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Indian Foreign Secretary SHIVASHANKAR MENON says the review of 1950 treaty is an ogoing effort since the 1990s.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivashankar Menon and his spokesperson tackle journalists' questions during Nepal PM's India visit.

The following is the full text of the transcript:

New Delhi, 16th September 2008-- Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): A very good evening to you and welcome to Foreign Secretary’s press conference. My name is Vishnu Prakash. I have just taken over as Joint Secretary (XP).

As you know, the Prime Minister of Nepal is currently visiting India. Foreign Secretary would brief you about the visit and then he would be happy to answer a few questions. Let me also introduce - you know them very well - Ambassador Rakesh Sood, our Ambassador in Kathmandu; and Joint Secretary (North) Preeti Saran.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Shivshankar Menon): Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I thought we would brief you about the visit of the Prime Minister of Nepal, Prime Minister Dahal, also known as Prachanda, who is in India. He arrived on Sunday evening, was in Delhi yesterday and today, will be going to Bangalore tomorrow before he returns to Nepal on the 18th of September.

While in Delhi he has had talks with the Prime Minister, who also gave him a banquet yesterday evening, and has met with the entire leadership. He called on the President, Vice-President, met with the Chairperson of UPA, Leader of the Opposition. The Ministry of External Affairs called on him, as did the Minister for Water Resources. He has had a full range of meetings also with several segments of Indian political opinion, leaders of various political parties. I think this is a reflection of the sort of close and unique relationship that we enjoy between India and Nepal.

The visit was particularly important because it is really the first visit of the elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Nepal. As you know, Nepal has gone through historic changes in the recent past and, therefore, this was an opportunity not only to discuss our bilateral relations and how we would take them forward in the new situation but also for Nepal to tell us how they see the future and to describe the changes that they see at home.

Naturally, in the talks with the Indian leadership they reviewed the new situation in Nepal and told us about their plans. But I think this is really for the Nepalese side to brief you about. I believe you will have an opportunity later this evening to ask about that.

On the bilateral relationship, as I said, we have a unique and a very close relationship with Nepal. We have an open boundary; we have a relationship where there are large numbers of Nepalese living and working in India. In most respects I think Nepalese enjoy national treatment, the same treatment that Indians do in Nepal. Because of, I think, Nepal’s preoccupation with developments at home in the last few years, we thought this was - now that they have gone through the process of election, they have elected a Constituent Assembly; there is an elected government in place –a useful opportunity to look forward and to see where we take our relationship.

Both sides agreed that we would reactivate the bilateral mechanisms that we have for our relationship. So, we will now very rapidly, in the next month or so, be reactivating these mechanisms. Among these will be the Foreign Secretaries’ talks, the Home Secretaries will meet, Water Resources Secretaries as well, and the Commerce Secretaries will also be meeting very soon. We will be covering various aspects of the relationship.

At the Foreign Secretaries’ level we normally exchange views on the entire gamut of the relationship. The Nepalese side has been keen for many years that we look at the 1950 Treaty and update it. We have said, again for many years, that we are ready to do so, to review it and to update the Treaty. We hope to do that between the Foreign Secretaries.

In Water Resources, as you know, there are two aspects to this. One, of course, is the immediate problem that we both face because of the flooding in the Kosi. Flood control is an issue. Prime Minister extended his sympathy to the Nepalese side for the damage on their side and also promised Rs.20 crore as immediate flood relief to the Nepalese side for use to help the victims of the recent floods.

We also have larger issues of hydel power which we have been discussing for several years. We hope to rationalize the existing mechanisms and to hasten progress on the development of hydel power projects in Nepal. As you know, Nepal has a potential of something like 84000 MW of electricity of hydel power. There are several large projects which we have been discussing, which are in various stages of readiness. We hope to take those forward.

The Commerce Secretaries will also be meeting very soon to look at various trade, transit related issues, whether it is existing impediments to trade or whether it is ways of increasing the trade. Both sides I think feel the need to do so since it has been quite sometime since we have sat and done this. As I said, many of these mechanisms are existing mechanisms, have not met for some time because, I think, of other preoccupations on their side.

There were also considerable discussions of the kind of economic support that India could give to the democratic transition and the peace process within Nepal, and this will continue. This is a commitment that we have maintained consistently which the Nepalese side was happy to recognize saying that they would not have come to this stage if it were not for the support that they had enjoyed. We indicated that we intend to continue to support the democratic transition and the peace process within Nepal which, as far as we can see, is really an unprecedented process when you see an insurgent movement moving into the political mainstream in a democratic fashion and being integrated into a democratic polity, at the same time as the country itself is developing an entirely new polity. It is something that we have supported, will continue to support in the years to come.

The Nepalese side also asked for a continuation of the kinds of commodity and other supports that we have offered in the past, whether it is POL supplies or wheat, rice, sugar; and we will be doing that. We will continue to help especially before the festive season. I think that is important.

All in all, it was a very successful and constructive visit. It is the first visit really in a long time where we sat down and concentrated on the bilateral relationship and how we could take it forward; and we are very satisfied with the results of the visit.

We have a lot of follow-up to do after this and we are looking forward to continuing to do that work with the Government of Nepal in the years to come.

I will be happy to answer questions on the visit.

Question: Now that India has agreed to review the Treaty, what areas is India exactly looking at in terms of change? Is it security or other issues?

Foreign Secretary: I think we have actually had discussions with Nepal in the past about the review of the Treaty. We did this in the early 90s, in mid 90s; we have discussed this at various stages. It has always been our position that the Treaty really reflects the nature of our relationship. Both Nepal and India have changed; so has the nature of the relationship over time so that it is necessary for us to look at the Treaty and see how we can update it. Our general approach is to see how we can actually build on and improve upon what we have and to see how much more we can do. But I cannot predict today where we will come to at the end of a review where both of us sit and look at this and see. So, we will have to see what we agree; what we find necessary to change, Nepalese side and us. So, to give you a precise ‘yes or no’ answer to your question is very difficult right now.

Question: How would you characterize Indo-Nepal relations in the wake of Nepalese Prime Minister’s recent visit to China? Nepal has been known to be playing (the) China card for decades. Secondly, have we raised the issue of raising the embankment of Kosi river in Nepal at our cost? If so, what is their response?

Foreign Secretary: I think India-Nepal relations, as I said before, are unique and special. They are so because of history, geography, culture, you name it. The nature of this relationship is unique because there is no other relationship like this. It is not a relationship which depends on or is determined by any third country or any external factor. This is intrinsic to the nature of where we are and what we are, both of us as countries. Quite frankly, whatever Nepal’s relationships with other countries is Nepal’s business. That is between Nepal and the other countries to sort out. Our relationship is certainly in our interest and has been in Nepal’s interest also. That is what the Nepalese leaders have been telling us. For us it is hard to think of a prosperous South Asia, of our own prosperity and security, without thinking of the prosperity and security of our neighbours. I think we have discussed this before about how a peaceful periphery is in India’s interest. I think that is the approach that really guides this relationship.

You asked about the Kosi embankment. We ourselves are still studying the issue technically. I believe there is work going on. Nepal is ready to cooperate with us in that effort to try and repair the embankment, get the river back in its bed. That is something that we will do together. But there will be technical discussions and once we have gone through the technical process we will then do this together. But both sides will work together to try and solve this problem.

Question: India had also proposed construction of a dam on Kosi river….

Foreign Secretary: That is a separate issue, the issue of the Kosi High dam. We hope that when we hold these meetings with this new mechanism for water resources discussions that is one of the issues that we will take up very quickly.

Question: They have not been willing?

Foreign Secretary: I think that question you should address to them.

Question: Just a clarification on Indo-Nepal Treaty. Are you insisting on only updating the Treaty or is it a complete, basic change of the structure of the Treaty?

Foreign Secretary: You want a thesaurus? Updating is a pretty big word. I mean it can include various things. I do not think we are closing options here. By saying updating what we are saying is we will both sit; review the Treaty; see how to bring it up to date to reflect today’s reality and what we want to do in the future. And then what we choose to do thereafter frankly is up to us, between India and Nepal. So, by saying updating I am not trying to limit our options.

Question: Have they brought a draft treaty along with them?

Foreign Secretary: No. Not that I know of. I mean I have not seen it.

Question: A couple of quick questions, Sir. Whether the Prime Minister Dahal extended an invitation to Prime Minister Singh to visit Nepal? We have had Prime Minister Koirala visit India in 2006 and we have not had a reciprocal visit and we have had the Nepalese Foreign Minister also here. So, are there any visits planned from the Indian side? The second question is about the situation in Terai which has been seeing increasing lawlessness and the Nepali side has often complained that these Madhesi armed groups were operating from Bihar. Whether the Nepalese side raised this and whether there was any discussion? Whether there was any discussion on the issue of integration which is the big issue left in the peace process? The Indian Army has enjoyed fraternal links with the Nepal Army. Whether there was any discussion on the issue of integration?

Foreign Secretary: Yes, Prime Minister Dahal invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Nepal; he accepted the invitation with pleasure. We will have to set dates through diplomatic channels for the visit. One of the reasons why we are holding the Home Secretaries’ talks so soon is because we want to discuss issues such as security in that belt and criminal activity. Many of these issues affect both of us on both sides of the boundary. We have a common interest actually in making sure that that area is peaceful. So, that is one of the reasons why we will be holding the Home Secretaries’ talks very soon and that is a subject that we will discuss. Army integration and so on was mentioned by the Nepalese side when they described their plans for the future and how they will proceed in their internal affairs.

Question: Hydropower generation has been a relatively untapped area in India-Nepal relations and I believe there are some issues that are holding it up. Are we looking at new projects? And what are these issues really?

Foreign Secretary: I think this was a visit where we were picking up the threads with a new government who have just come to power; where we are trying to bring the relationship back up to speed because for a long time I think on both sides there have been other preoccupations and other concerns and doing the normal business of the relationship. And that is why I think we have decided to have this new mechanism on water resources which will discuss hydropower; will discuss flood control; will discuss all these issues. Whether there is inundation issue, embankments, we will discuss all these issues and try and find a way forward. There are several projects which are on the table, have been discussed between the two countries. There are agreements that have been signed for some projects, for Pancheshwar, for instance. We will now see how we can move forward towards implementing them. Both the Nepalese side and our side expressed a very strong interest in moving very rapidly towards this. I believe that the Government of Nepal has announced a target of 10000 MW of hydropower by 2020 - they are on their own – and that this will largely be through very large dams on these rivers in Nepal and which would also involve the export of power to India. But I do not want to get into the details because this is not the occasion where we would have worked out all the details. That is what the mechanism is for.

Question: This is addressed mainly to the Ambassador. Do you think there is security for Indian investors in Nepal? Secondly, when Prime Minister Prachanda went to China, many commentators in Nepalese papers had written that China might invest in a big way in Nepal and then manufacture goods there for Indian market.

Foreign Secretary: He is the Ambassador of India, not the Ambassador of China, not the Ambassador of Nepal…

Question: I said that. I am asking as to what is the security for Indian investor? Do you find while in Nepal the Chinese and Indian businessmen will have competition in that market?

Ambassador of India to Nepal (Shri Rakesh Sood): As you know, yesterday Prime Minister Prachanda addressed an event which was hosted by CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM. In addition, the Indian investors who are currently present in Nepal had a separate meeting with him to convey their concerns on some of the issues, the problems that they are facing. That was a separate meeting. In his meeting organized by CII, FICCI he spoke at length to address some of the concerns that were raised by CII and FICCI and other business representatives. In the bilateral meetings certainly the issue of providing a conducive environment in which additional Indian investment could be attracted to Nepal was highlighted and emphasized in the official talks when the External Affairs Minister called on Prime Minister Prachanda and also in the talks between the two Prime Ministers themselves. So, it has been registered, he is sensitive to it, the Indian business community has taken it up, the Indian investors there have taken it up; and in his interaction with CII, FICCI also he has responded to it.

Question: In an interview to IBN7, Mr. Prachanda said that he would be willing to have some sort of a dialogue with the Maoists and Naxalites in India to engage them in the political mainstream. Would the Government of India like to engage him actively in any such negotiation? Is there a proposal? Also, he said that he would not like to propose a unilateral draft revision for the Indo-Nepal Treaty but that there should be a special task force or some sort of a review committee. Has any such proposal been made on the table?

Foreign Secretary: I think we deal with our own citizens as equals just as they deal with their own citizens. On the Treaty, the idea is to have a high-level committee headed by the Foreign Secretaries which will look into how we can update it, how we can revise it, review it.

Question: What did you say when you answered the question about the army integration?

Foreign Secretary: I said that they briefed us about their plans. As part of their description of their internal affairs, they told us what they plan to do.

Question: Mr. Menon, apart from the talk about the 1950 Treaty which they asked for review, was there any reference to Mahakali Treaty also because there is a demand for that review also?

Foreign Secretary: Not directly. But when we review cooperation in water resources, in the hydel projects, we will then see how we will deal with that issue. There was no direct mention saying this Treaty needs to be changed in this manner about the Mahakali Treaty.

Question: When the Kosi broke its embankments a few weeks ago the Indian Embassy in Nepal had issued a Press Release which said that Indian engineers were not allowed to go to the site and carry out their work. What is the latest on that? Has anything happened on that? On the flooding itself, was the Chief Minister of Bihar, did you have a conversation where all parties had their points of view? Is there anything being done in immediate term on this issue?

Foreign Secretary: In terms of access, after that Press Release was issued there was access granted and there was work done together on the Nepalese side. Indian engineers did come in and do their work.

About the integrated approach, we do have an integrated approach to this. Ultimately, this is a problem that affects them, us, all of us in India. It is not a question of the Government of Bihar or the Central Government, or one Department or another Department. This is a question that affects Indians. So, I do not think it is a question of do you have any integrated approach. When we speak on these issues, we speak as India. And we spoke to the Nepalese side; the Nepalese side has the same interest as us in trying to minimize not just the immediate consequences for human beings in terms of relief, rehabilitation but also in terms of finding a long-term solution to this problem, which we will have to work out together, and we will do that. That is why it is so important that we both expressed this commitment and said we want to do so in this new mechanism.

Question: I have a question on NSG.

Foreign Secretary: This is a Nepal briefing. I cannot stop you asking but I can stop myself from answering.

Question: Mr. Menon, congratulations for that Platinum medal you have brought India from Vienna.

Foreign Secretary: Where is he going with this? This makes me nervous.

Question: Apart from signing these bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with the US, France and Russia, which are the other countries with which we are planning to have similar bilateral agreements? Secondly, what are we going to do about the six countries the size of Karol Bagh, which were making life difficult for us till the last moment? Are we going to not buy anything from them or do we have a policy on that? Foreign Secretary: I told you, this is a briefing on Nepal and I am not going to get into this. You are free to ask whatever you like but I am afraid I am not going to answer it now. If you need, at the right time we will have a full-fledged briefing on the nuclear issue. But this is not the time.

Question: We need.

Foreign Secretary: You need? We will do it at the right time.

Thank you.

The original text is available here.


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