Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
2:58 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd like to say that we've been very pleased with the visit. It's important to recognize that the goal here, the object of the exercise, was to establish a relationship between the two leaders. They had a good chat together. They had a private chat, as well as a chat with a number of us participating. They established good rapport, and established a basis, I think, to communicate on a number of issues which are on our ongoing agenda. There was a lot of talk, particularly at lunchtime, where many Cabinet officials on the economic side were assembled.
There was a lot of talk about India's economic reform program. India, as one of the big emerging markets, as a major area for American investment. The President was very complimentary of the Prime Minister for his leadership on the economic side.
The Finance Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was also at the lunch. And he, as the Prime Minister recognizes really, the architect of their economic reform program there. And at one point, the Prime Minister was saying with regard to the economic program that Manmohan Singh was the person who designed the program, and when he gets into political trouble, the Prime Minister gets him out; when the Prime Minister gets into economic trouble, the Finance Minister bails him out. I think they have a very good relationship and have worked very closely together.
We've agreed for a more regular series of high-level exchanges. The President announced that Commerce Secretary Brown's going to be going to India; Energy Secretary O'Leary is going to be going to India. We've also agreed to an ongoing series of exchanges with the Ministry of External Affairs in India. And I think other, not just on a regional basis, but other officials will be going as well.
As the President said, there are some issues on which we don't entirely agree, but we're in the process of, and certainly made a great deal of progress today towards being able to discuss issues on where there isn't 100 percent agreement with greater ease and in a very much more natural way.
Q: Can you get down to some specifics about what did they really say when they talked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On what particular issue?
Q: Anything that they talked about. You're reporting to us on what they talked about.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the economic side?
Q: Anything. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, we can ask questions about the specifics.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think that's a good idea.
Q: Tell us what they said, not just that they talked, tell us what they said.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Would you like to ask a specific question?
Q: Yes. I'd like to know what did they say about the developing markets. What has India got that we want, and what have we got that they want?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What India has that we want, among other things, is a large middle class, upwards of 200 million people, which is a very good trade opportunity for the United States. We are India's largest trading partner, but I expect --
Q: In what -- in what goods? What type of goods?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Textiles, machine tools -- all kinds of things that India sends our way.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did not actually discuss at this level of detail, but the sectors of the Indian economy where U.S. businesses see trade and investment opportunities include equipments and services in telecommunications, the airline industry, power generation --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Power generation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a number of issues like that. That level of specificity was not really dwelt on in the discussions. This was a get-to-know-you meeting. This was sort of touch all of the big issues that are out there at a fairly high level.
Q: There must be something they said.
Q: Are you finished with your presentation, because I have a question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Go right ahead with questions. I think that's --
Q: Was there any new ground broken on the nonproliferation issue? Did the American side press for -- renew their pressing for a cap? And did the Indian side show any willingness to talk about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nonproliferation was definitely discussed. Again, we did not have the goal of moving the Indians somewhere along the spectrum on this in this particular meeting. But I do think that the relationship that was established between the President and the Prime Minister will make it easier to have ongoing discussions on this kind of issue.
We agree on goals on nonproliferation. We do not entirely agree on means.
Q: When you say that -- did each side just present their point of view? Is that what you mean when you say it was discussed, then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there was a genuine exchange.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These issues -- the Prime Minister has also held other meetings around town. But in the meeting with the President, we started at the sort of big picture on the international scene. Nonproliferation was not addressed in considerable detail, although the two leaders had a private discussion and we understand that it was discussed in greater detail in their private meetings.
Q: When you talk about goals and means, in terms of the goal, is there agreement, let's say, on the part of India that ultimately the goal should be NPT?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. That I would characterize more as a means. But there are things, as I said, that we agree on. One is comprehensive test ban treaty. The Indians have been very helpful in working with us on promoting that. Another is a cutoff of fissile material production. We've also worked closely on that. And we agree that proliferation needs to be curbed, and that we should work together in finding means to do that.
Q: Did the Prime Minister restate India's opposition to signing NPT? He simply did not address that question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, the President and the Prime Minister had a private meeting, but I don't -- I would doubt very much that was --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not made that the focus of our trying to engage them in nonproliferation issues. We have a lot of other more dynamic issues that we're trying to discuss with them. The NPT has not been a centerpiece of our dialogue on nonproliferation.
Q: What are those dynamic issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Advancing the discussions on fissile material production, getting an acknowledgement both at the regional level and at the global level of what the goals are. The Indians have kept their debate on nonproliferation at a fairly abstract level, and we're trying to maybe perhaps make it more concrete.
Q: Did they repeat their resistance, though, to a regional -- some kind of regional agreement without an overall --more of a global --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Again, that has been the subject of ongoing discussions, waxing and waning. And we intend to keep talking about it -- continue talking about it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our understanding is that their preference is to start global. They're not saying that they would never see a regional application. But they -- conceptually, they think you start with the global things in which we agree, and then you move to the regional focus. They have not said that the door is shut on a regional approach.
Q: So, then, you're talking specifically about nonproliferation --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right --
Q: During the discussions, during the talks, were you --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, the President and the Prime Minister met privately.
Q: Okay. And after that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And both before and after that, there was a group discussion.
Q: Could you give us an idea of some of the discussions, if any, on human rights? Kashmir or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We certainly touched on these subjects of human rights, Kashmir, and again the two leaders talked about that privately, I'm quite sure. But, again, it wasn't the focus of the discussion. The major themes, really, were, how can these two countries work together, form a new partnership to pursue the goals and issues on which we'd agree and which are mutually beneficial to us. And in that regard, clearly the economic side was one of the biggest chunks of our agenda today.
Q: Is there a follow-up, then, on some of these very specific issues of nonproliferation and --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's an ongoing process. There's constant discussion --
Q: By low-balling nonproliferation, human rights, and high-balling the economic side with India, isn't that a terrific message you're sending to Beijing that these are really your priorities?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think -- we're not China experts, but I think the dialogue between the United States and China stands on its own merits. I don't think they're watching, necessarily --
Q: If you put such low priority with regard to India and human rights and nonproliferation, why should the Chinese feel that you're putting such high priority on these two items with regard to them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say we are not putting low priority on those items. We've had an ongoing dialogue with the Indians on human rights. Some of it's been private. A lot of it's been public. And that is something that it's well known that we talk about a lot.
Q: But you just said these were not the focus.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was talking -- no, I was saying the focus of this particular -- these discussions here today were on the economic side and on the general way ahead for a new partnership between America and India after the Cold War.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the President also tried to make the point in the press briefing that both the nonproliferation issue and the human rights issue which, let's all agree, are the areas of disagreement between the United States and India, or have been for quite a while.
But he wants to put it in the larger context of the overall thrust of the relationship. The dynamism in the U.S.-Indian relationship is that Americans are more interested in India now as an economic player, and therefore, that's what's driving -- creating a larger constituency in this country for a relationship with India.
The issues on which we disagree are ongoing issues, and they will be handled. But he is trying to put it in a context in which those issues can be worked. In the case of China, it may be a completely different context or the balance among those issues may play out very differently.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the point here is that the overall -- excuse me -- excuse me -- excuse me, could I just follow up on what my colleague was saying -- that overall relationship is much broader than Kashmir, human rights and nonproliferation and the issues which, as my colleague said, have divided us in the past.
Q? One specific, please -- one specific -- did either side today address the issue of if the U.S. proceeds with further F-16 sales to Pakistan that India will either buy Russian or French fighters?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not aware. If it came up in the private discussions, we're not --
Q: Would you then say that today's talks failed to further any more in the political scene and remove any of the misunderstandings, and it was all about making some progress in the field of trade?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I would say that today's --
Q: Can I record you for that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, this is on background. But I would say that the talks succeeded in making both sides aware of the breadth of the agenda and the potential of the agenda between the United States and India. And, again, we were not trying to resolve this issue or this issue or this issue. It wasn't a checklist of agenda --
Q: Why not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because the whole idea was for the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of India to establish a relationship so that in the future it's easier and more natural for them to work together so they can pick up the phone when they've got a problem, or there's a vote at the U.N. or some such.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: By virtue of the fact that they met, they enjoyed each other's company, they laughed a little bit together, they told each other stories of economic problems, et cetera, there is already progress on what had been a misunderstanding, I think, on both sides.
I think there's a sense of relief, perhaps, on both sides that what had become a sort of rigid misperception, that there was somehow some big problem in U.S.- Indian relations, I think they're both more relaxed that that is now behind us and that there is now a context for dialogue.
Q? Did the Prime Minister offer us any inducement for business to go over there? Did he maybe say they were making some system easier for businessmen -- American business --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Over the last three years, you know, that has been one of the major goals of their economic reform program -- to attract foreign investors.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the lunch, Mickey Kantor noted, for example, in very recent days we've resolved an almond dispute with the Indians, a tariff-related dispute over almonds. Mickey Kantor told the Prime Minister that almond growers in California will be very pleased.
The Indian parliament has voted a new copyright law, which is part of a very complex cluster of things that have to happen on intellectual property rights, but it is a step in the right direction. The Indians are continuing to move forward on their economic reform, which will create a climate and environment in which American businesses can move more easily.
Q: I'm sorry, but I'm unfamiliar with what was done on almonds? -- on almonds?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On almonds, it was an adjustment of tariff rate.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was an adjustment of the tariff rate between shelled and unshelled almonds.
Q: About the misunderstandings, did you have to spend much time explaining the U.S. position on Kashmir given the misunderstanding over that? Exactly what is the positions so we'll know?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Indians are very, very well aware of our position on Kashmir. You know, over the years and a lot in recent months, we've been discussing it. So there really was, there was no need to spend time on that.
Q: Could you very simply explain what the problem is with all those people protesting the visit here? What was the reason for the protest and why are they protesting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe in Lafayette Square there were both Sikh and Kashmiri Americans, Canadians of --
Q: And Tamils.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excuse me?
Q: And Tamils.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: India is an enormously diverse, multicultural population. A lot of the various ethnic groups in India have human rights grievances against the central government.
Those are problems that we're well aware of. We talked to the Indians about them. And I think those groups represented people that advocate improvements in human rights.
Q: Human rights?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: the prisoners in China?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q: Was there any talk of lifting technology controls on dual-use technology that India desperately seeks from the United States, and could be the engine of growth that President Clinton talked about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, we didn't get into the specifics on these sorts of issues.
Q: You may have just answered my question. But it was, beyond the high-level exchanges, were there any specific initiatives proposed that would advance trade between the two countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing specific, really.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Reestablishing the subcommission?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, well, that's a good point. In terms of our ongoing economic and commercial dialogue, we're revitalizing the Indo-U.S. Joint Subcommission on Economic and Commercial Issues. And we are going to have a meeting of that group later in the fall.
Q: What's the name of it again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Indo-U.S. Joint Economic and Commercial Subcommission.
Q: What is it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a group that will meet, probably annually with economics officials from both sides.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the under secretary level, I believe.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Under secretary level.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- on our side.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And frankly, this had been established in the '80s and had kind of fallen into disuse. But with the change in Indian economic policies and the onset of economic reform and liberalization in India and everything else that's going on in the world with trade groups and the Uruguay Round and GATT and all of that, we both decided there was a lot more to talk about, and that we'd like to have regular meetings to discuss these issues -- both overall trade issues and specific issues between us, bilateral issues.
Q: State Department, ma'am? The State Department? Where are they held? In the State Department?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No venue has been decided yet.
END 3:16 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269424