Press Briefing on the President's Visit to India Aboard Air Force One en route Ramstein, Germany
3:48 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: So what we wanted to do is just talk a little bit about the first couple days as we’ve done before, see if you guys have questions. You remember our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns. You know Ben Rhodes, Mr. Froman. And I’m trying to figure out where our National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is in the next cabin, and he’s going to come over as well.
So I’ll kick it off with Ben, and we’ll have Tom come in if you guys have questions.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, guys. We’ve briefed this before, but we just wanted to check in in case you had any other questions. And, again, on the economic components, Mike has really been in the lead in terms of organizing the business summit, so he can speak to that.
But we get to Mumbai and we go right to the Taj Hotel where the President is the first foreign head of state to stay at the hotel since the 26/11 attacks. He’ll greet with some survivors and folks who’ve lost family from the different sites that were attacked, and then he’ll make brief remarks to, again, a representative group of folks who were affected by the 26/11 attacks.
Then he will go to the Gandhi museum in town and pay a visit there. And then we head into the business summit, again, which Mike can speak to, which has three components to it: the roundtable with entrepreneurs that the President will join; then a roundtable with some American CEOs, who will discuss doing business in India; and then the President will make a speech to the group.
Mike, do you want to say anything else to set it up, or you guys might just want to ask any questions you have about the business portion to Mike here.
MR. FROMAN: I think, as Ben said, it’s really three sections. First is a group of Indian entrepreneurs who are importing U.S. technology and applying them to the Indian market. And then you’ve got some of the leading American CEOs who will share with the President their views on doing business in India and the opportunity there. And then he’ll give a speech on the broad economic relationship and on the commercial relationship, including talking about some deals that are being consummated between now and then.
MR. RHODES: We expect roughly how many American business leaders?
MR. FROMAN: Over 200, and an equivalent number of Indians. So it’s the largest -- I think it’s the largest group of business leaders accompanying a President ever.
MR. RHODES: Prominent CEOs include GE and --
MR. FROMAN: Immelt will be there, Dave Cote of Honeywell, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Paul Hanrahan of AES. There will be representatives of Boeing there, et cetera.
MR. RHODES: The President will have an opportunity to see McNerney when they land. So he’ll --
MR. FROMAN: Jim McNerney is the chairman of the President’s Export Council; will meet the President in Mumbai at the airport and fly in with him and brief him on his perspective on India, doing business in India, and some of the work that he’s doing through the Export Council related to that.
Q On the helicopter coming in?
MR. RHODES: Yes.
Q Are there any updates on the status of some of those commercial deals?
MR. FROMAN: I think we’ll learn more when we land, but we expect several deals to be announced around the President’s visit tomorrow.
Q Will he announce it during the speech or will they be announced in advance?
MR. RHODES: I think we’ll do it in advance, so it will be -- certainly the more significant transactions will be announced before the President’s speech, and then he’ll, of course, refer to them in his remarks.
Q Are these American CEOs there in India regularly as part of an ongoing structure?
MR. FROMAN: Some of them are members of the U.S.-India CEO Forum that will be actually having a meeting in Delhi in Monday. But others, like Immelt, he’s there regularly as part of his doing business. But -- and McNerney, they’re there doing business, not -- they’re not there as part of the CEO forum.
Q Okay, but this sizeable gathering is here specifically timed to the President’s trip?
MR. FROMAN: It is -- the U.S.-India Business Council together with two Indian business organizations organized this business summit around the time of the President’s visit. It’s a great opportunity for American business leaders to come to India around the President’s visit to engage on these issues.
MR. RHODES: Tom, do you want to -- I went through the schedule for the first day, and then you heard -- anything to add on that?
MR. FROMAN: We were the warm-up act.
MR. DONILON: Let me add -- what basis are we talking on?
MR. RHODES: On the record.
MR. DONILON: Well, as Mike said, I think that the presence of a large number of American CEOs here really does underscore the opportunity here for American business and for American economic growth. We’ve had -- and I think, Mike, you’ve gone through this in other forums -- we really have seen since 2002 a pretty substantial growth in American exports to India in terms of goods and services, increasing I think four times over the course of this seven years with respect to goods and some three times with respect to services. And that’s obviously an important theme of the first day here is to give a complete look at the U.S.-Indian economic relationship in all its complexity but also in terms of the opportunity and the importance of it to our export and economic growth efforts.
I can do a little bit of background on the --
MR. RHODES: On the whole trip.
MR. DONILON: -- on the entire trip if you wanted to do that. And Bill -- obviously Bill Burns, who is here with me, can help me out on this stuff.
I wanted to give you a sense of how we think about the U.S.-India relationship, which is really a fundamental relationship for the United States and one that is a very high priority for us and has been from the outset of the administration.
This is the sixth visit by a U.S. President to India. But more importantly, I think -- and Bill, you made this point the other day -- it’s the next step, and a very significant step, in a significant transformation in U.S.-India relations, really beginning with President Clinton’s trip to India in March of 2000, followed by President Bush’s trip to India in March of 2006, and now this step.
These visits by U.S. Presidents -- and again, when you look at it against the backdrop of U.S.-India relations over the last 50 years -- are highly significant, and I think this one will be in this category of highly significant as we try to take the relationship and will take the relationship to a different level going beyond bilateral elements that we’ll be working on, although those will be part of this, to a more global partnership across a range of issues.
So on the trip generally, Asia has been a core focus of our policy, foreign policy and national security policy, since the first days of the administration. It’s the most economically dynamic region in the world. I was looking at the IMF numbers today, and Mike, you can check me on this, but I read them as saying that between 2002 and 2009, again, world economic growth was at about 3.6 percent, and the growth of developing Asia was at 8.2 percent. That’s quite a dramatic statistic, and indicative of the opportunity and the importance of this region, with the United States as a key power.
India is a cornerstone relationship for the United States in India, a bedrock partner in our efforts in Asia. Now, talking about Asia more generally, when we came into office, we looked at a range of the priorities that we would be pursuing as an administration, and we did a number of things at the outset. We undertook a determined effort, which I think has been quite effective, to restore U.S. influence, power and authority in the world. I think that’s been manifest -- and we can talk about that as you want -- to a range of dimensions. We were determined to build on and enhance and intensify the counterterrorism efforts that the country was undertaking. We looked very hard at great power relations, and we’ve undertaken a determined effort to make those relationships as productive and positive as possible. That explains our intensive interaction with a range of partners around the world -- Russia, China, Europe, emerging powers like India.
We sought to reinvigorate alliances, and we sought to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the United States’ global posture in the world: Where are we applying our influence, our resources, our attention in the world?
And we took a number of steps on priorities there. And you get to do that at the beginning of an administration, to think hard about really where should -- where are we underweighted in terms of our attention and our resources, our activities? And we identified Asia from the first days of the administration as an important opportunity for the United States and an area of the world that required greater and intensified engagement and resources by the United States. And President Obama undertook to address that focus.
It was from the outset -- and really, I mean this from the first days of the administration -- a determined and deliberate effort. The Secretary of State’s first trip abroad was to Asia. That’s the first time the United States Secretary of State has taken his or her first trip abroad to Asia since Dean Rusk did so in the early 1960s.
We undertook an intensive engagement effort across the board. An example of that is that President Obama has had six face-to-face meetings with President Hu Jintao of China since he became President. That’s more encounters between a U.S. President and a Chinese President in that comparable period of time than has ever been seen, and he’ll have, obviously, as you all know, his seventh face-to-face meeting with President Hu Jintao on the margins of the G20 meeting in Seoul, Korea, on this trip.
We engaged in intensified diplomacy in working on joint projects with a range of partners in Asia. The President, for example, has hosted two ASEAN leaders’ meetings, and he’ll continue doing -- with that engagement. We have drilled very hard -- worked very hard on reinvigorating our key alliances in the region. I think at this point our relationship with South Korea, for example, has never been stronger, working through a number of common projects -- and challenges, frankly: the North Korea situation, the sinking of the Cheonan earlier this year.
So -- then of course a range of activities. I also want to mention the institution-building effort that is underway. We are engaged in a very intensive effort on building up the security, political and economic architecture of Asia. What do I mean by that? Really working in a more intense way with ASEAN -- we’re going to be joining the East Asian summit; working to invigorate the APEC -- these institutional efforts where the United States is not stepping back. A few years ago, there was talk about the United States being pushed out of these organizations. We’re now at the core of these organizations, building out a comprehensive security, political and economic architecture in Asia with the United States directly and intensively engaged.
And there’s where India comes in. India is the first stop on the President’s trip to Asia. It is a natural partner for the United States, and we intend to underscore that. In what ways? The breadth of the relationship. The number of things that we will work with India on will be manifest during the course of the trip. I think we’re going to have 17 or 18 announcements and fact sheets about that, if I’m not mistaken, across a range of economic -- importantly, by the way -- security and political dimensions.
We’re a natural partner for India given the nature of our systems -- democracies; vibrant, tolerant, diverse societies. Additionally, our two heads of state, government, Prime Minister Singh and President Obama, have really forged a very strong partnership from the first time that they met in London in April of 2009.
We share an interest in a stable and balanced Asia. And we have now a military-to-military relationship that was unimaginable a few years ago. We do more military exercises with India now than we do with any other country in the world.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The Indians do more military exercises with us every year than they do with anybody else in the world.
MR. DONILON: Yes. So that gives you a sense of the breadth of the relationship. Again, our intent here during the course of this trip is to demonstrate that breadth. There will be a number of specific announcements, obviously, as we go forward. But it really isn’t just the transactional nature here. It’s the overall thrust of the relationship, I think, that really is the important story here. And that’s how we’ve been thinking about Asia generally and this trip specifically.
Bill, do you have a --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I mean, just as Tom said, I think in a number of different dimensions of our relationship --
MR. DONILON: I’m not sure -- let me get that back -- the Indians do more exercises with us they do with anybody -- any other country in the world. Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, and on the security relationship in general, I mean, it’s a part of the relationship that’s grown quite dramatically over recent years. We’ve done, for example, about $4 billion worth of defense sales to India just since 2008. There are some other big sales that are in the offing. And as Tom said, on the political side also, we’ve expanded kind of systematic dialogues with the Indians about East Asia, about Central Asia, the Middle East, in ways that we didn’t do before.
So it’s a relationship that’s grown an enormous amount in the last decade, and I think has enormous potential as you look out at this visit and beyond it.
MR. RHODES: Real quick, just to set up the visit and relate it to the announcements Tom referred to, I think what you’ll see is the first day we’ll focus on the economic relationship, issues related to the transactions, U.S. exports, export controls, things in that category. The second day, a lot of what the President is doing is speaking directly to the Indian people, but we’ll also have events that are associated with initiatives on agriculture and open government and democracy. And Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Shah will be speaking to that. We’ll set up a briefing on that in advance of that event. And Samantha Power and Aneesh Chopra will be speaking to you about the democracy and open government cooperation.
And then the third day, of course, is the official day in Delhi, and so that’s where we’ll have a lot of the announcements related to security cooperation, political cooperation and the like. So just to give you guys a sense of when we’ll be announcing different pieces of these cooperative initiatives.
MR. DONILON: To follow up on Bill’s point, President Obama intends this trip to be and intends our policy to be a full embrace of India’s rise, a way to develop and deepen the broadest possible relationship that we can have with India as a cornerstone of our Asia policy, where we share a range of joint interests.
So, be glad to --
Q I was just -- actually, on that very point, you’ve talked about so many ways in which the two countries are already cooperating and this relationship is expanding. So what is the high significance of a presidential visit, when you talk about going -- speaking to people at town halls, going to museums, spending this much time in India? How does that, in and of itself, change things?
MR. DONILON: Yes, a couple points, and then I’ll let Bill comment as well.
With respect to the specifics -- and then I’ll get to your broader point -- the range of specific things that we’re doing here really is intended to show and, in fact, demonstrate a global partnership. That is a partnership, if you will, between two countries that are close, two democracies. It’s a qualitatively enhanced relationship. It’s not just a transactional deal, where you have this -- we have this problem we’re going to work on together. It’s broader than that. And I think that’s the place where we’re getting, is really kind of a global partnership with them, is point one.
Point two, a presidential trip to India, these have -- really is a powerful message to the people of India and to the people of the United States about the importance and depth of the relationship, and that’s a very important thing to do, obviously, particularly in democracies, to really have a powerful demonstration. And there’s no more powerful way to do that than a presidential trip to a country like India.
I don’t know what the exact numbers will turn out to be, for example, but I would imagine that the audience for the President’s speech from parliament on Monday will be in the hundreds of millions of people. And that is really a way to bring the peoples of both countries into and invested in that relationship.
We have in the United States, for example -- an important part of this is the people-to-people aspect -- and Bill, you briefed on this the other day -- and I think I’ve got this right, that there are more Indian students in the United States than any other country.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have more than 100,000 Indian students, university students, in the U.S. today, more than any other single country.
MR. DONILON: But to go directly to your question, I think that’s the essence of it, really, is to -- it also, by the way, is an important statement to the region, to the rest of the region, about the United States-Indian relationship, working through the specifics, obviously, but being there for the longest period of time that the President will have been in any foreign country on a trip says something about the quality of the relationship and the commitment that the United States is making to the relationship going forward. And that builds confidence and it gives momentum to the relationship. It allows it to deepen, as I said, bilaterally, in terms of global partnership, and in terms of the work we do together in the region.
Q You’ve emphasized that India is the first of four democracies in Asia that we’re going to be visiting over the next 10 days. I’m wondering sort of what message that sends to China. And you were also just recently in China -- whether or not in your conversations over there whether Chinese leaders view this U.S. -- the U.S. efforts to reengage with Asia as trying to serve as a counterweight to China’s --
MR. DONILON: I’d say three or four things about that. Number one, as you pointed out, on this trip the President will be visiting four democracies in Asia. Number two, we have deep relationships with each of these countries in part because they are democracies, and the quality of that relationship between the United States and those countries reflects that, reflects those shared values.
Number three, that set of shared values as a base allows us to have broad relationships with them, for example, on things like security, intelligence, military-to-military relationships, but deep economic relationships as well.
With respect to China, the United States is a Pacific power and a power in Asia for the last half-century. The United States’ efforts in Asia, including and especially on the security side, have built the platform on which the Asian economic miracle has been built, has stood up. And we’re going to continue to do that. That’s in our interests; that’s in the interests of the region. Things like freedom of navigation, safety of navigation, stability, balance in the region are very much in our interests and in the interests of the region.
With respect to China specifically, we also are pursuing with China a productive, comprehensive and positive relationship, and I think just as the nations of the region look for closer relations with the United States, look for relationships with the United States that provides stability, balance and security, they also expect the United States as a principal power in Asia to conduct a positive and constructive relationship with China. We think that’s in our interest, and also in our responsibilities in the region.
So you see the multiple tracks on which the United States, I think as, again, a principal power in Asia, operates.
We’ve been very clear with the Chinese that, in fact -- and if you look at the joint statement from November of last year when we were in Beijing, it’s very clear that the United States is, has been, and will remain an Asian and Pacific power. And in that, the Chinese expressly recognize the security contribution, the contribution to prosperity and stability that the United States presence brings there.
So we operate at a number of levels. And as you said, I was in China, met with -- three days with most of the leadership in China, and I think this is pretty clearly understood.
Q So the Chinese shouldn’t think of this or worry about this as an “any place but China, let’s round up support for a counterweight” type of trip?
MR. DONILON: Well, let’s go through it. As I said, the United States intends and will meet its alliance obligations, stand with its friends when they have challenges, like the Cheonan incident, for example, where 46 sailors were killed in the South Korean navy. We’ll continue to undertake the efforts that we have undertaken for half a century to support the security and prosperity in the region. But at the same time, as I said earlier and I’ll expand a little bit here, we also fully intend to have as constructive and positive a relationship as we can with the Chinese. We have a very large economic relationship with the Chinese. We seek a productive relationship. We think that’s in China’s interest, and a positive relationship, as well as in the United States’ interest.
So this is all part of the multi-dimensional role that the United States plays in the region, and we intend to play more intensively because, again, we believe -- and we did our analysis at the outset of the administration -- that our interests required more intensive engagement in this region, by the way, including with China. And as I said earlier, the President has met with China -- the Chinese President, more times during that period than during -- in a relevant period of time than any U.S. President has. He’s going to meet with President Hu Jintao for a seventh time in Seoul.
We have worked closely with the Chinese over the last two years on a range of issues, including addressing the financial crisis, so it’s a G20 mechanism; the Iran nuclear challenges; the North Korea challenges; and a range of other issues that we will work constructively and productively with the Chinese and we’ll undertake to do that. We’ll have our disagreements, but what we hope -- and we think it’s in their interest and our interest, to have those within the construct of an overall positive relationship.
So this is all part of the multi-dimensional role that the United States plays in the region, not aimed at China but aimed at the United States playing a role, which we think -- to finish up on this -- at the end of the day is in the interests of the region and our interests, and including in the interests of China.
Q Can you talk at all about Afghanistan, what the United States would like to see from India on Afghanistan, and the idea that Pakistan and the United States and Indian, that the Indian influence in Afghanistan is taken by some in Pakistan as -- they’re unhappy about it?
MR. DONILON: I think that the comment I would make on that is that the United States and India share an interest in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan where extremist groups don’t present a threat to the region. And that is a project, obviously, that the United States is deeply engaged in right now and that the Indians support. Is that fair, Bill?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, no, it is. And the Indians, for example, have contributed about $1.3 billion in development assistance in Afghanistan since 2001, just made a quite significant contribution to agriculture and other areas. It’s something that we welcome; Afghan government does, too.
Q Is the President going to talk about Kashmir at all on the trip?
MR. DONILON: Well, I don’t want to get into exactly what the President is going to talk about in his private conversation with Prime Minister Singh. We have, as a longstanding policy, have encouraged the Indians and Pakistan to engage in dialogue on a range of issues, and we continue to encourage that.
Q What extent do the Indians still complain to us about how much money, resources were pouring into the Pakistanis on not just the military but intelligence-sharing? Does our role in helping to try and boost the Pakistanis in their fight against the Taliban still worry the Indians?
MR. DONILON: Well, I’d just say this, as I said earlier. The United States and India share an interest in seeing a stable and peaceful South Asia. The United States and India share an intense interest in seeing extremist elements in South Asia disrupted and defeated. And this is part of our overall project in South Asia, and the Indians have been supportive of that.
Now, but the last point, of course, we’ll have a poignant look at the shared interests that the United States and India have in defeating the forces of extremism in Asia when we visit Mumbai and we are at the memorials at the Taj Hotel in a little while.
Q Can you speak at all to how -- if at all -- the President’s domestic political troubles will impact some of these negotiations that you’re talking about -- economic, national security types of things? I mean, does that -- are you guys thinking about that?
MR. DONILON: I’ll address that. President Obama and our national security team pursue our national interest. And we have had, over the first two years of this administration, quite solid and gratifying bipartisan support for our efforts, whether it be in the counterterrorism area, our efforts in Afghanistan, our range of efforts that are relevant to this region.
So to answer your question directly, our efforts from the outset of the administration have been to pursue U.S. interests, clearly identify and deliberately pursue. And we have had very strong bipartisan support, really quite generally, with respect to those efforts, and we expect to continue to have that kind of support for these as best we can see right now.
Q Can I ask a follow-up to that? Along the same lines, though, some Indians have been concerned that some of the rhetoric along the campaign trail, the line that we’ve heard from the President talking about tax cut loopholes and whatnot, and this -- maybe this perceived -- perception that the U.S. is going into a protectionist kind of mentality -- what kind of rhetoric will we hear from the President on this stop to just dispel those concerns?
MR. DONILON: Well, I think, again, you’ll hear the President speak to it directly. I can tell you, as a general matter, that we are pursuing a fairly intense and aggressive economic policy at home and abroad in pursuit of economic growth and greater employment in the United States. And that requires us not to engage in protectionism and not to in any way disengage from the world, but in fact just the opposite, to engage the world, be present in these regions of the world that are economically vibrant, and to pursue our interests aggressively. And that’s what you’ll see in this first stop.
MR. GIBBS: And I would simply add to that, obviously later on in the trip and as we are on our way there, we’re involved in intensive discussions about a Korean-United States free trade agreement. So I think the focus of this trip is -- the main focus is in terms of opening up for our businesses some of the fastest-growing markets in the world.
Q Do you have an update if there’s been progress since the last briefing on a Korean free trade agreement?
MR. GIBBS: None at this point that I would report unless --
MR. FROMAN: Teams are engaged with each other in an ongoing way. Nothing new to report.
MR. GIBBS: Constructive. (Laughter.)
END 4:19 P.M. EDT