conference of parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We are also looking at an early extension of the U.S.-India Technology Safeguards Agreement to facilitate U.S. satellite components on Indian commercial space-launch vehicles for another 10 years.

Secretary Kerry and I are also due to meet again in a few days’ time with our Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Kishida, for the first ever trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of our three countries.

To sum up, we have had a most productive exchange of views today on bilateral, regional, and global developments. In our assessment, the dialogue will drive forward the strategic relationship and advance the main specific bilateral functional engagement. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Secretary Pritzker.

SECRETARY PRITZKER: First I’d like to begin my thanking my co-chairs, Secretary Kerry, Minister Swaraj, and Minister Sitharaman. I also want to acknowledge and thank the co-chairs of the U.S.-India CEO Forum, Dave Cote and Cyrus Mistry, for their strong leadership and commitment to injecting the recommendations and perspectives of our country’s private sectors into our commercial relationship.

The last two days have been remarkable and historic, a major step towards realizing our shared vision of our countries’ leaders. Indeed, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi are committed to deeper trade and investment ties between our countries. And as part of this shared vision, the President and prime minister have called on all of us to increase U.S.-India trade fivefold. We simply cannot meet that goal of increasing U.S.-India trade fivefold without the input and perspective of both our private sectors and without laser-like focus across all levels of our two governments to address the impediments we face to doing more business together. Stakeholders from both the public and private sectors have been active participants in the last two days. Our initial work plan focused on our initial – on our nation’s joint priorities, including improving the ease of doing business, infrastructure development, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, and harmonizing standards and global supply chains. We made enormous progress in each of these areas.

Our efforts come at a moment of extraordinary opportunity and urgency for both the United States and India. We have known for decades that our commercial relationship has not lived up to its enormous potential. Despite being the fastest growing major economy in the world, India is only America’s 11th largest trading partner and 18th largest export market. Today, given the global headwinds in the global economy, neither of us can afford this underperformance any longer. As President Obama has said, we must make it easier for Indian and American companies to buy from each other, to invest in each other, and to create with each other. Now is the time to address the impediments to growth faced by our businesses and economies, and we will only succeed if we work together.

I can tell you that after the last two days, we have had great positive energy, strong participation across our governments, integrated the views of the private sector into our agenda, and we have formed the basis to develop a robust working plan. Put simply, an expanded economic partnership between the United States and India will allow us to create greater prosperity for our workers, our businesses, and our communities in both our nations. That’s what brought us together this week and that must remain our focus in the days, months, and years ahead.

We are already seeing signs of progress. For example, press reports this morning indicate that Boeing struck an agreement to sell Apache and Chinook helicopters to India. This deal is a clear indication of Prime Minister Modi’s leadership in improving the ease of doing business in his country and an important symbol of the Indian Government’s commitment to closer ties with a leading U.S. enterprise.

This morning, we also heard a presentation from Harvard Business School and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad about the Commerce-Harvard Business School Cluster Mapping Tool. These two academic institutions are working together on a cluster map that will collect a broad range of economic data on Indian regional economies. Today, the Indian Government agreed to support this effort because they recognize that this tool can help Indian companies integrate into global supply chains, strengthen the Indian economy, and advance Prime Minister Modi’s economic development initiative: Make It in India. This tool will help American businesses find investment opportunities in India, find the right markets for our goods, and find potential partners.

In addition, our department announced that Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews will lead a Smart Cities Infrastructure Business Development Trade Mission to India in February.

These are exactly the types of collaborations we need to ensure that our commercial relationship truly lives up to its potential. I hope everyone here – Indian and American, in government and in business – will join us in seizing this opportunity to keep our nations open for more business together. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Secretary. Secretary Sitharaman.

MINISTER SITHARAMAN: Thank you. First, let me thank my co-chair, Secretary Pritzker, and also the U.S.-India CEO Forum chairs, Mr. Cyrus Mistry and also David Cote.

The elevated S&CD provides a platform for taking on trade and commerce to the next level between our two countries. We have identified six work streams – one on business climate; the other on innovation and entrepreneurship and skill development; the third on infrastructure development and – as in smart cities; standards is the other; next on technical textiles and guar gum; and the final one on corporation in services. We expect these work streams to come up with a roadmap to incentivize further investment and boasting of trade.

We have also agreed to collaborate in organizing an innovation forum in 2016. Both sides will work together for creating a platform for promoting a culture of innovation.

We have also agreed to collaborate on standards between the standard-setting bodies of the two countries. As a first step, the CII and the ANSI have signed an MOU for regular updation of standards for use in the industry.

On standards a bit further, both sides have also agreed to exchange between regulator – to have exchanges between regulators for minimizing barriers for trade. We have agreed to explore opportunities for cooperation between India’s National Physical Laboratory and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technologies, NIST. Encouraged by the success of the 2014 Commercial Dialogue in Corrosion Control, both sides agreed on the importance of continuing these dialogues as per the agreed terms of reference. U.S. recognizes and appreciates India’s efforts to launch a national mission on corrosion control technologies and standards.

The next is on services. The U.S. has agreed to support India’s Swayam initiative for developing evaluation techniques for massive open online courses and distance education courses by facilitating discussion between industry experts and specialists.

The next is on infrastructure. U.S. is collaborating with India on its Smart Cities Initiative on three of the 100 smart cities: Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Ajmer in Rajasthan, and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. They are ready to welcome a trade mission and to participate in global smart city tenders.

A small beginning has also been made on technical textiles, where the United States has agreed to facilitate exchanges between India’s Center of Excellence and U.S. universities. We also agreed on collaborating on standards in these areas. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. It’s now our pleasure to take, I think, one question from each. Is that what it is?

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir. We have time for two. The first question will come from Ros Jordan, Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And I also have a quick question for Madam Minister. First, Mr. Secretary, regarding the situation in Syria, there’ve been an increasing number of reports in the last 24 hours about Russian military aircraft being moved into position near Latakia and Tartus. What more can you say about this? And in a larger realm, is the U.S. concerned about Russia’s efforts to expand its sphere of influence across the Middle East, and if so, how is the U.S. going to counter it? In a similar vein, in terms of expanding influence, was this particular dialogue with India designed to send a message to China that it’s not the only player in the Asia Pacific realm?

And for you, Madam Minister, how does this dialogue enhance India’s efforts to expand its own economic and political influence across Asia? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me speak to both of those very, very directly. With respect to Syria and the Russian aircraft, yes, they have increased aircraft, and there are certain kinds of aircraft there which, depending on what the long-term decision is by Russia about its presence, could raise some questions. But for the moment – for the moment – it is the judgment of our military and most experts that the level and type represents basically force protection, a level of protection for their deployment to an air base, given the fact that it is in an area of conflict.

Now, you raised the question of Russia’s support and why it’s doing this and the sphere of influence across the Middle East. If they’re looking for a sphere of influence across the Middle East, it’s a pretty strange way to go about it, because support for Assad is support for a Shia minority that has dropped barrel bombs on its people, that has gassed his own people – war crimes – that has starved his people, tortured his people – 10,000 or more photographs of people who were tortured. And if you’re choosing to try to spread influence to spread it by supporting those kinds of activities and that kind of individual choice in a – against a whole bunch of countries in the region that are opposed to those activities and to the person who has committed them, it’s a very odd way to spread influence.

If, on the other hand, Russia – and it is nothing new that Russia has chosen to support Assad. This has been the policy for the last five, six, seven years and much more. So there is nothing new in what Russia has chosen to do, except the level of increased presence on the ground to shore up the Assad regime.

Now, why is it that we have said that presents a challenge? It’s not a challenge to our influence or to what we are – to our presence. It is a challenge to the notion that you really want to have peace that can reconcile the sectarian and deeply moral division that now exists between the activities that President Assad has engaged in and the population of Syria that’s fleeing the country. They’re voting with their feet. They’re leaving. And what is happening is the country is being destroyed in the process by Assad’s insistence that he and only he is the person who can somehow lead it and by the Russian and Iranian support for that theory. And we don’t agree with that, and we believe deeply that there has to be a political resolution here. But that political resolution can only come about through negotiation.

The one thing we – not one thing. We agree on some key things with the Russians. We agree that we both want a Syria that is whole and peaceful and stable and secular and where its sovereignty is respected. We both want to see ISIL destroyed and defeated and gone, as well as any other violent extremist entity. We both have concerns about the need to end the flow of foreign fighters and the attraction of those foreign fighters, which draws people to this battle which is dangerous for everybody.

The big difference between us is that we believe their sustaining of Assad is inadvertently or unwittingly a continuation of the attraction of those foreign fighters to the fight, because they will come to oppose Assad. And therefore, if you really want to end the war, you have to get to the business of a political dialogue in which you have some kind of negotiated resolution to that fundamental fact. And that – and we’re – we don’t yet have clarity with respect to the Russian effort. If they are there to fight ISIL and only ISIL, even as they provide continued support as they have previously to Assad but with a view to getting to a legitimate negotiation and to cooperating with people against ISIL, that’s one possibility. And it’s one – it’s something that we will obviously talk about in New York in the next few days. But if they are there to shore up Assad and to simply stand there in a way that provides Assad with continued sense that he doesn’t have to negotiate, then I think it’s a problem for Syria and it’s a problem for everybody who wants to bring an end to this conflict which has gone on for too long now.

I just met with a group of refugees in Germany the other day, and listening to their stories of barrel bombs being dropped on them from helicopters from the sky – people who simply want to lead a better life and have an opportunity and live free of oppression and of all that is going on. When you hear those stories, you recognize how imperative it is that the global community come together and find a solution. Our hope is that Russia is prepared to be helpful and Iran prepared to be helpful in finding a peaceful resolution to this conflict. The framework was set up a number of years ago. Russia signed on to that framework. It’s known as the Geneva communique of 2012, which puts forward a transition by mutual consent whereby you move to a peaceful resolution of the future of Syria. We’re prepared to engage in that discussion immediately, and we hope Russia likewise will do so.

And on the – on China, look, this meeting has nothing to do with China. We made no mention of China in this conversation. This is about U.S.-India relationship, two great democracies – the oldest and the largest – that have come together, brought together by common values about freedom and opportunity, innovation, the ability of people to make choices in their life and to do as well as they can. And we – there’s no message to China here intended other than the sort of normal commerce and cooperation that goes on in the world by countries of like mind that want to create a better relationship without regard to geopolitics and chess moves on the political stage. This is about a country that has millions of people still living in poverty, a country of great innovative capacity that wants to provide for its people and grow effectively, and we see in our common relationship very important common goals.

It is also about our mutual security interests, and I suppose tangentially you could argue that because we are in common accord with respect to the South China Sea and rule of law, that that is a message to China. But it’s really a message to everybody, to all countries, that freedom of navigation and rule of law are the standard that we’ve been working for and towards in concert with the global community under the United Nations and otherwise ever since the end of the last world war, and with a great commitment to try to end conflicts between states. And now we face an increased challenge of non-state actors presenting the greatest challenge to all of us. So that’s what we’re talking about, and we welcome China at the table to discuss with us, and we will be discussing with China in the next days in President Xi’s visit here in Washington and in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.

EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER SWARAJ: Madam, I think the question posed to me has already been answered by Secretary Kerry, but still I would like to reiterate what he said that China did not even figure in our conversation.

The second this is that this is a bilateral dialogue between India and United States. This is a dialogue to deepen and strengthen our bilateral cooperation, our bilateral ties, and this dialogue has not been charted to create wider influence in any part of the world or China. And for your information, I would like to tell you that United States has the same dialogue mechanism with China too. This is called Strategic & Economic Dialogue. In India it is called Strategic & Commercial Dialogue – the same connotation. So they have the same dialogue mechanism with China, so any fear or apprehension that this dialogue was aimed towards China or for wider influence in part of the world, that is mistaken.

MODERATOR: On the Indian side I recognize Smita Prakash of ANI.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question to Minister Swaraj. You spoke about expanding India-U.S. cooperation on counterterrorism. What are the contours of the relationship? I mean, has it been amped up, and to what extent?

To Secretary Kerry, in your talks with Minister Swaraj, was there a discussion on the threat being posed by ISIL in South Asia? And how can India and the U.S. cooperate to counter that threat? Thank you.

EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER SWARAJ: Smita, as I said in my statement, terrorism is the biggest menace. I would like to add to that that this is also the greatest challenge in the present context, and to fight terrorism you need global as well as bilateral cooperation. And I’m very happy that today India and United States have issued a joint statement on combating terrorism, and I’m also happier that United States appreciated our concerns and they also pledged support to fight terrorism together. You will get this joint statement which we have issued, but I would just like to quote two points from that statement. And you would – it will give the answer to your question. Let me just quote two things.

One, we have said we reiterate that threat posed by al-Qaida, Lashkar-e Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D-Company and the Haqqani Network and other regional groups that seek to undermine the stability in South Asia, then we call for Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attack. As I told you that they appreciated our concerns.

So another bullet says we strongly condemn the July 27, 2015 terrorist attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab, and August 5, 2015 attack in Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir. This demonstrates the fact that we are determined to fight terrorism together.

SECRETARY KERRY: And I’ll just add I think she answered that question for me too. I mean, we are determined to fight it of all forms, and we did talk about ISIL specifically. We are committed to try to augment our efforts with respect to ISIL and other groups. Over the last six years, the intelligence community here in the United States has worked with all of our partners, and particularly with India also, in order to stop attacks before they happen. This specifically grew out of the Mumbai events, and we know it’s difficult to do, but we’re working cooperatively to be able to do that.

And we hope to work even more with India’s input on this – on the question of ISIL specifically. Part of that, I am sure, will depend on strategic choices that are made over the course of the next days both here in Washington and elsewhere with respect to Syria and the rest of the region. Those are discussions that we’ll be having in New York over the course of the next few days. But India has pledged to be a key partner in all of that, and we’re very grateful to them for the peacekeeping announcement that I just made here today, which is a pretty significant effort by India to step up at a time where the UN is under enormous pressure to meet peacekeeping obligations in the world.

MR KIRBY: That concludes the press conference. Thank you very much.