The buzz is starting to build already over President Obama's upcoming trip to Asia — specifically to India. The President leaves on Nov. 5, a few days after the midterm elections are over. Ed Luce of the Financial Times joined us Wednesday to preview the trip. You can hear his chat with host Tom Ashbrook here, in the first segment. (Also, for really deep background, check out our great recent hour on India's literary epics and their resonance...)
White House officials also gave a preview of the trip on Wednesday. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said, "India is a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach, which is focused on, again, expanding exports for U.S. goods, deepening partnerships in important part of the world, partnering together in the G20 and other forums..."
Here's the briefing transcript:
So I'll just — let me just say a few things and then go through the schedule. First of all, as you’ve heard me say a number of times, we believe that Asia is critical to our foreign policy strategy. It’s the fastest-growing markets in the world. It’s fundamental to our export initiative. So India is a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach, which is focused on, again, expanding exports for U.S. goods, deepening partnerships in important part of the world, partnering together in the G20 and other forums — which Mike has the pleasure of representing us in.
So, with that context, let me go through the schedule now. We leave on Friday, the 5th. We get there the 6th. The first event that the President will do will be a statement at the Taj Hotel where he’s staying, to commemorate the Mumbai terrorist attacks. And of course, India is a close counterterrorism partner of the United States. India has shown remarkable resilience in responding to terrorism. And the Taj, where the President is staying, was, of course, a centerpiece of those attacks in Mumbai. So the President wanted to take the time to pay his respects to the victims who lost their lives and to sign the guest book there, but also to make some brief remarks to an assembled group of people who are connected to those attacks.
From that event at the Taj Hotel he’ll move on and he’ll visit the Gandhi Museum. I think it’s important to note here that obviously one of the things that the United States shares with India is they’re the two world’s largest democracies. We believe that that's fundamental to our relationship; it makes it a qualitatively different relationship in the sense that we have shared interests and shared values.
And of course, the example of Gandhi is one that has inspired Americans, inspired African Americans, including Dr. King, and it’s very personally important to the President. So we're looking forward to visiting the Gandhi Museum to underscore those shared experiences and shared values.
From there we're going to move on to a business summit that the U.S.-India Business Council is putting together. And Mike can talk about this at some length. But of course, as I said, we believe that India has a hugely dynamic and growing market and we want to discuss opportunities for how we can deepen our economic relationship.
The President will participate in three events at the business summit. The first is a roundtable with entrepreneurs. The second is a roundtable with some U.S. CEOs where they’ll be able to discuss the challenges and opportunities around doing business in India. And then the President will deliver a speech to the business summit, so the speech the President will give that day is kind of the centerpiece of the day, again, focusing this day on the U.S./India economic relationship, the enormous potential for both countries to expand growth and opportunity for our people through that relationship.
Then we spend the night in Mumbai. The second day has a number of events that are focused on the future partnership that we're trying to build with India and how it’s a relationship that we really believe is going to be indispensable to shaping the 21st century. And Bill can talk about this in a little bit. And the President is going to begin the day by visiting a school in Mumbai, a local school. Diwali, of course, a preeminent Indian holiday, will be taking place during the President’s visit, so he will visit a school and help — participate in celebrations around the Diwali holiday that morning.
Then he'll go to a town hall with university students, and at that town hall he will, again, have the opportunity to talk about the future — speaking to young people — about the future partnership that we're trying to build as we take the U.S./India relationship to a new level.
On the margins of that town hall, we're going to have a couple of events — roundtables — that focus on particular areas of partnership that the U.S. and India are pursuing. One is on agriculture and food security. And the U.S. and India — India, of course, has had tremendous success in helping lift some of its people out of poverty through agricultural innovation. And our partnership with them has been strong in that respect. And this is an opportunity to talk about that partnership, and also its potential to service our broader food security initiatives in places like Africa, as well as continuing to advance our bilateral cooperation with India.
Secondly, democracy — I mentioned the close ties we have as the world’s two largest democracies. You heard the President speak at the U.N. General Assembly about his commitment to open government as a part of how we advance democracy around the world. So what we want to do is highlight some of the successful innovations that India has as the world’s largest democracy in terms of the ways in which it uses technology and innovation to empower its citizens and civil society, as well.
So the President’s, again, main public event that day is the town hall, which is its own event there in Mumbai.
From Mumbai, we then move on the Delhi. And the first event that the President will do in Delhi is a cultural stop. He’s going to visit Humayan’s tomb, which is one of the great cultural marvels in New Delhi. And the President felt it was important give the rich civilization that India has to pay tribute to that through this stop.
And then that night, the President will have a private dinner with — the President and the First Lady will have a private dinner with Prime Minister Singh and his wife.
I’ll just state briefly on that, no leader — the President has had a very close personal relationship with Prime Minister Singh from his first meeting in London at the G20. As much as any leader in the world, I think he’s somebody who has had a close intellectual connection with the President on a range of issues surrounding economic growth and development, so he’s very much looking forward to this opportunity to have a private dinner with the Prime Minister.
Then the next day in New Delhi is the official program. It will begin with a wreath-laying at Gandhi’s grave — again, another opportunity to pay respects to that huge historical figure in our history, as well as India’s.
Then the President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Singh. And we expect they’ll have a press conference after that bilateral meeting.
Throughout the day, the President could have a number of meetings with other Indian officials. We, as the schedule gets locked in, will make those available to you.
And then the main event of this day is the President will address the Indian parliament that afternoon. The President was honored to be invited by the Indians to speak before their parliament, and, again, I think here will address the broad range of issues on which the U.S. and India cooperate — political, security and economic — and the alignment we have with the Indians on a number of issues.
And then that night is the state dinner. The Indians are hosting a state dinner. And the President will meet I believe with President Patil before that dinner, and then he and the First Lady of course will attend the state dinner.
And then the next day — we’ll spend the night in New Delhi that night, and then Tuesday, the 9th, we’ll leave and move on to Jakarta.
With that, I'll turn it over to Bill — and happy to take your questions on any of this later.
MR. GIBBS: Let’s go a little out of order. We’ll go with Froman first because Mike’s got to go see the President in a few minutes.
MR. FROMAN: He always uses that excuse, right? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly, right.
MR. FROMAN: That’s what I tell my parents, anyway.
MR. GIBBS: It usually works.
MR. FROMAN: Well, thanks. And just to build upon what Ben said, this really is one of the most important emerging economic relationships for the United States, both multilaterally and bilaterally. We worked very closely with India in the context of the G20, and the G20 was really all about bringing countries like India to the table on economic — on global economic issues. And we have a very strong and growing bilateral relationship.
As you all know, with 1.2 billion people and an economy growing — expected to grow at 8 percent a year for the next several years, we really see India as a potentially very important market for U.S. exports.
U.S. exports have already — goods exports have already quadrupled over the last seven years to about $17 billion. And service exports have tripled to about $10 billion a year. So it’s a fast-growing economic relationship. And it’s a two-way street as well. Indian companies are the second-fastest-growing investors in the United States. And they are creating — they now support about 57,000 jobs here in the U.S.
So it’s a great market for U.S. exports. It’s a good place — source of investment for the United States. There are a lot of jobs in the United States tied to both of those things. And that’s the reason why the President will be there, focusing, as Ben said, on the first day on the economic and commercial relationship --
Q What’s first? You said they’re second. What’s first?
MR. FROMAN: I believe it’s UAE — in terms of fastest-growing in the United States, I believe it’s UAE.
That day in Mumbai, as Ben laid out, the President will meet with various groups of business people, a group of Indian entrepreneurs who are importing U.S. technology and applying them to the Indian marketplace, and a group of U.S. CEOs, major CEOs, who will have a dialogue with the President about doing business in India and what can be done to expand it. He’ll then give a speech to the U.S.-India Business Council — CII/FICCI business summit in Mumbai — and talk about the economic relationship and the potential that it has.
MR. GIBBS: Mike’s got to go, as I said. Are there specific economic questions for him?
Q Yes, I do. One quick thing about the business leaders. Are they there as part of the President’s delegation? Is he convening them? Are they part of the communication on the American side?
MR. FROMAN: There’s no official business delegation with the U.S. They are there in their own capacity. There will be a meeting in Delhi of something called the U.S./India CEO Forum, which are a group of CEOs from the U.S. and India who get together regularly and work on projects to strengthen economic cooperation. And some of those CEOs belong to that forum as well.
Q And could you also just talk a little bit about — how big a part of the President’s message is going to be devoted to opening markets, and do you expect actual takeaways, or is this just discussion?
MR. FROMAN: I think certainly that first day, the major focus of that day, in addition to the counterterrorism event and the visit to the Gandhi Museum — but the major focus of that day will be his message on economics, on increasing exports, supporting jobs back here, and including highlighting some commercial deals that we hope to have consummated by that time.
Q Given the President’s concern about outsourcing U.S. jobs, how does he deal with the large number of Indians who are involved in computer skills and various interconnections with U.S. business?
MR. FROMAN: I think one of the major themes I think that the President is likely to emphasize is that while that is part of the relationship, India is also a tremendous market, potential market, for U.S. exports and a source of investment back in the U.S. And so it’s more than a unidimensional relationship and it’s a tremendous opportunity for goods, services, agriculture that he'll be pursuing while he‘s there for supporting jobs back here in the U.S.
Q — quantify it?
MR. FROMAN: The opportunity?
Q The relationship, the difference — if there’s a trade imbalance of it there’s a job imbalance at all.
MR. FROMAN: The trade relationship is broadly balanced, including goods and services — is broadly balanced at the moment.
Q Just to briefly follow on that, I wonder how will he deal from a communications standpoint with the concern that many Americans express that so many jobs are being outsourced to India — that when you call a credit card company or an airline, the phone is picked up by somebody in India? Will he acknowledge and address that in any way?
MR. GIBBS: Look, India is in many ways fundamental to his economic message and has been for many years. I think, as Mike said, we are — and I think we'll see as we get closer — not just the genuine potential of the market for American companies but some tangible impact in supporting and creating jobs here in America.
MR. RHODES: Just to add to that, this is part of — consistent with the national export initiative. I think there will be a series of things that we talk about there that the President and the administration has done to promote U.S. exports, increase trade financing, advocate on behalf of U.S. companies seeking to export from the U.S. and creating jobs back here.
Q So he’s okay with the number of times Americans pick up the phone and they get somebody in India answering their questions so long as other exports have greater access there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think if you’ve been to any of our rallies in the past, say, four years, I think you’ve heard the President discuss changing the way our tax code is and ensuring that our taxpayers are getting a better deal. That is not to say that given the size and the emergence of the market, that we're going to ignore opportunities for companies — big, recognizable companies here in the United States to sell and distribute their goods in India, which creates jobs back here in America.
Q But is the President going to talk, though, about that issue, the concern of outsourcing? I mean, you talked about what the U.S. is doing, but that issue, in particular, is he going to say, listen, I realize there are concerns out there about the imbalance caused by outsourcing?
MR. FROMAN: I don't want to preempt what the President is going to say. I would simply say that a key part of the message is going to be that we want to make sure there’s opportunities for U.S. jobs, U.S. exports. And that's a big part of his mission there.
Q Will the President talk about the recently passed nuclear power law, ask for changes in it? This 80-year sort of warranty --
MR. FROMAN: I’m going to leave that Bill as our resident expert on that issue.
Q There are reports that there are $12 billion worth of orders are being (inaudible) for the U.S. This includes $5 billion for the defense and another $7 billion of commercial deals like the Boeing aircraft, which will create 50,000 to 60,000 jobs in the U.S. alone. How do you think it is justified to level allegations like jobs are being outsourced to India?
MR. FROMAN: Well, I don't think I’d add anything to what we’ve already said. I think the important thing is that there’s a large potential market there; that the President and the administration are active in promoting exports to ensure that there’s a level playing field there, there’s open markets there, and that our exports have an opportunity to penetrate that market and support jobs back here.
Q — has come out with a report expressing concerns about some of the protectionist measures being taken by this administration and the Congress. How do you plan to address that concern to U.S.-Indian companies?
MR. FROMAN: We are the most open economy in the world by any measure, and we have nothing at all to be concerned about with regard to our practices.
Q You were in Copenhagen. You were aware of some of the frustrations in the negotiations both bilaterally and in the talks in general. Do you think that the President will address any issues? And do we have any leverage or latitude given the failure of the climate change legislation on the Hill?
MR. FROMAN: I think he and Prime Minister Singh have had a series of discussions every time they’ve met about issues like climate change. And I imagine they will have a discussion about it as part of their bilateral dialogue.
Clearly — and this is another area where we work very closely with India — whatever success there’s going to be in talks like climate change or in Doha will be in part because of the U.S. and India are working together on it.
Q What do you want to see from the Indians in these negotiations? Is there anything in --
MR. FROMAN: On climate change negotiation?
Q — in these conversation? Is there anything particularly you --
MR. FROMAN: Together with Prime Minister Singh and other leaders, President Obama crafted the Copenhagen accord last year. And we’ve been working over the course of the year, including with our Indian counterparts, to try and make those more concrete and institutionalize some of the agreements that were made in Copenhagen.
Q Are you moving ahead with implementation of the standards that were adopted in Copenhagen?
MR. FROMAN: We’ve got more work to do, but we’re moving ahead.
Q Can you be a little more specific about trade issues that are going to be on the bilateral agenda? Are we likely to see resolution of anything — financial services, anything from the summit?
MR. FROMAN: I think there’s an ongoing dialogue between the two governments about outstanding trade issues, and the President, I imagine, will make clear the importance of removing barriers to U.S. exports and U.S. participation in their market. But I won’t get into any specifics about what we expect to reach agreement on.
Q The administration is obviously — has obvious conflicts with China on aspects of economic policy, exports. Could you talk about how perhaps India offers any better opportunities? Is there more openness? Is there more potential for U.S. investment and exports there?
MR. FROMAN: I think all I’d say is each country is different. Both are fast-growing economies. We have a strong interest in ensuring that the fastest-growing economies in the world are open, create a level playing field for U.S. exporters, and allow us to take advantage of that growth to support jobs back here at home.
But we have a dialogue with China. We have a dialogue with India.
MR. GIBBS: Let me bring Bill in here now and we can --
Q Could you tell us what you’re meeting with the President about? Is it this trip? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: They're doing — this is — they’re meeting about the G20.
Q Just one more? Mr. Froman, you had said — sorry about that, nice try --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, go ahead.
Q — earlier in your comments that the U.S. was going to consummate new deals while they were there. What were you referring to? New economic deals might be announced?
MR. FROMAN: All I was saying was that there are a number of large contracts being worked on between U.S. companies and their Indian counterparts, oftentimes with the support of the U.S. government in terms of our advocacy efforts or our trade finance being available. And we hope to consummate some of these deals in the run-up to the President’s visits.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everybody. I just had a few very brief points to provide a little bit of perspective on the relationship.
Q Could you speak a little louder, please?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. I just had a few very brief points to provide some perspective on the U.S.-Indian relationship and underscore the potential in our partnership.
First, the U.S.-India partnership for a number of years has been a genuine bipartisan priority in Washington — the same is true in India. Over the last decade through three administrations of both of our parties and two Indian governments of different parties, we’ve transformed the relationship. The simple truth is that India’s rise and its strength and progress on the global stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the United States.
Second, the President has called our relationship a defining partnership of the 21st century. In many ways, we’re natural partners, as Ben has suggested. We’re the world’s two largest democracies. We’re both big, diverse, tolerant societies. We’re two of the world’s largest economies. We both have an increasing stake in global stability and prosperity, especially across Asia and the Pacific.
Third, defense cooperation between us is expanding in ways that were hard to imagine a decade ago. India now holds more defense exercises every year with the United States than it does with any other country. Some $4 billion in defense sales have been made by the U.S. to India over the last couple of years alone, with more possibilities ahead. India is today one of the biggest contributors to U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Fourth, we have a lot to gain, as Mike was suggesting, by working together in high-tech cooperation and innovation. The civilian nuclear agreement that was completed at the end of the last administration removed the single biggest irritant in our relationship and opened the door to wider cooperation. We’ve worked hard in this administration to follow through, completing, for example, a reprocessing agreement between the U.S. and India six months ahead of schedule.
We look forward to U.S. companies contributing to Indian civil nuclear development. And the signing today by the Indian government in Vienna of the Convention on Supplemental Compensation is a very positive step toward ensuring that international standards apply and that U.S. companies are going to have a level playing field on which to compete.
We’re also making progress on cooperation in space and updating export controls to reflect the reality of a 21st century partnership in which India is treated as a partner and not as a target.
And finally, I think it’s important to stress that the growth of our partnership is about not just ties between governments but deepening connections between our societies. Today there are more than 100,000 Indian students in American universities, more than from any other single foreign country. Three million Indian Americans play a very vibrant role in American society. And as Mike said, bilateral trade has quadrupled in the last decade.
So that’s the backdrop to the President’s visit. As Ben said, the fact that the President will spend three days in India, the longest single foreign visit of his presidency so far, the fact that this follows the first state visit of the Obama presidency by Prime Minister Singh last year, the fact that India is the first stop on a trip to four major Asian Democratic partners — all of that underscores the significance and the potential of Indian/American partnership.
MR. GIBBS: Scott, do you want to pose your question?
Q Yes. I thought it was more of a business question, but I guess it’s a political question, too. Will the President ask for changes in the recently passed nuclear power law that I guess U.S. companies are seeing as a problem breaking into that market?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'd say several things. I mean, just to repeat, the signing today by the Indian government of the Convention on Supplemental Compensation, which is the basic international standard involving this kind of cooperation, is a very positive step. What we seek is a level playing field for our companies. India leadership has said that’s what it wants to ensure, too, and so I think we’re making progress.
Q Do you expect any gains in getting some Indian companies off the entities list? Some of them are very unhappy about being — it’s barring them from getting --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I mean, that’s one of the subjects we’re talking about in the broad category of export controls, and we’ve had quite intensive discussions with the Indians about that. So we’ll see where we get.
Q Under Secretary, you mentioned last June, I believe it was, in a speech, Aung San Suu Kyi in the context of the U.S.-Indian relationship. You have the Burmese election November 7th — that’s the day after the President arrives. Will he, either in India with Prime Minister Singh and/or other parts of the trip, be addressing human rights issues? And specifically will the U.S. more strongly speak out about the legitimacy of the election in Burma.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Ben may want to add to this, but I mean, all I'd say, first on Burma, is that everything we’ve seen so far casts pretty serious doubts on whether this is going to be a free and fair election. And we’ve made very clear the U.S. position that you’re not going to have free and fair elections unless you have the some 2,100 political prisoners released in Burma, and that obviously includes Aung San Suu Kyi.
We have a very active dialogue with India about a whole range of regional issues, and that does include Burma. And so, again, I can't predict exactly what the conversations are going to be, but I think you’ll continue to see a strong emphasis from the President, from the United States, on human rights issues across Asia and the Pacific.
MR. RHODES: The only thing I'd add to that is, as Bill mentioned, it’s not a coincidence necessarily that we're going to four Asian democracies on this trip — India, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. It’s, as the President discussed at the U.N., we want to underscore the success of democracy in Asia and around the world and we're going to speak specifically to human rights and democracy-related issues in India and at every stop essentially of this trip.
And while I can't prejudge the outcome of the election, we've expressed concerns about it in ASEAN; we've expressed it in our bilateral channels to key governments in the region. And if the election does not meet the kinds of standards that we would like to see it meet — and as Bill said, every indication is that it won't — I'm sure it will be something that will come up in the course of the trip.
Q Quick follow-up. Are you any closer to appointing a special coordinator for Burma?
MR. RHODES: Yes, it’s something we're looking at, but we have nothing to say on that today.
Q Russia, of course, has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with India over the years. For you, when you work with both countries, is that sort of an obstacle or an opportunity in your work? And also, I understand you talk with the Indians, among other things, about missile defense. I only learned about that recently. Can you tell us what that is about?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I mean, India obviously has some important relationships with major powers around the world, and that's perfectly understandable and natural. I mean, we see a lot of room and we've demonstrated over the last 10 years to expand the U.S./India partnership. So that's what we're focused on.
And I don't really have anything to add with regard to missile defense. I mean, we have a pretty wide-ranging discussion with India about a whole range of issues, and as I said, our defense relationship has expanded quite dramatically in recent years — but nothing in particular on missile defense.
Q I have two questions. One is, first of all, on communications. A lot of Americans are going to be wondering how this trip affects them, particularly after a very intensive political campaign here and you focused a lot on the economy. Should we expect the President to make a concerted effort in all of his events to try to connect this trip to how this affects people in their real lives here?
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ll see from the very outset of the trip — and if you think about it, we're talking about one of the — well, first of all, we're talking about the fastest-growing economic region of the world. And our ability to interact with it, to sell our goods and our services in that region of the world — you heard the statistics that Mike had about our growing business investment in India.
The trip goes on; it includes the G20. So the trip is basically economic in focus. I don't think — and I think when people see the first day of this, they’ll understand that it is — our relationship with this region of the world and with this country is not disconnected in any way from what’s important to them in our ability to export our goods, to sell those products, and to create and support jobs here in America. I don’t think that will be — you won’t have to do much to demonstrate that from literally the moment that we land.
MR. RHODES: I'd just add to that, Ben, real quick, there’s — in the 21st century, there’s really not — a relationship with a major emerging power like India is something that directly affects the lives of the American people. And if you just look at what we’re doing, in every way these are issues that directly impact within our borders.
So you’ve heard us talk a lot about the economic potential, the potential for job creation connected to exports and Indian investment in the American economy. Counterterrorism — the same kinds of extremist groups who have threatened India and in some instances launched attacks are connected to a broader network that threatens us. So the counterterrorism cooperation that we have with India every day directly affects our security.
The climate negotiations that Glenn asked about — the President’s key point on climate was we need to move beyond Kyoto simply because we need to bring in the United States into an international climate framework, but also countries like China and India that are the world’s fastest-growing emitters.
So I think the economic message is very clear; the market potential is clear. And then in a whole broad range of issues, these are things that directly affect the American people.
And on the economic point, I'd just point out it’s the G20 and then APEC as well, as the Asian economic forum — Asia Pacific economic forum that we close in Japan. So the two summits that he’s attending are entirely economic.
Q Okay. I also wanted to make one more run at a question that came up a few days ago to you, Robert, about whether — what was the specific reason why the President opted not go to the Golden Temple, which was something that was in his tentative plans? Was it because he would have to cover his head and the concerns about him being perceived as Muslim --
MR. GIBBS: I'll take — let Ben take another. I think he’s going to tell you largely what I told you at the back of the plane.
MR. RHODES: I’ve been leading our trip planning here, so I’ve known this trip at every stage of our development.
As Robert said, it’s a big country where we’d like to do a lot of things. It’s an extraordinary country and we can never do as many events as we’d like to do. We send advance teams to far more places than we’re ever going to visit.
I think if you look at — the schedule that we ended up is the schedule that best advances the purposes and interests of the trip. We’ve got a very packed three days in Mumbai and Delhi that speak to those priorities, that reach out to the Indian people as well.
So we arrived at the schedule we arrived at because we thought it was the best way to have a successful trip. We’ve visited multiple religious sites — mosques, churches, synagogues — on foreign travel. We’ll do so on this trip, probably in Indonesia. So I think that the decision we made was driven by, again, the interests of time, how to best advance our common interests with India in these three days. And, unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to get to get to every place we advanced.
Q Would it be fair to say, though, just to eliminate that as an issue, that that’s just wrong, that theory that that was the reason why --
MR. RHODES: Yes. We — again, we make the decision about the schedule based on the best way to advance our goals for the trip. And with three days, we just thought that, when we really crunched it, Mumbai and Delhi, with a very packed official program, that the schedule we arrived at for those two cities filled up our time successfully.
Q Just another question on messaging. One of the lines we hear from the President on the stump now is when he’s talking about the Republican tax plan, saying that it’s going to cost $700 billion over 10 years and they would cut 20 percent of education funding, and India is not cutting education funding and China is not, either. So how does he reconcile that message and then go to India and try and form this partnership and --
MR. GIBBS: First of all, I don’t think when he says it — he’s not casting aspersions on the Indians or the Chinese.
Q — competition.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he’s — look, go back to virtually — well, almost every speech he’s made, I think he picks — there’s a — I think the President has made clear in these speeches we don’t compete — as he would say, kids in Chicago or kids in D.C. don’t just compete with kids in Richmond or kids in St. Louis. They compete with kids all over the world to be among the best-educated workforce that we have available to create the types of goods and services that allow us to sell our products in India and in China and in other places.
And I think it’s important — again, the President is not casting aspersions on those governments for not cutting their education. He is challenging us as a country to ensure that we make critical investments in what is ultimately going to be the most important thing that we’re going to be involved in, and that is ensuring that we have the best, most highly educated workforce in the world that can attract the type of jobs that are likely to be created in the 21st century.
MR. RHODES: The only thing I’d add real quick is this is a win-win economic relationship. The kinds of — Indian companies are investing in the American economy because of their faith in it. Similarly, the kinds of deals that are being advanced, the kinds of partnership we’re building, certainly advances American economic interest and the interests of the American people in greater jobs and growth. But it’s a kind of relationship that’s going to serve the interest, the economic interest of both the United States and India. So we see it as a — in addition to, again, what Robert said, we see this is as a win-win economic relationship.
Q What was the President’s reason for going to Golden Temple, had he gone? What was the reason he was planning it?
MR. RHODES: Well, sure. When we look at different stops to potentially visit, and we looked at a broad range in India — and so I don’t want to kind of get into litigating out places that we’re not visiting beyond saying that we usually try to incorporate a cultural stop, cultural outreach into our trips. He has very much enjoyed in the past his opportunity to pay respects to the vast diversity of cultures around the world.
In India, you have one of the most dynamic and tolerant and diverse societies in the world and we want to pay tribute to that. And I think that’s particularly why, for instance, we wanted to have an event where we could celebrate in some fashion Diwali with Indian young people, and why we wanted to ensure that we had a culture stop in Delhi, in this instance visiting a tomb that has served as a precursor to the Taj Mahal and speaks to the huge — the enormously impressive civilization that India has had over many centuries.
Q Would you consider going there in the future?
MR. RHODES: Certainly we wouldn’t rule out any visit in the future. And, hopefully, we’ll be able to return to India. But right now, we’re focused on this upcoming trip.
Q Will the President talk publicly or privately about Kashmir and the tensions between India and Pakistan? Obviously, any progress there might provide a (inaudible) effect on the campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the U.S. campaign. And can you talk about why he decided to go to Pakistan next year and not on this trip?
MR. RHODES: I’ll take the second one and then I’ll let Bill take the first because he is closer to that. But I think again we have — the President believes that the U.S. relationship with India and the U.S. relationship with Pakistan does not take place within any kind of zero sum dynamic. It’s often been viewed that way in the past, that if we become closer to one it’s at the expense of the other. And we’ve tried to send the signal that it’s the opposite with this administration; that, in fact, actually you see that borne out in the fact that we had a very successful strategic dialogue here, with the Pakistanis in town last week, discussing greater security cooperation in governance and economic issues. And as a part of that, the President met with the Pakistani delegation and ended up speaking to President Zardari yesterday to discuss that strategic dialogue and said that he’d very much like to visit Pakistan next year and is planning to visit Pakistan next year.
On this specific trip, again, we have a limited amount of time. We have hard dates in terms of summits that we’re attending in Seoul and in Japan. And we have a very robust program in India on the front end. And so he wanted to make sure we have the proper focus on that Pakistan trip when it does take place.
So he looks forward to that visit. Again, we don’t see it as kind of a zero sum equation. And I think the strategic dialogue speaks to the fact that we’re cooperating closely with Pakistan just as this visit speaks to a deepening relationship with India.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And the only thing I’d add is that we have always welcomed dialogue between India and Pakistan and certainly encouraged efforts to improve relations between those two very important countries. Obviously, the pace, scope and character of that dialogue is something that Indians and Pakistanis have to shape. But we’ll continue to both welcome and encourage it.
Q How big a delegation will it be? And do you have a sense of the schedule of the First Lady when she is in India?
And, secondly, Under Secretary Burns, you were in India a few days ago. What’s the mood there, what’s the sense of the welcoming of the President?
MR. RHODES: I’ll take the first and then let Bill speak to that question. On the delegation that we’re bringing, I’ll leave — our Cabinet agency will be making announcements. But I think a number of U.S. officials will be attending in addition to the kind of White House staff that normally goes.
I know Tom Donilon is going, our new National Security Adviser. Secretary Locke, given the Commerce Department’s role in some of the business events, will be attending. And I discussed, for instance, the agricultural cooperation — Raj Shah, who is our USAID Administrator, also — I think our highest-ranking Indian American in the administration — will be going. So there will be a number of U.S. Cabinet officials, as well as a number of senior White House and NSC staff going.
I’ll leave the second question to Bill. Did you have another part to that?
Q Schedule of the First Lady?
MR. RHODES: Oh, First Lady — that's right. Thanks for asking. The First Lady is going to be with the President — let me just add, too, because I know that there’s different reports in the Indian press. The children, Sasha and Malia, are not coming. It’s during their school year, of course. But the First Lady is coming.
We’ll be announcing some independent events that she’ll be doing. She is, however, accompanying the President to a number of his events, such as, again, the Mumbai town hall, the Diwali celebration — and so the cultural stops. She’ll be with him for certain things, but we expect her to do a couple of independent events. We expect that they’ll be related to education and the empowerment of women and girls.
So we’ll get you the information as soon as her schedule is locked.
Q Is she only going to India, though? Not the other?
MR. RHODES: She’s going to — well, again, we’ll put out her schedule. But I believe she’s going to India and Indonesia and then peeling off.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Just very briefly, I was in India a few days ago — I think it was the fourth trip there in a little more than a year. This was to help prepare for the President’s visit. And certainly the mood — I mean, Indians can speak for themselves, obviously — but the mood I found was positive, an air of anticipation, a lot of interest in how we can work together to translate all the progress of recent years into sort of further tangible benefits that both Indians and Americans can see.
Q I have an India question, but I was wondering if I could follow up on something from yesterday — is that all right?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s do India first. Let me get India done because I don't want to keep Bill here for that.
Q Sure. There have been, as there always will be, critics who’ve tried to make a big deal out of the fact that the President has booked the entire hotel. And I was wondering if you’d speak to the necessity of that, and also the benefits derived from it?
MR. RHODES: Well, all I’d say about that is we take our guidance from the Secret Service and our security personnel as to what precautions are necessary to ensure that the President has a safe visit. So, again, that decision is made — is not made by us. It’s made by the professionals who know what the requirements are. So we follow their guidance.
Q And there’s probably an added risk to this site as a former --
MR. RHODES: Well, no, I think we always just have — again, the Secret Service makes their own evaluations. Again, I would underscore we think that India is a strong and safe and resilient country that is — with effective counterterrorism. But again, with respect to our own security requirements, we’re just guided by Service on that and so I wouldn’t be in a position to comment on it.
Q Just to follow Steven’s question on Kashmir. Will the President be making some public remarks explaining the U.S. position on Kashmir? And will he also be addressing — explaining the U.S. relationship with Pakistan publicly?
MR. RHODES: I wouldn’t — I don't want to get into prefacing with precision what his comments are, in part because he’ll be answering a lot of questions there in the town hall and press conference and we haven’t — we’re still working through his remarks on certain things.
So I will say that he’ll — I think to echo two points that have been made, on the first question, I think we do support efforts by India and Pakistan to pursue a dialogue with one another, so we'll express support for that, as we always do.
And on the second, I think the point I made is an important one, which is that we believe that a positive relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, a deepening relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, does not in any way, shape or form have to be seen through a zero-sum lens as it relates to India, and that we want to have a — we want to take the U.S.-Indian relationship to a new level on this visit. We want to expand cooperation on economic issues, but also on security cooperation, counterterrorism and military ties, cooperation on issues like clean energy and, again, as the world’s two largest democracies, working together both bilaterally and also around the world.
And, again, we believe that both of these goals can be — I mean, our central message — and it’s a message, really, to the region — is that both of these relationships can be advanced and deepened at the same time on a parallel track, and that that does not in any way demonstrate a preference for one relationship over the other, that these things can be mutually reinforcing, in fact.
Q Can we handle a couple of Indonesia questions?
MR. GIBBS: We’ll do Indonesia I believe tomorrow.
Q You are concentrating on Southeast Asia. Yesterday a former Secretary of State in a private meeting told me that the U.S. is looking for a major strategic partnership not only in Southeast Asia but Indian Ocean and in Central Asia. Would you like to expand on that?
MR. RHODES: I'll make one comment, but Bill may want to comment on this.
We have — as a part of — I briefly mentioned Asia. I mean, we’ve put a whole host of attention, from the level of the President on down, to Asia, broadly speaking. And I think what you see is you see a U.S.-India partnership that’s developed and gone to a new level. You’ve seen — again, the question came before on Russia — a reset of relationships with Russia. You’ve seen consultations at a high level with the Chinese that haven’t taken place before in terms of trying to have a cooperative and comprehensive relationship.
But in addition to that, we’ve really reengaged the architecture of the region. So the President has personally met twice with the ASEAN countries, and we see Southeast Asia as a critical region of the world as it relates to a number of security issues, from terrorism to piracy to others, and also, again, a hugely up and coming economic region of the world as well. So our engagement with ASEAN has been a key part of our Asia strategy.
However, I think you’re right — I think as we look to the Indian Ocean as well, this is a hugely important part of the world to us and the kind of cooperation we have with India in that part of the world is an important cornerstone of that Asia strategy, just as ASEAN is, just as the U.S.-India partnership is, and then just as our core alliances, for instance, in Korea and Japan are.
But Bill may want to comment.
Q And Central Asia?
MR. RHODES: In Central Asia, we, of course, have very close partnerships with some of those governments. For instance, the President met with the President of Kyrgyzstan. We’ve played a role in supporting their stability and their democracy in the aftermath of the instability they’ve had there recently.
Our northern distribution network as it relates to moving equipment and material into Afghanistan depends upon some close cooperation that we have with Central Asian countries. You saw a number of Central Asian countries, for instance, come to the Nuclear Security Summit, and they’re fundamental to our efforts to lock down and secure vulnerable materials in four years.
So I think we’ve had on a bilateral basis a very close collaboration with a number of Central Asian countries.
Q The question was that U.S.-India bilateral partnership — strategic partnership, will it also have a component of which you will focus on Indian Ocean and Central Asia?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it’s a mark of the significance that we attach to India’s rise in East Asia that the first stop in a presidential visit to Asia is in India. We began a regular dialogue with India about a year ago about East Asian issues, which has been very constructive and I think useful for both of us. We certainly look for ways in which we can talk about the global common — how our common stake in ensuring the security of sea and air routes that run through the Indian Ocean and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific. We have a lot in common in terms of our concerns and interests in Central Asia.
So I think in each of the areas that you mentioned, there are a lot of opportunities for us not only to have a serious dialogue but to look for ways in which we can cooperate.
Q A follow-up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Do you want more involvement from India in Afghanistan? And how do you see Indian and Pakistani interests balanced in Afghanistan?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we’ve long made clear our support for India’s contributions in Afghanistan. India has contributed something like $1.3 billion worth of development assistance in agriculture and other areas over the last eight or nine years in Afghanistan — at some cost, because there have been Indian workers who have lost their lives during that period. So we not only recognize but support the kind of role that India has been playing in supporting development in Afghanistan.
Q So the President is visiting India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea. The Indian Prime Minister this week is visiting Japan, Malaysia. And the Secretary of State also is visiting a number of Southeast Asian countries. And if you connect all these dots, there’s one big red dot missing. (Laughter.) Should we read something into this?
MR. RHODES: No, I'd just say a couple things. First of all we were pleased to have a presidential trip to — I’m just going to presume you’re talking about China and not another country that we’re not visiting. We were pleased to visit China last year and we continue to have close cooperation with the Chinese on some issues, even as we disagree on others.
I also expect — and we’ll get into the broader schedule tomorrow — that the President will meet with President Hu in the course of this trip because China, of course, is attending the G20.
I will say that, as Bill said, it’s not coincidence that India is the first stop on a major trip to Asia. Asia is a focus, as I’ve said. And we see India as a cornerstone of our engagement with this hugely important region of the world. And we believe that we have shared interests with India on a broad range of issues, but we also have shared values, because we’re two democracies. And the kind of relationship that we have as the world’s two largest democracies is relevant to our ability to have a deep, bilateral partnership, but also to work together in the region and around the world.
So I think that building from that, too, each of the countries we’re visiting are democracies and close friends with the United States — Indonesia, an emerging democracy, and then Japan and South Korea, of course, being longstanding, close allies of the United States. And I think it speaks to the strength of democracy in Asia.
To those who question whether democracy is proving that it can advance and that it can foster economic development, India sets a powerful example, as does Indonesia, as countries that have robust economic growth while also having very dynamic democracies, just as South Korea and Japan also have had growth over previous decades while strengthening their own democracies.
So I’d make that point. And then I’d just add that, again, we have a very — we’ve made a very concerted effort — I think if you look at the travel by Secretary Clinton and the President, and the kinds of consultations we’ve had at the head of state and secretary level with these countries in Asia, and with ASEAN and with APEC, where we’ll be stopping on this trip, and with a number of other Asian groupings — we’re sending a very clear message the United States sees itself as an Asian power, see ourselves as a Pacific power, and intend to significantly increase and deepen our engagement in the region. And, again, India is fundamental to that effort.
Q I want to take Secretary Burns back to the nuclear question. By signing the CSC, has India addressed all U.S. concerns, or do problems remain in some fashion or the other?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I don’t think — as I said, we consider the signing earlier today of the Convention on Supplemental Compensation to be a positive step. Our companies are engaged in discussions right now. We’re engaged in discussions. I think we’re making progress. What we’re interested in is simply to ensure that there’s a level playing field for our companies.
Q (inaudible) --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the Indian government — that that’s what it seeks, too. And so, we’re working on it, is what I would say.
Q Robert, I was reading a report by the Center for New American Security on U.S.-India ties. They say here that many --
MR. GIBBS: A little nighttime reading, Sheryl?
Q My nighttime reading, yes — prominent Indians and Americans now fear that the rapid expansion of ties has stalled. And one thing they recommend is that the United States work with India to secure for India a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. And I wonder, your reaction to the characterization that the expansion of ties has stalled and where do we stand on the Security Council’s seat?
MR. RHODES: I’ll make a couple of comments, and then Bill may want to weigh in on the Security Council as well.
First of all, I think that the notion that it has stalled is just not in line with the facts that are apparent both in terms of atmospherics and in terms of substance. On the atmospherics, as Bill laid out, Prime Minister Singh was the first state visit that we hosted here. This will be the longest trip that the President will have taken as President to a foreign country. And it speaks to the depth of his partnership with Prime Minister Singh on a personal basis, but also the partnership between our countries.
On a substantive basis, if you look at, again, the breadth of the issues — and as we get to India, I think we’ll be able to finalize some of the discussions we’re having around some of these issues, go through in detail the outcomes of the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Singh on the trip.
But we are moving forward on a whole host of energy projects together related to clean energy and climate change. We are advancing new cooperation on agricultural development. As Bill said, we’ve continued to expand our military-to-military cooperation in terms of exercise and in terms of how we communicate with one another.
We have deepened our information-sharing on counterterrorism, for instance, exemplified by the access we’ve provided the Indians to David Headley. We have partnered with the Indians — continue to partner with them in Afghanistan. And so I — and we’ve actually upgraded the G20 to the premier economic forum in the world, in part to give countries like India a greater voice.
So I think across the board, we’re moving forward with India on a whole range of issues on a very substantive basis that speaks to the fact that — as Bill said, if you look at the previous two administrations, we had some major irritants related to nuclear issues. I think the civilian nuclear deal helped move beyond that. But now I think what we’re trying to do is use the opportunity afforded by that to lift this relationship up to a new level where India is really a strategic partner for the United States in the region and in the world.
And the Security Council, the first thing I’d say is simply that — first of all, we’ve, through the G20, through our focus on the G20 and some other bodies, already sought to give India a greater voice in global architecture — for instance, saying that the G8 can’t deal with global economic issues as effectively as the G20. The reasoning behind that was because you need India at the table on those discussions, just as you need China and other emerging economies.
On the Security Council, they are going to be a member, first of all, in terms of the next cycle, so we’ll have an immediate opportunity to cooperate with them on the Security Council.
But I’ll let Bill speak to the expansion question.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. No, the only thing I would say is, first, the United States recognizes the significance of looking at ways to adapt international architecture, including the U.N. Security Council, to reflect the realities of the 21st century. We want to approach that challenge in a way that ensures the effectiveness — and hopefully strengthens the effectiveness — of the Security Council. Given India’s rise and its significance, we believe that India will be a central part of any consideration of a reformed Security Council.
Q Can you just maybe explain a little more about why not just do it? What is the thinking behind not moving ahead quickly with this?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's about as far as I’m going today. (Laughter.)
Q There is a downside, though, in your view? You just don't want to articulate what it is?
MR. RHODES: It’s a very complicated issue that involves international architecture in many countries. But we’ll continue to work — to talk this through as we move forward on the trip.
Q Robert, can you speak the timing of trip just a little bit? Obviously, the President has been trying to schedule this trip for a number of months. But does the timing have nothing at all to do with the election?
MR. GIBBS: No, the timing has all to do with the G20 and APEC. Look, obviously, this is — as we will soon learn, this is a long way to travel and there’s a lot of space in between individual stops. It was important in doing a trip of this magnitude and in having the G20 in this region of the world to highlight the important relationships that this President believes are going to be crucially important not simply to this administration — you heard Bill talk about that from a bipartisan perspective, our relationship with India has always been important to both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
But certainly, this is a relationship that is important to this country and will be important to this country for many years to come. So it is — it’s timed around those economic meetings of which are very important.
Q I see you already announced the meeting with the Chinese President. Can you also confirm the meetings with the Russian President?
MR. GIBBS: Do you know something that you’re not telling us?
Q I don't know, maybe. (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: We’ll give the full schedule tomorrow with Jeff Bader and me because we’re still finalizing.
Q And is the Hu meeting a bilat?
MR. RHODES: Yes, we’ll include that in the --
MR. GIBBS: We’ll go through that tomorrow.
MR. RHODES: — we’ll include that in the briefing tomorrow.
Q There seems to be a narrative within China that — and I know the Secretary of State is now making a stop in China, but nonetheless, there seems to be a narrative within China that the President’s and the Secretary of State’s visit are almost encircling them, and that — leaning hard on this idea of the U.S. trying to set up some kind of counterbalance. Can you talk about that more?
MR. RHODES: I think — we’ve always had a very clear theory of our approach, which is that as it relates to China, that we want to develop a kind of regular order of high-level consultations that include the strategic dialogues that Secretary Geithner and Secretary Clinton lead with their Chinese counterparts; that include the kinds of trips that we just saw Tom Donilon and Larry Summers take to China; but also include — I think if you stack up the kinds of interactions that President Obama has had with President Hu just over the course of the last two years, it’s unprecedented in terms of the number of meetings and contacts that they’ve had.
And our approach has always basically been that we need to cooperate with China on a range of issues. If you’re going to deal with the global economy and global economic growth, if you’re going to deal with security concerns in the region, if you’re going to deal with energy and climate, China has got to be a partner on those issues.
However, that even as we cooperate on some issues, we’re going to disagree, and that we’re going to disagree directly with one another, but that those disagreements need not and should not derail cooperation on other issues. So that you can have a relationship that is mature enough and healthy enough that we can cooperate on some things, disagree on others.
Related to that is we don’t feel like there needs to be a choice between a cooperative U.S.-China relationship and these broader relationships that we have in Asia; that in fact I think, as an Asian power and a Pacific power, it’s in the interests of the region for the U.S. to have a cooperative relationship with China on some of these issues, but it’s similarly in the interests of the region for us to, again, be very engaged with ASEAN, to be deepening our partnership with India, and to firm up our alliances with Korea and Japan.
And I think if we look at our record over the last few years, one of the things we’re most proud of is putting those alliances with Korea and Japan on a firmer footing, again, getting at the table in terms of ASEAN, and then dealing with the partnership in India that has such enormous potential.
And frankly, it is a relationship that, because it’s between two democracies, has a kind of qualitative potential that is unique. The U.S. and India, as the world’s two largest democracies, share interests but we also share values. And that opens the doors to cooperation bilaterally but also cooperation in the region and around the world.
** MR. GIBBS: I want to do one thing before I go. During this press briefing, the Department of Justice has made an announcement about a Homeland Security arrest. This is another important example of work by the FBI, by all levels of our law enforcement, and by our national security team to keep this country safe.
Those groups have been on top of this case from the beginning, and at no point was the public in any danger. DOJ and FBI will be doing more on this — there’s a statement out and they’ll be doing more on this later today.
Q When did the President know about it?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I don’t know the answer.
Q Do you know whether he’s been briefed during the course of this — until the time of the arrest this morning?
MR. GIBBS: He was aware of this prior to the arrest.
Q Robert, is there any sense that there were targets other than the Metro?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to leave those questions, based on the fact that an arrest has been made, to Justice and FBI. **
Tommy, do you have one follow-up from yesterday? And then I'll --
Q Yes, I hate to follow that, but I wanted to ask you about Leader McConnell’s comments. I understand the necessity or the desire to allow the Republicans a window of time in which to realize that they have to roll up their sleeves and work together. I think what I wanted to ask you yesterday is how long a window is that going to be? And what’s the plan, what’s the strategy, if that window expires and they’re still not working --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Tommy, I don’t know how long that window is. I don't know --
Q Shorter than it was the last two years?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I will reiterate what I said yesterday and what I’ve said even before Senator McConnell made what I thought was his unfortunate comment, and that is, regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election, the American people are going to want Congress and the White House and the two political parties to be able to sit down in the same room, talk coherently about the issues that face the American people, and work constructively to solve them.
Look, if anybody takes a different message from this election, I think they will find themselves on the wrong end of voters two years from now, as well as when they take actions that are different than working together on these issues. I know it’s the President’s hope — you heard him enunciate in that interview — that we can work together to solve our problems; that we can work together to put our economy on an even stronger footing; and that we can work together to improve our educational system and to improve our foreign policy. All of those things the President wanted to do in running for President and hopes to do even — hoped to do here and certainly hopes to do after the election.
Q To follow up on the arrest, you said “arrests” but it’s one?
MR. GIBBS: It’s an arrest, I’m sorry.
Q Okay. And also do you know if the suspect was dealing with an undercover FBI agent or --
MR. GIBBS: Let me — again, those are questions better addressed and answered, because of the pending investigation, by law enforcement officials.
Q Singular, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, arrest.
END 2:09 P.M. EDT