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TRANSCRIPT- Ambassador Nirupama Rao at the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast

Washington, DC
(April 13, 2012)

Ambassador Rao: Thank you very much.  I’ve looked forward to this meeting.

Moderator: We’ll see how you’ll feel when it’s over.  [Laughter]

Ambassador: Well I’ll let you know.  But, I thought this was a good opportunity seven months into my tenure here in Washington to be able to meet with a cross section of ladies and gentlemen from the media and to be able to speak about the relationship between India and the United States, to speak about my country, India, to speak about the kind of work we do here.  In fact, I’ve had the opportunity, in these last seven months, to criss-cross this country to speak to different audiences, particularly in different universities, to opinion makers across this country and I’ve found a tremendous interest and curiosity and spirit of inquiry about the nature of our relationship with the United States and what the issues concerning this relationship are today.  India as you know is going through a process of profound transformation.  The economy has grown at an accelerated rate in the last few years and the emphasis of the Government of India and the governments of the various states of the country has been to ensure inclusive growth that lifts people out of poverty.  That emphasis on inclusive growth is very central to the Indian growth story today.  And let me say that India and the United States and the fact that their partnership has burgeoned, has blossomed, has evolved, in the last few years has  enabled a great deal of economic engagement between the two countries that in many ways has a good impact on the Indian growth story.  And also, if I may say, this has enabled the advancement of the United States when it comes to the advancement of your economy and your situation here.  Why do I say that? Just looking at trade between the two countries we have about $100 Billion worth of trade as of last year in goods and services.  And, more importantly, you have US businesses that do work in India that are engaged in very interesting research and innovation centered activity in India and I think they’re doing profitable business in my country.  Similarly, we have a large number of Indian businesses and Indian companies doing work here who are invested in almost 43 of the US states today and they have brought jobs and prosperity to this country, similarly, just as US businesses have done in India.  In fact, I have here a study that was brought out by the National Association of Software Manufacturers in India, just a few days ago, which has done research in analyzing the type of work that Indian companies do here.  The conclusion drawn from this report and I believe it’s an objective report,  says that Indian software companies particularly have established about 100,000 jobs in this country directly, and indirectly, the number goes up to 280,000.  So that’s the kind of integration that has taken place.  Our companies working with local communities, very well adapted to the kind of environment here, and I believe are doing good work.  And, this is very central to the partnership between the two countries.  This is an engine of growth within the relationship.  And the stakeholders that we have created, as far as this partnership is concerned, extend across almost every field of human endeavor.  I was just looking at the statistics of Indian students who study in this country today and we have numbers that amount to over 100,000.  It’s second only to the number of Chinese students who study here.  And what we’d like to see is more and more American students going to our universities.  The State Department has announced the launch of a Passport to India Initiative, which will allow American students, more and more of them, to be able to go to India for maybe a semester, maybe a study year to understand the country better.  And, in fact, India, I believe, deserves that type of in depth study.  A lot of US universities are now focused on creating and establishing India chairs, India studies programs.  I was at Bloomington— the Indiana University at Bloomington—just yesterday, and they were speaking about their India studies program, which is extremely comprehensive.  It’s not just looking at philosophy and religion and divinity, but it’s looking at economics and politics and agriculture and business management.  Very, very comprehensive and I believe that’s how the future should develop in this relationship.  At the political level there is deep understanding.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama have a very profound friendship and deep level of understanding between them.  Our Prime Minister came to Washington in November of 2009, the first State visit of the Obama Administration, and President Obama went on a State visit to India in November of 2010.  And, when he was there and when he spoke in our Parliament, in fact with the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi very clearly seen in that picture, he spoke about the defining nature of the partnership between India and the United States and that this was a defining partnership for the 21st Century.  The Strategic dialogue between our two countries has many pillars to it.  It has security related pillars, it has a counter-terrorism component, we have regional dialogues that cover East Asia, Central Asia, West Asia (we call it West Asia, you call it the Middle East) and we have partnerships that extend into areas like Afghanistan, where we’re engaged in capacity building, in agriculture related work, in women’s empowerment.  In some countries in Africa, similarly, India and the United States are working well together.  And, when it comes to the bilateral relationship, there is a very development centered partnership with people at its core.  We’re talking about cooperation in health, and agriculture, education, which I just mentioned, energy, you know now we have our scientists exchanging data in regard to the monsoon which is so vital to Indian agriculture.  We’re talking of an evergreen revolution that in many ways becomes a second avatar, in a way, of the green revolution that we’ve had in the 60s and in which America played a very significant role in seeing the success of that in India.

Moderator: They pay me big bucks to be rude, so I’m going to ask if we can move to questions just so that my colleagues don’t march on me... with pitchforks and…

Ambassador: (laughs) Yeah, I didn’t intend to be longwinded…

Moderator: No, no, no, thank you… You were talking about a relationship of deep understanding and profound friendship and yesterday you told students at Indiana University that this is an exciting time for US-India relations.  A different view comes from the wire-service [unintelligible], which wrote “India and the United States are now navigating some of the roughest waters since they began to build closer ties in the late 90s, with Washington weighing sanctions unless New Delhi significantly cuts oil imports from Iran.  How would you describe the impact of the Iranian oil issue on relations with the United States.

Ambassador: Well, first of all, let me say that the press reports—I’m not going to comment on that –but I’m here to tell you about the state of play when it comes to the relationship with Iran.  India and the United States have engaged in very constructive discussion.  And I’m not indulging in diplomatic phraseology when it comes to this.  We’ve had an open, frank, and candid discussion on issues concerning Iran.  And I think there is understanding, there is a degree of understanding, and it’s not a miniscule degree of understanding that I’m speaking of.  In fact, I’m up at the State Department quite often to speak on this issue, the NSAs of the two countries have met and discussed this.  Mike Froman from the National Security Council was with our Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas a few weeks ago in Delhi to discuss this issue.  And the central message that India has conveyed in this regard is that, first of all, you know, India is a responsible country and we play by the international rules of these issues.  You will not find, I don’t believe you will find an instance where India has been delinquent in any way when it comes to observing international sanctions whenever they’ve applied to countries.  India, of course, is a net petroleum importer, you all know that and West Asia is the major source of imports and in that energy mix, Iran has been a supplier, but Iran has been a supplier whose supplies to India have gone down in the last few years.  I have the statistics here.  As of 2008-2009, the percentage of imports from Iran in India’s total crude import was about 16.42%.  As of 2011-2012, that percentage had come to 10.29%.  So, there’s been a drop in that as you see.  And, that drop is even more perceptible now because we all know that banking transactions with Iran have become virtually impossible and practical reality demands that diversification is needed.  And that is exactly what we’re engaged in. But you must understand, and I think it’s important that I speak frankly on this issue, that our energy security is vital for a country like India with about 400 million people who still are in need of sustenance and assistance from the government to access cheap source of energy.  It’s very important.  We have 500 million people in India who do not have electricity, for instance.  You can understand the nature of the challenges we face in this regard.  So, therefore, just overnight cutting off imports from Iran becomes virtually impossible, but, I want to emphasize this, the share of Iranian imports in our total volume of petroleum imports is going down, as we speak, and there has been a significant reduction.  I see that reduction being even more reinforced in the weeks and months to come.  But let me also say that when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, we have a very unambiguous, a very clearly enunciated stand on the issue, our voting in the International Atomic Energy Agency also speaks for this.  Iran is a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.  It has to abide by the obligations that it has taken on in this regard.  We do not want to see clandestinely emerged nuclear state in our region.  It has repercussions, at least in security, for all of us and we want Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community to answer the legitimate questions that have been raised about the nature of its nuclear program.  Iran is also important, let me say, just to add one more thing, in terms of the transit that we need to Afghanistan and Central Asia.  Now we have, as you know, a very crucial development assistance program for the Afghan people.  We’ve committed about two billion US Dollars to this type of assistance , just in terms of human development and in terms of building infrastructure—roads, schools, hospitals—in Afghanistan.  And transit to Afghanistan by virtue of the challenges that we face to enable transit to Afghanistan through Pakistan has to be undertaken through Iran.

Moderator: Let me do one more and then we’ll go around the table and that’s sort of the issue of tension between the two countries, both over visas, the report in the New York Times this morning about and expanding criminal investigation of emphasis over the visa issue and also the story this morning, as I know you’re aware of, where a Bollywood actor was detained at White Plains Airport for two hours on his way to talk at Yale, and then told the press, or actually told the students, “whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America.  The immigration guys kick the ‘star’ out of ‘stardom.’”  Can you talk about how you feel citizens of your country are treated by our government and especially TSA?

Ambassador: Well, let me say in regard to the incident regarding Mr. Shahrukh Khan that he is one of our, as you know, our leading film stars in Bollywood and he’s an iconic figure, not just in India, but across the world.  I’m sure many, many people, including—I’m sure—immigration and customs people, in this country recognize him.  I believe what happened is that his name figures in what you call “the system,” I mean the word itself conjures up different images, but apparently that was the reason why he was detained for 75 minutes at White Plains, NY.  He arrived in a private aircraft and he got stuck at immigration and he contacted the consulate and the consulate spoke to the authorities and that’s how he was cleared.  I think it’s an unfortunate incident and we wish it had not happened.  And, I think he deserved to be cleared immediately, as I would say every Indian, unless of course you have—you know—specific reasons that you have vis a vis a certain individual, but I’m sure in the case of Mr. Shahrukh Khan there was no such problem.  So, I hope it does not happen in the future.  In fact, the customs…

Moderator: Is this symptomatic in your view of how people in the country are treated?

No, I wouldn’t say that.  I think post 9/11 you’ve had heightened levels of checks and we know you are super careful.  I see—you know—the reasoning behind that, but I wish it hadn’t happened in this case because I don’t believe Mr. Shahrukh Khan deserved to be detained at all.  And he was here to address a student audience at Yale and it was a prestigious event, and—you know—I wish it had happened smoothly.  He is a star and he remains a star despite what happened at White Plains.  And as far as the other investigations into, I think you were talking about the Infosys, well, it’s an ongoing investigation.  The company, I know, is cooperating with it and let us see what comes out of it, but I’d like to say that, in general, the information technology community, the young engineers and the young software developers – you know—when I went to the World Trade Center after 9/11, soon after 9/11, in fact, within a month, they spoke about some Indian software engineers who were also trapped inside the World Trade Center (when the attacks took place)and who lost their lives.  They have a stake in this relationship and I think they have contributed, I’m talking of all the IT companies - have contributed a great deal to the enhancement of our relationship and our partnership.  So, I hope that these difficulties are sorted out and that the relationship, in terms of the business component of it, grows and grows in strength in the future.

Colleagues? Could be a real short one this morning…Yes, go right ahead

Question: Ambassador, I wanted to ask you about different subjects entirely.  I want to ask about the sense of humanitarian responsibilities of the Indian people [speaker unintelligible]… Obviously, you’ve got some with 400 million people in your own country [speaker unintelligible] with serious problems.  In Bangladesh, there are people who are really worried about mining and coal mines causing sea rise in their country.  They claim that you have built a fence along the border and that it is intended, not only to combat illegal immigration today, but to avoid and prevent large numbers of Bangladesh citizens from fleeing to India in the event of a sea rise.  What are you responsibilities, if any, to the country of Bangladesh?

Ambassador: I, first of all, let me say that we have a very special relationship with the people of Bangladesh and with the government of Bangladesh and there have been some excellent and very positive developments in that relationship since Sheikh Hasina came to power a few years ago.  Our Prime Minister made a very successful visit to Bangladesh last fall and that visit has generated extremely positive outcomes in terms of border management, in terms of development cooperation, in terms of trade and transit, you name it, I think it’s been a very, very positive development in terms of India-Bangladesh relations.  When it comes to people crossing the border, you know, we have the Northeast of India.  We’ve had a great deal of flow of people, people also from Bangladesh and Nepal, for instance, who have moved into this area, and that certainly has put pressure onto the population, the demographics, the demographic mix, let me say the demographics of that region, which needs a great deal of development, which needs much more infrastructure, which needs better connectivity.  So, we’re in discussion with the government of Bangladesh to ensure that we’re able to put in place better border management.  But I don’t believe, you know, that the humanitarian dimension in the relationship has ever occupied a lesser place in terms of the construct of the relationship.  You know, think of how when Bangladesh had its War of Liberation, we had 10 million Bangladeshi refugees on Indian soil and we nurtured them and took care of them.  Of course, many of them went back after Bangladesh was liberated.  So the humanitarian dimension has never escaped us and we’re very sensitive to it.  

Question: Let me go back to the Iranian oil question.  You said the imports went from 16% to 10% over three years, do you expect that pace to continue? And, would you like to get the import level down to zero?

Answer: Well if we’re able to diversify and get other sources of imports that could replace  Iranian oil, that’s not an eventuality that I would be able to rule out, but it’s going to take time.  I mean it’s unrealistic to assume that overnight when there’s the sustenance of so many millions in question that the scenario, you know, dramatically alters.  I’m being honest about it.  I’m not trying to obfuscate.  It’s going to take a little time for us to reduce our imports.  But, please understand, all the major Indian companies that were doing business in Iran, take Reliance, take Essar,  take Larson and Toubro, Reliance and Tatas, they’ve all scaled down their operations and many of them have left Iran.  They’re not doing any work there anymore.  So that’s the level of—if you can call it—disengagement that is taking place.  

Question:  And what’s the reaction you get when you go to State to that?

Ambassador:  I think they’re very attentive and very receptive to what we’ve conveyed to them.  They’ve said we need to continue to discuss these issues, which, of course, India has always been prepared to do, we’ve never shied away from talking about what our situation is, what our concerns are, and what we can do.  I think this has been a very transparent and open engagement and I think it reflects the maturity of our relationship today.  I mean we’re not hurling things at each other here.  We’re listening to what each side has to say.  There is, I think, a level of sensitivity to each other’s concerns on such issues that is a marker for this relationship today.

Question: Quick question in regard to oil imports.  Is there a number that shows the entire drop off in trade in the relationship between India and Iran?

Ambassador:  Well, let me first of all say that most of our trade with Iran consists of our imports that we make of oil, most of it.  We export very little to Iran, so you know, from time to time you see reports, you know, there’s been, recently, this news about trade delegation going from India to Iran and I’m bringing this up, I want to speak about it, you know, we don’t want to—we’re not camouflaging anything, here.  Now it was a delegation that consisted of exporters in food grain, rice and wheat, pharmaceuticals and these are not items that are prohibited in terms of export to Iran.  I know that a lot of developed countries sell food grain to Iran, I’m not going to indulge in naming them at this moment, but the fact is that this trade goes on.  And we have to pay for whatever oil we still import from Iran and some of this can be paid for in rupees, but some of it cannot so we will have to export something to pay for the oil that we import and these are items that are not covered by sanctions.  I want to emphasize that.  So, that’s the way it is. I’ve just tried to answer you as honestly as I can.  

Question:  Muffled question from audience about Pakistan

Ambassador: Well you know, we are dealing with the democratic government in Pakistan and we will continue to deal with that government.  I think we have reason to hope that this dialogue with Pakistan can be consolidated and I think both countries have to work to achieve that.  You know, two years ago when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gillani met at the SAARC Summit in Thimphu (Bhutan) they spoke about the need to reduce the trust deficit between the two countries.  There’s been a great deal of mistrust and alienation between us, so many distances that have separated the two countries.  And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh always says you cannot choose your neighbors, you have to deal with your neighbors, you have to come to a modus vivendi, you have to be able to resolve outstanding issues and you have to build a certain relationship between the two sides that enables confidence building , that enables the growth of trade and business ties, that enables people to people contact, that makes travel between the two countries easier.
But in all of this, let me emphasize, it is essential that this happens in an atmosphere free of terrorism and the threat of terrorism. That is important and that is something we have emphasized when we have spoken to the Pakistanis. I, myself, as Foreign Secretary was involved in this process of engagement after Mumbai. I visited Islamabad on a number of occasions and spoke to my counterpart, the foreign secretary of Pakistan at that time. So there is a great deal of work that needs to be done. This is a difficult relationship. It has a history that has burdened both countries for more than 6 decades now. We want to look to the future. We want to see how we can establish a relationship that enables peace between our two countries. It is essential for the whole region. Because in South Asia, we have a great deal of work that remains to be done to deal with the problems that beset us, whether its poverty or disease or ignorance. We want to build a better future and it has to start with dialogues of this nature.

Question from Audience: When you said “you can’t choose your neighbors,” India has two neighbors who are very critical of developments in that part of the world: China and Burma. My question is two-fold, first regarding Burma. China, recently, was turned down on their offer to build a $3.8 billion dam and the Thein Sein government seems to want to turn to other parties and many people tie this to the recent elections. Is this something that India might participate in a post-military Burma or Burma now? The other thing:  I’m sure you’re government has followed the developments of Bo Xilai n China and is there concern that this could lead to some very dramatic changes in Beijing because this is being called the most dramatic political upheaval in China since 1971.

Ambassador: I lived in China for almost 3 years, I was ambassador to China at one point, just before I became foreign secretary but I will come to that in a little while. You raised the issue of Burma, we call it Myanmar, and it is the only Southeast Asian country that borders India. But let me say a little about Northeast India—I always say that Northeast India is where Southeast Asia begins. This view that India is a South Asian country is true, but it is my estimation that it’s a multi-regional country. It has ethnic, linguistic, geographic and historic connections to Southeast Asia. Coming to Myanmar, we have engaged with the government of Myanmar for several years now, we have done a lot of development related work—capacity building—we have a number of Myanmarese students who study in India. In fact, perhaps it’s not very well known in this country, but Aung San Suu Kyi spent her youth in India. She went to college in Delhi—her late mother was the then-Burmese Ambassador to India—and she spent her formative years going to college in Delhi and has a lot of sentimental attachment to India as a result. Subsequently when she went to university in England, she specialized in Himalayan Studies and she did a lot of work in Northeast India.
So there is this connection with the democratic movement in Myanmar that India has had for many, many decades. Myanmar is vital to us from the point of view of security, from the point of view of economic development of the Northeast. So we have started to build connectivity to Myanmar to our Northeast. We have engaged the government in order to build capacity for the people. We do a lot of small development projects at the grass-roots level in Myanmar, so we have engaged the people of that country. I have gone to that country on many occasions. I have been to many parts of that country and I love the vitality of its people and I am very happy about developments in that country.
To answer your question about whether India replaces China, I wouldn’t look at it in such stark terms because it is really up to the Myanmarese government to decide the direction in which they proceed in such issues. But certainly I believe (in the context of the dam) there is heightened awareness about the need to protect the environment. There are a lot of views being expressed at the grass-roots level—at the level of the people, at the level of the burgeoning civil society, about how development should be undertaken and about the need to preserve the very fragile environment and I think that is something we understand completely.

When it comes to China and developments there, I think it has been very interesting, to put it mildly, to see the manner in which developments have taken place within China. It’s not just the economic transformation that we’re seeing. We are seeing a lot of events surrounding leadership change in China. This is a crucial year from that point of view. I don’t want to comment specifically on the events surrounding Bo Xilai and what the makeup of the Politburo is going to be as a result of this and who is going to be in the Standing Committee—that’s really not for me to comment, and we will be looking at it very carefully.
This is a crucial relationship, a complex relationship (between India and China). There are many issues where we have issues that remain to be resolved. One of them is the boundary question between the two countries that is yet to be resolved. But we are talking to each other to see if we can reach a negotiated settlement. There is one thing to keep in mind and that is that peace and tranquility have prevailed on our borders with China for almost four decades now and we intend that it should be kept that way. There are many confidence building/tension reduction mechanisms in place to obviate situations where tensions may escalate.
So we have built a certain structure in our relations with China that has enabled dialogue, reduced tension and has seen trade go up to over 70 Billion US dollars as of last year. In fact, China has become our largest trading partner in terms of goods—not goods and services where the US is greater in terms of quantities. So the levels of engagement with China have become increasingly evolved and multi-faceted which is a good thing for these two large Asian countries—these two emerging giants.

[Question from audience concerning the United Nations Security Council is muffled]

Ambassador: it is difficult to predict when that change would happen but we are in an anticipatory mode because we would like to see an expansion of the Security Council in its permanent and non-permanent categories. I think that is the general expression of intent and will that is coming from the General Assembly. This is a process that will need the vast majority to be on-board. Particularly looking at the present membership of the Security Council to see how this whole campaign gathers strength. But India’s candidacy has received support from a number of our friends and partners including members of the Security Council—especially President Obama when he visited India and we are very appreciative of that and we value that.
With that said, India is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council until the end of this year. On Syria, I think we have expressed our self again with a great deal of frankness. We want the situation in Syria to be resolved peacefully; we want the voice of the people of Syria to be heard. We do not want violence to be perpetrated by the regime against the population—all that we’ve said. Obviously the international community has a stake in all this.
The last vote on Syria, we voted along with the other countries including the United States to end the violence immediately. It was a call of restoration of peace in that country and for the regime and the opposition to talk about the differences that separate them. The Kofi Annan peace mission is engaged now (in Syria) and we support that mission whole-heartedly. So that is where we stand on that issue.
Change in the Arab World has to come from within. We would like to see more democracy, we would like to see the will of the people expressed and for the government to be sensitive to the needs of the people and for the violence to end.

[Muffled Question from the crowd about Iran]

Ambassador (interrupting): You’re talking of a significant reduction—as I’ve said, we’re in close contact with the United States about the current situation and the information is being shared, and I’d like to leave it at that. You should believe me.

[Question again muffled about challenges facing India]

Ambassador: We have at least 5 of our refineries that geared to processing petroleum—what they call “sweet light crude” - from Iran —so that process of retooling and reengineering to meet processing needs of crude from other sources would obviously have to be completed. But without going into the technical details about this, I want to tell you that we are alert to all of these needs and we take the situation seriously. We are not dismissive of the constraints and the developing nature of the situation and we are responding to the situation.

Question: Last year, India signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. There has been talk that given with the political realities between the US and Afghanistan that the US will try to somewhat accelerate the pace at which it transitions security to Afghan forces—perhaps as early as next year. Can you talk about what you see as the landscape in Afghanistan over the next 18 to 24 months—before the end of 2014? How can India implement the terms of this long-term agreement it has with Afghanistan as the US tries to make this transformation over the next year or two years?

Ambassador: First of all, India intends to invest in and endure when it comes to Afghanistan. It is a vital country for us—it is a neighboring country, it is a country with which we’ve had very close ties. They were not just built here and now, they’ve endured through decades and centuries. It is essential that the international community and the regional countries around Afghanistan stay invested in Afghanistan to ensure peace and stability and democracy in Afghanistan. That is the way India views it. I’ve spoken about the investments we’ve made in terms of the government in Afghanistan—the strategic partnership agreement you’ve mentioned—which  really consolidates and seeks to implement further the kind of engagement we’ve had to help the Afghan people. Of course when it comes to security needs of Afghanistan—whatever Afghanistan needs, we will do our best to help given our own capacity and strength and capability.
We would obviously not like to see a regression or reversion in Afghanistan to the situation that existed before 2001 because that would mean a collapse in whatever has been achieved in the last decade—particularly when it comes to women and children, when it comes to the all the infrastructure needs of Afghanistan. It is a resource-rich country. It’s meant to be a hub for trade and transit between Central and South Asia.  That where the true talents of the Afghan people lie; they are natural entrepreneurs and traders and businessmen. People seem to think that democracy and modernization are all recent imports to Afghanistan. I’m looking back 70 or 80 years and Afghanistan was very much looking to integration with the rest of the world up until the 70s when everything went so horribly wrong in that country. So this mix of the material world and (religious) faith, that’s what we would like to see for Afghanistan. It is an ethnically diverse country and you need closer understanding and integration between the various groups so that they can all live together—

Question (Interrupting): To quickly follow up that accelerating the transition to Afghani control would jeopardize some of those gains like women and children in school?

Ambassador: Obviously “abandonment” is not a word that any of Afghanistan’s friends would like to see used in this context. I do not believe that is the approach of the US. I think they intend to stay invested in Afghanistan when it comes to the welfare of its people and its development. That’s why I referred to the kind of work that India and the US are doing, and hope to do further, in helping the Afghan people.
I think that it’s important that the international community to ensure that Afghanistan stays on the development path and also to ensure that the forces of extremism, terrorism and radicalism do not set the agenda for Afghanistan.
[Unable to understand speaker in group]  - a question on the status of women in India vis a vis in the US

: I would like to say that you’ve had a lot of gains when it comes to the position of women in your country here in the US. Back in India, yes we’ve had women Prime Ministers; we have a woman President—the first woman President. There are many issues concerning women in India on which we would like to see more progress made. As I said, it is a very diverse country. In some states, the state I come from for instance, I come from the state of Kerala in the deep south of India and it is quite the poster child for human development. We have almost cent percent  literacy among women in my state. But there are other states in India where we have to make more progress, where government is very focused on what we need to do in order to raise women’s literacy levels and to raise the participation of women in government, in administration. So there is a lot of work that is being done, that remains to be done.  I think that there is a mix of different situations in our country.
I think the most important thing for women in any country of the world is freedom from fear. I think that is the fundamental freedom for women. That is what we must seek to consolidate in every country of the world.
[Question from audience concerning the likelihood of the US electing a female president]

Ambassador: I definitely see the possibility of that, I don’t see why not.

Question from crowd: When you say freedom from fear—

Ambassador (interrupting): Freedom from violence; let’s say domestic violence or intimidation or social mores or obstacles that prevent women from expressing their voice, from being independent, from being financially independent, from being able to make decisions that affect the lives of their families and to be able to contribute to the community, to be able to communicate better with the world outside—beyond the confines of their households.

[Question from group muffled] (Whether India has taken the US to the WTO on the visa issues for business professionals)

Ambassador: We checked the position on that, the case has yet to be filed. We have some concerns about the difficulties that some of our professionals have faced when it comes to visas. We have taken this up both with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, Deputy Secretary Jane Lute is travelling to India next week. Of course we have a very strong counter-terrorism initiative with the US, the focus will obviously be on that, but such issues could obviously come up.

[Question from the group about India’s role in Sudan]

Ambassador: We are involved very much again when it comes to our energy security in Sudan. We would like to see peace between the two sides, we would like to see more  evidence of reconciliation and we intend to stay engaged.