Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to France and UAE (July 12, 2023)

July 12, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this special media briefing on the forthcoming visit of Honourable Prime Minister to France and the United Arab Emirates. To give us a sense of what is in store and also the context of the visit, we have the privilege of having with us Foreign Secretary Sir, Shri Vinay Kwatra. Also joining us on the dais, Shri Vipul, Joint Secretary, the Gulf Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. Sir, may I hand over the floor to you?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much, Arindam, and good afternoon to friends from the media for this special media briefing on the two upcoming visits of the Honourable Prime Minister. So, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji will depart tomorrow morning for his visits to France and UAE. The first segment of this two-country visit will be a visit to France. He will reach Paris by midday tomorrow. The visit to France is for July 13th and 14th at the invitation of His Excellency Mr. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. This would be Prime Minister's sixth visit to France. Prime Minister Modi and President Macron had their most recent meeting on the sidelines of G7 summit in Hiroshima in May this year. And as you are all aware, the two leaders have remained in very regular touch since they first met in June 2017. After Prime Minister reaches in Paris midday tomorrow, his first interaction would be with the Prime Minister of France during the remainder of day tomorrow, as also with the President of the French Senate, Mr. Gérard Larcher, on the same day. In the evening tomorrow, Prime Minister has an interaction scheduled with the Indian community, which would be followed by a private dinner to be hosted by President Macron at Elysee Palace in honour of the Prime Minister.

The major official and ceremonial part of the visit will start on the 14th, which is with the Prime Minister's participation at the French National Day celebrations, Bastille Day. This is a very, very special gesture extended by France to Prime Minister Modi. As part of our participation in the Bastille Day celebrations, a large tri-services contingent from India will also participate in the Bastille Day parade, along with three Indian Air Force aircraft, which would also take part in the fly past after the Bastille Day celebrations. The programme on the 14th also includes meeting with the President of the French National Assembly, Mrs. Braun-Pivet, and a series of other meetings with the thought leaders and prominent business people. There is going to be another ceremonial reception at the Elysee Palace on the 14th, later in the evening, which will then be followed by delegation-level discussions, led by Prime Minister Modi and President Macron. The two leaders will also interact with the CEOs from both countries under the rubric of India-France CEO Forum. The programme in France would conclude with a state banquet to be hosted in honour of Prime Minister in the evening of 14th of July at the iconic Louvre Museum. As you are all aware, India and France have a long-standing strategic partnership, which actually captures a series of strategic convergences that both countries have on a range of issues. And this year marks the 25th anniversary of our strategic partnership. There are several pillars of our strategic partnership, and each of these pillars would come up for stock-taking and the pathway ahead in terms of future cooperation in these areas. Security cooperation, space cooperation, engagement in the civil-nuclear domain, technology partnership, partnership in the field of counterterrorism, cybersecurity, climate change, renewable energy, issues relating to International Solar Alliance, reorientation of our security partnership in line with Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat objectives, supply chain integration between the industry and business segments of the two countries, etc., would all form part of discussions under the bilateral talks that the two leaders would hold.

Economic ties, one of the key centrepieces of India-France strategic partnership, has been on robust upswing, spans across not just the conventional areas of trade, industry, and investment cooperation, but is also increasingly focused on the new and emerging domains, including the startup industries. India has had a very robust participation, for example, in VivaTech, which is one of the signature forums of participation by technology, innovation, and startup companies in France. Space economy is again a very upcoming area besides the traditional area of cooperation in the space.

Besides, of course, the substance of discussions, we all know that both President Macron and Prime Minister Modi share a very warm and personal strong equation, and their common vision has actually given a very strong guidance to the further deepening and expansion of our partnership. The visit of Prime Minister to France would be both rich in substance and also in form, and we believe that it would set new benchmarks for our strategic partnership in years ahead.

After concluding his visit to France, the Prime Minister would depart for UAE and reach there on 15th of July, where he will meet His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, to be followed by ceremonial welcome, bilateral talks, and other events organized in honour of Prime Minister's visit to UAE. We have all seen in front of our eyes in the last few years a significant transformation that has taken place in India-UAE relations, and a central driver of this has been the vision of the two leaders, the President of the UAE and the Prime Minister of India. Both of them, of course, also enjoy excellent personal rapport, which is reflected in their very frequent engagements. They last met in June in Abu Dhabi when PM visited UAE while on his return from the G7 summit in Munich. They have since, of course, also met in many virtual platforms, including the last one in July last year during the I2U2 summit.

As you would all be aware that in February 22, during the virtual summit, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and UAE was signed. A joint vision statement was also issued at that time. We have seen a significant jump, qualitative enhancement in the substance of our engagement across the whole range of areas since the signing of the CEPA, and the partnership has continued to grow from strength to strength. This is particularly reflected in the strong economic exchanges, both on the trade side but also on the investment side, people-to-people ties, and also convergence on a range of regional and international issues. Bilateral trade is currently at a very strong $85 billion between India and UAE, making UAE India's third-largest trading partner last year, and India's second-largest export destination is UAE. Also, very substantial large sums of FDI flows from UAE have taken place to India, making UAE the fourth-largest overall investor in India. UAE and India are also very strong partners in the field of energy security, and besides those, several new areas of partnership and engagement have also registered strong progress, including in the field of renewables, health, food security, S&T, education, fintech, and defense and security.

As we all know that Indian diaspora is present in very strong and robust numbers in UAE, about 3.5 million, and the historical people-to-people ties between India and UAE remain a key pillar of our strategic partner. UAE is also a special invitee during India's G20 presidency summit to be held in September this year. India and UAE are also cooperating very closely on COP28, which will be held in UAE towards the end of this year. Prime Minister's visit to UAE provides a useful opportunity for us to review this important partnership and inject further momentum across the whole range of areas that we cooperate in. I would stop here and if there are questions, we'll take that.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. Please introduce yourself and the organization that you represent before asking your questions.

Madhurendra: Sir, Madhurendra main News Nation se. Aapne strategic partnership ki baat kahi India aur France ke beech. Ye mana ja raha hain ki pradhan mantri Modi ke is daure ke dauran bharat aur france ke beech kuch naye defense deal ki ghoshna hogi, agar aap uspe kuch bataye ki kya submarine aur Rafael jaise jo baatain ho rahi hain…

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] Sir, this is Madhurendra from News Nation. You mentioned about a strategic partnership between India and France. It is being said that during Prime Minister Modi's visit, there will be announcements of some new defense deals between India and France. Can you provide some information regarding them, the discussions about submarines and Rafale-like matters…

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Pahle se hi? [Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] You want to know them in advance?

Madhurendra: Bilkul kyuki tamam chizain procedure mai hongi, aur uski ghoshna ka intezar hain, us barain mai jo bhi prakash aap dalna chahain aap daal sakte hain?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] Certainly, as all matters must be in the process, and we are awaiting the announcement, you can share whatever information or insights you would like to provide on this topic.

Manish Jha: Sir main Manish Jha hoon TV9 se. Mera sawal hain ki pradhan mantri is baar phir bastille day ke function mai chief guest rahenge toh India ka pahle hi jo participation raha tha aur is baar ke participation mai kis level ka scale mai antar hain?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] Sir, I am Manish Jha from TV9. My question is that, Prime Minister will be the chief guest at the Bastille Day function again this year. What is the difference in the level of India's participation compared to the last time?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Pichli baar matlab? [Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] What do you mean by last time?

Manish Jha: Ye dusri baar hain jab Indian Prime Minister is function mai chief guest hain.

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] This is the second time that the Indian Prime Minister is the chief guest at this function.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Dono bar chief guest rahain hain… main samjha nahi aapka prasha kya hain? [Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] Both times we are chief guest… I am not able to understand your question.

Manish Jha: Aapne mention kiya ki jaise indian army ke aur dusre log waha par participate karenge, toh kitna antar hain 2009 ki event mai aur is baar ki event mai?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] You mentioned that the Indian Army and others will be participating there. What is the difference in terms of participation between the event in 2009 and this year's event?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Accha contingent ki baat kar rahe hain? [Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] Oh, so you are talking about contingent.

Amiti Sen: Sir, I am Amiti Sen. I am from the Hindu Business Line. Are there any specific trade and investment issues that the PM would want to take forward during the meeting? And the CEO forum, do we have the names of some of the companies that would be represented from both sides?

Huma Siddiqui: Sir, I am Huma Siddiqui from the Financial Express. You talked about ties in space and space economy. What about the space economy? How is India and France involved in that? And also, there is news that the French President is interested in attending the BRICS summit. So would that also be discussed?

Suhasini Haidar: Suhasini Haidar from the Hindu. Foreign Secretary, if we could ask about the India-France nuclear cooperation for the Jaitapur NPP. Last year, in November, our Minister, Mr. Jitendra Singh had gone to France. Sorry, he had welcomed the Minister from France. He had announced that in time for this visit in the 25th year, that all the pending issues on Jaitapur would have been resolved. Are we expecting to see some kind of an announcement during the Prime Minister's visit given that it's been several years and the issues of cost as well as liability in particular seem to be (inaudible)? And later, if we have time, I had another question, but we can come back to it.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Dekhiye jo aapka sabse pahle prashn tha ke jo bharat france ki strategic partnership hain usmai khas taur pe raksha ke kshtra mai aapne particular defense deals ke baarain mai jo baat ki. Dekhiye yadi aap bharat france raksha sahyog ki vyapakta ko dekhenge toh aap payenge ki uske kai mukhya bhag hain. Dono deshon ki militaries ke beech mai jo exercise hoti hain wo hain, dono deshon ki armed forces ke beech mai jo logistic support cooperation hain who hai. Defense ke kshetra mai jo bharat aur france milke coproduction karte hain wo hain. Raksha ke kshetra mai hi kai aspects mai jo research aur design ki prakriya mai raksha ke sambandho se judi hui jo prakriyaye hain uska hain. Indian ocean region aur larger indo-pacific region mai kis prakar se dono deshon ki navies maritime security ki samasyaon ko lekar aapas mai sahyog karti hain wo hain.

Toh bharat france ka raksha sahyog ka yadi aap paripeshya dekhenge toh aap payenge ki wo aapne aap mai kafi vyapak, sashakt aur sudradh hain. Swabhawik hain ki jab do neta milenge toh is raksha sahyog ki vyapakta ko kis prakar se aage joda jaye. Jaise ki maine apne vaktavya mai kaha kis prakar se hamare sahyog ke uddeshya aatmanirbhar bharat ki prathamiktaon se jude, wo apne aap mai mahatvapura aur aanivarya chiz hain. Toh hame ye swabhawik hain ki jab do neta milenge toh kis prakar se dono deshon ka raksha sahyog, coproduction, codesign, co-development ki disha mai badhain, kis prakar se aatmanirbhar bharat se jude, woh vartalap ke vishay avashya apne aap mai honge. Un vartaon ke baad kya uplabdhiyan hoti hain, kya uska niskarsh nikalta hain, wo hum varta ke baad aapse uchit roop se share karenge.

[Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] With regard to your first question in which you talked particularly about the defense deals in the context of India-France Strategic Partnership. If we look at the broad scope of defense cooperation between India and France, you will find that there are several key aspects of it - there are joint military exercises between the militaries of the two countries; there is logistic support cooperation between the armed forces of both countries; co-production in the defense sector various areas; there are aspects related to research and design processes in the defense sector; there is cooperation between the navies of both countries to address maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean region and the larger Indo-Pacific region.

If you look at the scope of India-France defense cooperation, you will find it to be very robust, strong, and extensive in itself. Naturally, when two leaders will meet, they will discuss how to further enhance the scope of this defense cooperation. As I mentioned earlier in my speech, how the objectives of our cooperation could be linked to the priorities of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, that in itself is an important and essential thing. It is natural that when two leaders meet, there will be discussions on how to take the defense cooperation between the two countries in the direction of co-production, code-signing, co-development, and how to align it with the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative. The outcomes and conclusions of these discussions will be shared with you appropriately after the conversations take place.

Dekhiye aapka jo prashna tha bastille day pe pradhan mantri ji ka jo swagat, jo ceremonial welcome hoga. Bastille day pe pradhan mantri ji ki upasthiti apne aap mai ek unique swagat hain pradhan mantri ji ka. Pure bharat ke samman ka ye prashn hain. Is bastille day mai wo kevel ek akele mukhya athithi honge. Kai baar past mai aisa hua hain ke bastille day pe kai baar ek se jyada bhi aamantrit aathithigan rahte hain. Jaise ki maine bataya ki is baar ki bastille day ki parade mai hamara ek strong tri services contingent bhi ismain participate karega. Aur sath mai hamare bhartiya vayusena ke tin ladaku jahaj bhi ismai bhag lenge.

Iske alawa jaise ki maine kaha pradhan mantri ji ki upasthiti mai aur unke swagat mai ek state dinner hoga 14 tarikh ko hi, Elysee pe ceremonial welcome hoga, varta hogi. Yadi aap 14 july ke jitne events dwipakshiya sahyog aur pradhan mantri aur rashtrapati Macron ke bich mai dekhain, unki vyapakta ko dekhain, unke vistar ko dekhain, toh aap payenge ki woh aapne aap mai unique aur ek abhutpurwa swagat hoga. Ye pichle nimantran se kaise compare karta hain wo aap swayam pichle nimantran ko utha ke dekhain compare kar ke, apne aap niskarsh swayam nikale toh jyada behtar rahega. Lekin jo is baar bastille day ke participation ke jo program ki sanrachna hain aur program ke alawa jo baki yatra ke jo sandarbh hain, uske jo specifics hain, aap payenge ki wo bahot hi extensive, aur bahot hi deep hain aapne aap mai.

[Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation] Regarding your question about the Prime Minister's welcome and ceremonial events on Bastille Day. Prime Minister’s presence in the Bastille Day is in itself a unique honour for the Prime Minister and honour for India. In previous years, there have been occasions where multiple guests were invited on Bastille Day. As I mentioned earlier, this year, from our side, a strong tri-services contingent will participate in the parade, along with three fighter jets from the Indian Air Force. Additionally, as I mentioned, there will be a state dinner hosted in Prime Minister’s honour on 14 July; there will be ceremonial welcome at the Élysée Palace, with discussions and interactions. If you observe the events related to bilateral cooperation on 14th July between Prime Minister and President Macron, their scope and extent, you will find that this is in itself a unique and extraordinary welcome. How does it compare with the previous invitation - it would be better for you to assess and derive your own conclusions by checking the previous invitation and comparing with it. You will find that the structure and specifics of this year's Bastille Day participation and other aspects of the visit are very extensive and deep in themselves.

Ms. Sen, I think your question was on trade, investment and the CEO forum. As I mentioned, if you look at different dimensions of India-France partnership, you will find that trade, investment and technology, whether it is related to goods or it extends to services, you will find that they have always been a very, very strong focus of our engagement between the two countries. The CEO forum provides both the leaders an opportunity to provide a clear direction to the CEOs on both sides, to look at new elements of trade, technology and investment partnership between the two countries. Given the kind of changes that are taking place in the world, how exactly do the industrial supply chains of France, more important than that the value supply chains, not just the good supply chain, but the value supply chains get integrated between the two countries will be a very important element of the discussions during this visit. These would naturally be positioned in the CEO forum meeting when it takes place on 14th of July. We will be sharing the specific details of the CEOs participating in the CEO forum as we go along. At this stage today, we are not able to share those details with you, but I can tell you that this would be one of the key centerpieces of discussions when the two leaders meet, as also when they together speak with the members of the CEO forum on 14th of July.

On space economy and on BRICS, if you look at India's overall growth journey in the space sector and how India has partnered with different countries, you will find that India-France partnership in the field of space is actually one of the oldest and perhaps also it would be correct to say, it is probably the most wide-ranging in the field of space. The space sector globally is undergoing considerable evolution at this stage, which is having an impact on different elements of space sector economy, whether it is relating to the launches, whether it is to the development of the payloads, whether it is relating to the small micro and nano satellites, medium satellites, heavy satellites. All these areas are actually new areas of great promise in terms of India-France bilateral cooperation in the field of space. We have seen over the last few years very strong growth and deepening of our partnership in the field of space and we are confident that during this visit there would be further expansion of this engagement between the two countries, which will begin to touch on some of the new areas of the space economy between the two countries.

On the BRICS participation, as you know, South Africa is the host country for this year's BRICS summit. What countries are being invited to participate in the BRICS summit I think is a question that one should address actually to South Africa and not really to India in the current context. We have heard of expression of interest from France wanting to participate in the BRICS summit, but as I said this is something which actually should be addressed to South Africa.

Ms. Suhasini, on the Jaitapur question, again if you go back you will find that civil nuclear cooperation as a larger frame of reference has always been one of the very strong pillars of India-France partnership. You have mentioned about two of the areas of focus in the progress in the civil nuclear partnership, one relating to the question of liability and the second relating to the cost. I am not an expert in this space, but I can easily also add another one which relates to how exactly do the techno-commercial arrangements of the Jaitapur cooperation project and also the engineering elements of those need to converge together for the concretization of cooperation to materialize. Now this is something on which both sides, the EDF and the relevant French authorities on their side and Department of Atomic Energy and other agencies on our side, are very intensely engaged with each other to address all elements relating to progress in the Jaitapur project. Whether these are questions relating to nuclear liability, obviously there is a set of laws, rules and other explanatory frameworks that are governing of the liability question when it comes to India – CNLD Act, CNLD rules, FAQs that got instituted, the strong and robust insurance mechanism that exists for that. Combine that with, as you yourself observed, the questions relating to the cost at which the eventual power is to be produced. Relevant techno-commercial elements of the cooperation need to be factored in also. So both sides are currently, as I said, very, very closely and intensely talking about it to make progress on this issue and which we would, depending upon what stage we are at, will suitably reflect it in the outcomes for the summit.

Manash: This is Manash Pratim Bhuyan, PTI. The Prime Minister's visit to Paris is taking place at a time in when Europe is rallying very strongly behind Ukraine, and President Macron has been one of the global leaders who has been maintaining some kind of contacts with Moscow. Obviously, we are very close to Moscow. Our Prime Minister has been talking to President Putin since the beginning of the conflict. Do you think, in fact, it is a good occasion for the two leaders to explore the possibility of ensuring some kind of solution to the Ukraine conflict? Thank you.

Shridhar: Shridhar from Asian Age. We have seen in the past couple of weeks France being ravaged by riots triggered by the protests of the North African immigrants there. Something similar was witnessed about three years back, a similar strife. At that time, Prime Minister Modi had spoken to the French President and expressed India's solidarity with France in fighting terrorism and extremism. But this time, India has been largely silent, and we have not really reacted. And also, was there any apprehension from your side that the visit could be impacted in some way because the riots were raging till very recently? Thank you.

Suhasini Haidar: Foreign Secretary, if you would just indulge in a question slightly related to Europe, and that is that on the eve of Prime Minister's visit there, the European Parliament is actually looking at a resolution on Manipur today. I wanted to ask what the Indian response is, and in particular to a news report that says India actually hired a lobby firm in Brussels, I think it's called Albar and Geiger, to try and stop this resolution from being discussed in the Parliament, but this was not successful.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Manash, on Ukraine and contacts both by India and by France, look, it's not correct for me to prejudge what the two leaders would discuss when they meet, but our perspective on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, on the derivative impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, our constant interaction with President Putin, most recent meeting between Prime Minister and President Zelenskyy on the sidelines of Hiroshima G7 summit, are well-known, well-appreciated, well-acknowledged position on Russia-Ukraine conflict. I think when the two leaders meet, naturally the developments in different parts of the world, the challenges, some of those developments throughout will come up for discussion. My Prime Minister and President Macron have discussed this issue in the past also. I'm sure they'll take off from the conversation they've had in the past. And will exchange perspective on that. As I said, what exactly those discussions would be, it would not be really prudent for me to speak on that.

The riots in Paris that you spoke about, its impact on the visit. Look, it's a matter internal to France. And from our perspective, we don't see any impact on the visit whatsoever. We have never had any doubt right throughout the course, and have kept preparing for it completely.

On the Manipur question Suhasini, this is a matter totally internal to India. We are aware of what is happening in European Parliament. And we have made a reach out to the concerned EU parliamentarians, but we have made it very clear, this is a matter totally and absolutely internal to India.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you, Foreign Secretary, sir, as well as thank you to Shri Vipul for joining us for the special briefing. Thank you.


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