FM Krishna: Excellency, Mr. Avigdor Liberman, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, distinguished representatives of the media, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me begin by saying that I am delighted to be here and have had an excellent and productive visit. I met President Peres yesterday, and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier today. We had the opportunity to review our bilateral relationship, as well as the regional and global issues of mutual interest which were discussed.
I have just concluded a very useful and productive discussion with Foreign Minister Liberman. During our meeting we reviewed our areas of cooperation and our bilateral relations: political, economic, scientific, and cultural. We also discussed the regional developments, both in West Asia and in South Asia. We have just signed the extradition treaty between our two countries.
I also met with the Finance Minister, who was recently in India, but, as I was out of Delhi, I could not have a meeting with the Finance Minister, but today I had the benefit of having a meeting with him and exchanging views. I sincerely hope that my visit will provide continuity to the active political and economic engagement between our two countries.
India and Israel complete 20 years of diplomatic relations this month. To mark this important milestone, we intend to organize several events during the year which would enhance economic, commercial and technological cooperation. We also hope to further strengthen people-to-people ties by showcasing the best of India's rich and diverse culture. I would like to invite the government and people of Israel to participate in these celebrations.
In these 20 years, the bilateral relationship has developed in several critical areas, to the benefit of the people of both countries. Bilateral trade has increased from a modest level of 200 million US dollars in 1992, to nearly 5 billion US dollars in 2011. We have built a strong partnership in agriculture, a sector which is extremely critical to the Indian economy, and have been able to use Israeli expertise to enhance productivity, particularly in food and vegetables. The two countries are now set to adopt the next agricultural plan which will significantly enhance both the geographical as well as the substantive scope of this cooperation.
India is also keen to have Israel as a partner in several other sectors in which innovation and cutting-edge technologies are essential for our continued growth. These sectors include water management, biotechnology, telecommunications, hi-tech industries, homeland security, and several others. The Indian economy provides immense potential and opportunity for the application of Israeli research as well as Israeli investment.
A free-trade agreement is presently under negotiation and we hope it will be finalized soon. Several other innovative ideas of promoting financial and technological cooperation are also being explored. We are also keen to further enhance tourism from Israel to India, and to intensify cultural exchanges and, thus, increase mutual understanding and goodwill.
Let me end my remarks be expressing my gratitude to Foreign Minister Liberman and the government of the State of Israel for the warm hospitality that they have extended to me and my delegation. Thank you, Excellency.
FM Liberman: Your Excellency, Minister of Foreign Affairs of India, Mr. Krishna, first of all, I would like to express my appreciation for your very important and maybe the first such high official visit after 10 years.
Today may be the best time to review our bilateral relations after 20 years since we established our diplomatic relations. We achieved real progress in many fields, as you mentioned, especially in terms of economy with 5 billion dollars of trade between both countries. India became one of the most popular destinations for our young generation. And, of course, cooperation in fields like agriculture, water treatment, and security became more and more efficient.
We also appreciate your approving Israel's request to open a new consulate general in Bangalore, your hometown. And I'm sure that it will be a very important hub to restart our cooperation on new issues like IT and hi-tech. Also, we exchanged views regarding the situation in the Middle East, in the eastern part of Asia and, what really may be the most important thing - the determination and intention of both sides to deepen our bilateral relations on all levels.
Thank you for this very, very important visit. And I know that for you it's the first, but I'm sure that it's not the last visit to Israel. And we hope to see you more times in our capital. Thank you.
Q: Minister Krishna, two questions, please. First question: Former President of Pakistan, Mr. Musharraf, said in an interview over the weekend that Pakistan needs to enhance its relations with Israel as some kind of a countermeasure to Israel's relations with India. What's your comment on this? And the second question: You mentioned a 5 billion dollar trade between the countries, but it still seems that, in a way, in the Israeli-Indian relationship, Israel is still the mistress and not the legal wife. India is still voting against Israel in multilateral foras, and I don't just think that an Indian prime minister ever visited Israel. Is this going to change?
FM Krishna: You referred to President Musharraf's statement issued from London. I think it is between Israel and Pakistan to decide what kind of a relationship that they want to establish, as much as it is between India and Israel as to what kind of a relationship that we want to establish. And we certainly will not come in the way of Israel having its relationship with any other country, because each relationship stands ultimately on the values on which we stand for.
Just now I said that this is something common between India and Israel, the media freedom. And, well, between Israel and India, we have democracy, rule-based law, we have adult suffrage and, whenever the people want, they can change the governments. And, well, the list goes on like this. So we certainly would like Israel to look into all this and to come to a solution.
Q: A question to Mr. Liberman. Israel and India have different stands on certain issues, and does it affect our bilateral relations? And where do you see our relations going from here?
FM Liberman: Thank you. I think that we really achieved, after 20 years, excellent relations, and the tendency we see is very positive. We enjoy cooperation on many levels. And I hope that we really accomplish in the next five years even closer cooperation on other issues, including on the political level. And I think not only this visit but also the previous visits of other officials are further proof of the high level of these relations. We enjoy very close cooperation and open dialogue, and for the first 20 years it's enough. For the next 20 years, of course, we hope to upgrade these relations.
Q: Mr. Krishna, there's a widely held perception here that one of the reasons sanctions against Iran has not been effective is because both China and India continue to do billions of dollars of trade each year. What will it take for India to ratchet-up sanctions against Iran to the degree that maybe the US and Europe have done?
And, Mr. Liberman, is it realistic for Israel to expect that energy-starved India, which gets 14% of its oil from Iran, will indeed embargo our Indian oil?
FM Krishna: Well, with reference to Iran, we have taken a very consistent position. We respect the right of every nation to pursue its nuclear-energy ambitions to its logical level. Just like India has exercised the option of resorting to nuclear energy in order to meet the growing energy demands of India, so is every nation entitled to develop that. But the International Atomic Energy Agency provides the basic framework for addressing technical issues related to any nuclear program. India has on every occasion, at the International Atomic Energy Agency meetings, taken a consistent stance at the board meetings, and that stand is that every country has that right but that right is subject to the parameters which the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up. And we fully subscribe to that principle, and we commend that principle for acceptance to other nations.
FM Liberman: India is the biggest democracy in the world; she respects rule of law and respects all decisions of the international community. Our expectation is that the Security Council and the other international institutions will move forward with clear decisions, and I'm sure that every country in the world will respect these decisions of the international community. Our expectation is, of course, that tough sanctions will be imposed on the Iranian Central Bank, on their energy, their oil and gas industry, and we really expect, if these decisions and passed, that every country will respect these decisions on an individual level.
Q: First and foremost, let me congratulate both the foreign ministers for the announcement that Israel would be setting up the consulate in Bangalore. Bangalore is a very important city, considering the IT and BT activities. I would like to know from both foreign ministers when it will be implemented.
FM Liberman: I think it will be very, very soon. It's our desire, it was our request, and we even reserved the money for this consulate general. And immediately after our meeting, the first question of our ambassador in Delhi was 'What about the general consulate in Bangalore?' And I think that it will be very, very soon.
FM Krishna: I welcome the decision taken by the government of Israel to open a consulate in the hi-tech hub of India, Bangalore. And, we have done our part by conveying to the Honorable Foreign Minister that India is willing to accept their proposals to set up a consulate in Bangalore. And I am looking forward for the establishment of the consulate at the earliest possible time.