'Our approach to India is no different from the approach that we have made in India over the years, recognising its non-aligned status. That's their decision; we're not trying to change that. We have common interests, and we have actually built on those common interests... We think there's more potential to build on those common interests.'
'Security, stability, freedom of sea lanes, economic development, energy, all those are certainly in the interest of India and the region, as they are to the United States.'
The transcript of US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel's interaction with reporters travelling with him hours before he landed in New Delhi on Friday on a three-day visit to India.
During the visit, Hagel is scheduled to hold meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Rear Admiral John Kirby:
As always, the secretary will have a couple of opening comments, and then we'll get to your questions.
Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel:
John, thank you, good morning, whatever it is. I think you want to stay focused on India. I know we'll open it up during questions or whatever you want to talk about, but I'll hold my thoughts, comments, points on Australia until the next round.
Let me just give you my general take on the India trip, and then we'll open it up and talk about whatever you want. I think, when you look at the world today, and you're all quite familiar with this, that India not only represents one of the most significant countries by any measurement in the world today, but will help shape a new world order that is emerging in this young century.
The relationship between the United States and India certainly for our interests, for US interests, and I think for India's interests, as well as the Asia Pacific, but also global interests, is important. And where we can find common interests, where we can share areas that help promote our own countries', our own economies' stability, security, peace, trade, technology, then we need to take that initiative and we need to do that.
The point of my trip here is to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with a new Indian government. I think you all know who I'll be meeting with, and you've seen my schedule. But the last time I was here was 2008, and I was here with my then-Senate colleagues, Biden and Kerry. And we were in the region to monitor the Pakistani elections, and then we were in Afghanistan and then came here. I had been here a few times previous to that, but that's the last time I had been here.
In those meetings in 2008, it was pretty clear then that the potential for India and what they were evolving toward was going to be very important for our future. When you look at the region itself, South Asia, the instability that lies to the west of India, and a different kind of a world that lies to their east, and their south, and their north, all are -- they all represent different challenges and different kinds of challenges for India.
And the sooner we can find ways, the United States and India, to participate in these areas of mutual benefit and also concern, I think the better as we see this world that is uncertain and complicated and dangerous and unpredictable continue to evolve.
Big power stability and big power security has always been important in the world, as you know, but it's not going to be diminished in its importance as we look ahead over the next few years. And I think there's clear evidence of why that's the case when we assess the challenges that we're dealing with today.
A couple other points on India. I'm here to, first, listen. I'm here to get acquainted. I come a few days after Secretary Kerry and Secretary (of Commerce Penny) Pritzker. I come about a month before the new Indian prime minister will be in the United States and meeting with President Obama. So this is a -- I think an opportune time to spend a couple of days here listening, learning, and getting acquainted.
I'm here to pursue different possibilities and options that have been initiated over the years. We have a number of things, specific projects that we will discuss. One is the renewal of the 10-year defence framework agreement. You also know that when Secretary Panetta was here a couple of years ago, the initiative that he presented, the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, which has been important as it built a framework and a base to lay some specific proposals down, which we are working with the Indian government on now.
I'm interested in understanding more of their interests and some of those specific proposals. Are there interests in other areas? We are doing more than we've ever done military-to-military with India with joint exercises. We want to continue to build on those exercises. We'll talk about where we can expand the potential for joint exercises.
When I was here in 2008, and then the time just prior to that, last two times I was here, it was -- as you recall, during the end of the second George W Bush administration -- that presented the nuclear initiative with India. I was a very strong supporter of that initiative in the Senate and on the Foreign Relations Committee.
I thought it was an initiative clearly in the interests of the United States, but I also thought it was an opportunity, as well, for India to open up its pathway to peaceful nuclear exploration -- commercial exploration -- in using nuclear power. A nation that demographers tell us will overtake China in population, I think, 2030, will be the most populous country on Earth, that needs to provide an astounding number of jobs and economic opportunities for their people each year, continue to widen and deepen its educational opportunities for its people.
Power, energy is going to be a specifically important driving force as energy is for oil-developing economies and emerging economies, growing economies. And that opportunity that I thought that was important for many reasons that the Bush administration opened up was about one example of where I think different kinds of initiatives can be explored with these two large democracies, one being the largest democracy in the world and the other being the oldest democracy in the world.
So India and the United States begin with a pretty solid framework of general understanding, especially of democratic values and principles, and that's not an insignificant starting point in foreign policy or foreign relations.
So let me stop there and then go to questions.
Rear Admiral Kirby: Gopal?
Mr Secretary, you spoke about this nuclear deal that was struck in the Bush administration. When that deal was announced, there was a lot of expectation, anticipation, and promise of doing more defence deals with India and hoping to sort of have India as -- count on India as an ally in the international order. Now, looking from that point to now, do you see that those promises have borne out? Because there seems to be a lot of reluctance in India to be called and seen as a US ally. And, you know, projects have slowed down. There's still a lot of doubt and hesitation.
I wonder how you would describe the relationship. Is it one -- one of an ally? Or is it something less than an ally? Where do you see it going?
First, the United States is mindful -- I am mindful of the sensitivity of India's independence. And it has been an independent non-aligned nation since it became a democracy. So we start there, and we respect that. We take note of that. Optics are important.
The people of India, like the people of any nation, deserve their decision-making space, and how they want not only their country to be perceived, but what foreign arrangements they want to make based on their terms. So, I get that.
And I do think that there is always an issue when -- especially a large -- the greatest power on Earth, the United States, develops relationships with countries. No country wants to be seen as a second cousin type of arrangement to the United States or any country. And that's as it should be. So that's not an issue.
We then must find ways to adjust, to what India's political requirements are, how they want to handle their relationships, specifically with the United States. It always must be seen, like any arrangement, as an agreement on a project or a deal or a sale as good for both sides.
And any decision India makes and any decision the United States makes, any decision any nation makes, is always and must be always predicated on the self-interest of that country. Now, that does not mean that nations have mutual self-interest. We do.
Second, to your point, I noted -- and you all know this -- we have a new government. And India has had challenges over the last few years it's had to work through. So I think that the promise, the potential of that nuclear agreement with India was not fulfilled to its full potential certainly as quickly as the United States had hoped, and I suspect India had hoped, but we always have to adjust and adapt and be patient with the realities of internal governments and their people, and especially democracies, and you respect that.
So this new government -- this new set of possibilities, I hope, might present some new potential for ways that our two countries could further connect with our own common interests. As I noted over the last few years, we've done more joint exercises in military-to-military than we ever have. Our militaries have a very good relationship. India keeps its non-aligned status, its independent status. But that does not at all indicate they are disconnected from the world or the region, but that's for them to decide.
And I said here in my opening comments, I'm going to listen, and I'm going to learn, and find if I can more ways where we can develop opportunities to work together, and when Prime Minister Modi sees Obama, President Obama, next month, with three of the president's cabinet members having been there, India, and gotten acquainted, then maybe that can build the platform a little higher, a little quicker on potential relationships and possibilities that we have in the future.
Mr Secretary, you say you want to go and you want to listen and you want to talk, but do you have some goals for the next couple of days for these meetings? Isn't there anything you want to come away with, even if it isn't sort of a hard-and-fast agreement on either some technology or some sales deal? Do you have some sort of goal that you'd like to be able to come away with? And are there some points where the US is going to have to put some boundaries as it goes to share technology and share some co-production with India? How do you bridge that?
On the first point, yes, I do have goals and objectives for the meetings, and I suspect the Indians do, as well. I mentioned two in my comments, opening comments. One is to see if I can help advance a renewal of the defence framework agreement. Second, as I mentioned, to see if we can make some progress on getting a better understanding from the Indians what projects -- specific projects they may have interest in that fit within the framework of the defence, trade and technology initiative. As you know, we've been working closely with the Indian governments at different levels on advancing these proposals that are on the table.
Some are more advanced and in stages further down the road than others. Some I suspect have a more resounding interest by the Indians than others. But I'd like to try to see if I can narrow those interests. Frank Kendall, who I think you all met with this morning, is with me. I asked Frank if he would take on the role of being the Pentagon's point person on this particular initiative.
Ash Carter was very -- when he was deputy and undersecretary -- was very involved in this. And nothing ever occurs on any front or in any institution without leadership, without focus, without prioritisation, without working the issue. These things don't just happen.
India has many options to do many things with different partners on all fronts, and we're well aware of that. So this is a high priority. It's a high priority for me to continue to build on progress that we've made in the past.
I've spoken on the phone with the new defence minister, who also, as you know, serves as the finance minister. And I've had a good conversation with him to kind of help set up the meetings. I am aware, any nation is aware, Lita, that when we talk specifically about co-production, co-development opportunities, and we know the Indians are very aware of those possibilities and are very interested in wanting that kind of arrangement, and we have a number of proposals and thoughts as to how we could take this further.
We have laid some things down on the table in some of these proposals that, in fact, are unique to India that we've not done with any other country. There always is the balance of this.
Also, India has made progress on its direct investment framework on percentage ownership, outside ownership in companies. And we'll talk about that. One of the things I want to see if I can understand more is more clarity on some of the numbers that have been laid down out there, ownership of up to 49 percent, but what are the guidelines on that? How is that to be implemented? What's the potential to go beyond that? So those would be areas that I will have an opportunity to explore.
Rear Admiral Kirby: David?
Hi. You will be talking with a country that borders on China, also on Pakistan. And are you expecting to talk about India's relations with those countries, with the US policies towards those countries? How much of a concern is China's influence on India to the United States? And how much of an issue are you going to make of that?
Well, David, as I said in my opening comments, and the way I framed it up, every border of India -- I think I started in the west, which you have noted Pakistan, and China in the north, Southeast Asia on the east presents a whole different set of challenges, and then the south. Each of those borders presents different dimensions of India's relationships in the region and with its neighbours.
Of course, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, ASEAN nations, Pacific Asia, all those realities will come up in our discussion. They will need to be discussed, because they all affect India, and we are affected obviously by our relationships with all of those areas, and specifically those nations. I'll be very interested in asking Prime Minister Modi and others their opinion on some of these specific areas, on relationships.
I noted -- I think we were all very pleased with the Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif's coming to the inauguration of Prime Minister Modi. My understanding is that they had a very productive conversation. I'll want to build a little bit on that and give some clarity to the Indian leaders as to what our intentions are and what we're doing, how we see these relationships, but I also want to get a better understanding of how they see these relationships, how they see the US fitting in to those relationships. So the specific nations that you mentioned, David, will I'm sure come up in all the conversations.
Rear Admiral Kirby: One more, Gopal?
Mr Secretary, do you feel like, you know, the emphasis you place on trying to understand what India wants, this is an unusual role for the United States. In most places of the world, when the United States shows up, there's an enormous interest in that country to be an ally, to do the things that are beneficial, but here it seems the way you're describing, the United States is sort of, you know, asking and pleading with India, and India is kind of like the reluctant partner. And like one person said, India wants to be permanently wooed by the United States.
Do you feel that you're in that position or the United States is in that position?
Well, the position the United States is in is, first, recognising, as we always have, we want partners all over the world, big partners, little partners. We want relationships. We want friends. Big problems, geopolitical problems cannot, will not ever be solved without partnerships. No one nation is so influential, so powerful that it can dictate outcomes anywhere in the world, and I think there's clear evidence of that today.
So our approach to India is no different from the approach that we have made in India over the years, recognising its non-aligned status. That's their decision; we're not trying to change that. But as I said, we have common interests, and we have actually built on those common interests by some of the areas that I have noted. We think there's more potential to build on those common interests. Security, stability, freedom of sea lanes, economic development, energy, all those are certainly in the interest of India and the region, as they are to the United States.
Now, how you do that is not a one-way street. It's a two-way street. It's like any good deal. A good deal is a deal that both sides feel that they came out with something. So it's not a matter of us somehow trying to restructure a relationship with anyone. The realities are, as they are, and I think as we said earlier, we're building on what we have built, and we think there are even more possibilities to go further, wider, deeper with things that we've started.
And as you all know, the last couple of years, there's been some preparation transition, as India was headed for elections, preparing for a new government, there's always some adjustment to that, until a new government is in place, the full government is in place, and that doesn't mean that we didn't continue to deal with Prime Minister Singh -- we did -- and continue to make steady progress.
So that's the way I would describe the way I'm approaching this. And I think that's the way Secretary Kerry did it. That's the way Secretary Pritzker did it. I know that's how President Obama feels. It's a great country, India. And we acknowledge that, and we respect that, and anywhere we can continue to develop partnerships and friendships with India or any other nation, we want to do it.
Courtesy: The US Department of Defence
Image: US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel arrives for his meeting with India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (not in the picture) in New Delhi. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters