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South and Central Asia: Remarks With Vice President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

SECRETARY KERRY: Please be seated, everybody. Thank you very, very much. Good afternoon. We are sorry to be a few minutes late, but the Prime Minister had the pleasure of going to the Martin Luther King Memorial as an off-schedule event on the way over here, and we’re delighted that he was able to do that with the President. The President and he went together, and it was a great trip. Thank you. (Applause.)

So Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the State Department. And it’s my pleasure also to welcome a leader who’s been a champion of the United States-India relationship for many years, going back to the 1970s and Indira Gandhi, and I’m talking about the Vice President of the United States. I’m happy to welcome you here, Mr. Vice President. (Applause.)

Dr. Henry Kissinger, thank you for joining us today. Welcome home. (Applause.) As you all know, Dr. Kissinger has yet another book, a new book out called “World Order.” And I recommend it to all of you. And just to give you an idea of how insightful this book really is, people are actually reading the book before they look for their names in the index. So it’s pretty significant. (Laughter.)

I want to thank our chef, Vikram Sunderam, who is responsible for this wonderful meal we’re going to have here today. And we are happy to acknowledge his tremendous success at Rasika, which is one of our terrific restaurants here in Washington, one example of how Indian- Americans are not just living the American dream, but they’re redefining it on a daily basis.

And we’re privileged also to have musicians here this afternoon from the United States Army and United States Navy bands. And it’s always an honor for all of us to hear you play, and everybody here joins us in thanking you for your service. We are deeply appreciative. (Applause.)

Mr. Prime Minister, I’m forced to admit that no matter how warm our welcome here today, we’re never going to be able to top your rock star reception at Madison Square Garden. (Laughter and applause.) Billy Joel called me this morning to make sure you hadn’t taken his regular gig there. (Laughter.) None of us have been able to turn on a television or pick up a newspaper without seeing the celebrity coverage that the Prime Minister has received. And with it, for all of us, there’s a sense of shared excitement and a sense of shared possibility.

I’ve been Secretary of State now going on two years, and I was on the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly 30 years, so I’ve seen, as the Vice President has – we’ve both sort of lived through the ups and downs of this relationship. And people talk about the United States and India perhaps the way that a matchmaker talks about two friends that they want to get together. And you sort of have that, “Oh, you have so much in common. If only you’d spend more time together.” (Laughter.)

But what’s very clear about this visit at this moment is that people are watching to wait and see if this Modi moment is going to be the moment when the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy finally capitalize on the full, inherent potential of this relationship. And it does, in fact, seem so natural. The United States and India are two countries defined by the belief that all things are possible.

President Obama often says that, for him, only in America would his journey be possible. And Prime Minister Modi’s journey from a young man who sold tea by the railroad in Gujarat to the Prime Minister’s residence on Race Course Road seems no less improbable. (Applause.)

This belief in opportunity, even against long odds, is really unique to our two countries. We are two countries who begin our founding documents with the same words, the same three words: “We the people.” We’re two countries where entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation is in both of our DNA. The only two countries that could have given birth to Hollywood and Bollywood – (laughter) – the only two countries where high-tech hubs like Bangalore and Silicon Valley could blossom and be connected, even as they are independent in their creativity. We are two countries that, as Swami Vivekananda said in Chicago more than a century ago, have sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations on Earth.

In the last years, I have been pleased and privileged to see our relationship come a long way. It has been a long journey from the mistrust and misperception of the Cold War period and even the post-Cold War period and President Clinton’s efforts to forge a new relationship. And those efforts have continued under administrations Democratic and Republican, alike.

The question today is whether we are going to at last take this partnership to the new heights that we can both envision. And we’re already working together in a crucial number of efforts. Already today our two navies are safeguarding vital trade routes off the Horn of Africa. Today, our engineers are retrofitting telecom networks to run on solar power together. Our scientists are developing new drugs to treat malaria. Our businesses are trading more together – a fivefold increase since the year 2000.

But the question is what this relationship looks like tomorrow. The promise of Prime Minister Modi’s visit is really quite simple. This is one of those hinge points in history. Perhaps for the first time the United States and India don’t just share the same founding ideals, but we share the same economic and political imperatives. We both need and want clean air. And we both need good jobs. We both need to trade in new markets. We both need more investment. We both need higher education systems that work for the next generation. And we both need to keep our people safe from the scourge of violent extremism.

Our new partnership is rooted in both shared values and shared interests. And to me, those are the sum of the same values and interests that you, Mr. Prime Minister, have put at the center of your agenda with the words, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, participation of all, development for all.

Prime Minister Modi, we want you to succeed. It is in all of our interest. And we want history to remember that what you did for India’s development is the same memory people have of the history of Mahatma Gandhi and what he did for India’s independence. (Applause.)

So we are invested in that future together. I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all – in fact, I know it isn’t – that Secretary Pritzker, Secretary Hagel, Deputy Secretary Burns, and I all went to India during your first 100 days in office. And it’s not a coincidence that you have come to America so early in your tenure.

We are all invested in this relationship because we recognize what this moment demands of all of us. President Franklin Roosevelt, of course, described America as having a rendezvous with destiny. India’s first Prime Minister spoke about India’s tryst with destiny. And this can be a moment where, for the United States and India, our destinies actually converge. If we make the right choices, if we harness the capacity of our two nations, if we seize the opportunities, this can be the moment to transform our strategic relationship into an historic partnership, a partnership that honors our place as great powers and great democracies.

We’re, as I said, lucky to have a Vice President who understands this vital importance and this relationship, who understands the importance of aligning our interests and our values, and that’s why he has always believed so strongly in the vitality of the relationship with India. (Applause.)

The Vice President and I have been friends now for about 40 years, and of course, he has been, almost just as long a period of time, a great friend of India. We were longtime colleagues in the Senate, where I saw again and again his personal relationships at home and on the world stage work to advance the interests of our country. Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for joining us today. (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s great to be here today. I did tell the President that we were going to be late for lunch, but he didn’t listen to me. (Laughter.) He took the Prime Minister to see the memorial, but – so it’s all the President’s fault we’re late now. (Laughter.)

Mr. Prime Minister, once again, welcome. It’s an honor to have you here. Secretary Kerry and I and along with President Obama enjoyed our dinner last night. We had a small dinner, where I think all of us thought it was a remarkable way in which Senator – and I said Senator – President Obama and the Prime Minister connected, each discussing what each of our countries faced and what needed to be done. It was really quite remarkable. I’ve been to many of these dinners, but I can’t think of any one that went as well. And Happy Navratri, Mr. Prime Minister. It’s good of you to honor us and visit us on – during this holy week. And the Prime Minister is fasting and we keep taking him to dinners and lunches. (Laughter.) And as we Catholics would say, that’s an occasion for sin, but we appreciate the fact he has spent so much time with us.

And it’s good to have a chance to come together to celebrate the relationship that has grown enormously over the past two decades. I don’t think it could have been said better than the way Secretary Kerry said it. This has always been the promise – the promise over the horizon. There was no reason why the oldest and the largest democracy should not be working together, but it’s been a promise and it’s always just been out of reach. But I think one of the reasons why it’s come into reach – it’s not just because of the Prime Minister, but because of the ways in which the different ethnicities, faces, faiths, tongues of both our proud nations have come together.

The way, as John said, the way entrepreneurship seems to be hard-wired into both cultures, where Indian-Americans whose talents have shaped the fabric of this country and our schools, our hospitals and our courtrooms and our government and our arts, entertainment, Main Street to Silicon Valley, and the way it’s reflected in our nation’s military uniforms and those who wear them. Most of all, Mr. Prime Minister, we admire your democracy and the message it sends to people around the world: No nation – no nation has to choose between development and freedom. We can and must secure both. They go hand-in-hand. I saw these virtues firsthand in a number of visits I have made to India over the years.

Most recently, Mr. Prime Minister, I brought my wife Jill and my daughter and my son-in-law to India with me less than a year ago, and we – and I learned something, as I told you in the –anteroom. When I was in Mumbai – Secretary Kissinger – I found out that what I had heard for so many years was true, that I actually had relatives in Mumbai – (laughter) – for real. A press person after the second press conference I had presented me with a portrait – a copy of a portrait of my great-great-great grandfather who – the Irish part of me is hard to admit, but was an English sea captain who settled and lived in India, and there are three Biden families in Mumbai. So I’m going home with you, Prime Minister. (Laughter and applause.) But – and my wife and my daughter got to see what I’ve had the ability to see in the past: the incredible dynamism and diversity that reinforced in all of us the remarkable fact of where we find ourselves. The question is no longer is whether it’s in the interest of the United States and India to build a strong relationship, as President Obama says, into the defining partnership of the century ahead; the question is: How ambitious and how rapidly are we prepared to build that partnership? And I believe, as the President does, we should be bold.

Mr. Prime Minister, you won the largest democratic exercise in history, with over 550 million Indians casting their votes earlier this year. (Applause.) And you campaigned on some of the very goals we hope to achieve in this relationship: greater investment in India’s economy, a modernized defense sector, inclusive growth for both of our peoples. And your support for economic reform paves the way for the expansion of our nearly $100 billion in trade on a yearly basis. This work will not be easy. It demands us both making tough choices, but I think that we have an incredible opportunity before us.

Mr. Prime Minister, I think together you and President Obama can usher the partnership of two great nations and two great peoples into the 21st century in the way we’ve been looking for and hoping for for some time. I am often known for quoting Irish poets by my colleagues, but one of my favorite Irish poets is William Butler Yeats, and he thought a great deal of the great Indian poet Tagore who was – he thought he was among the very best. And he was India’s first Nobel Prize winner, the only person to ever have two of his compositions chosen as the national anthem of two different countries – India and Bangladesh.

I’ll summarize what Yeats wrote about Tagore in the book that won Tagore the Nobel Prize that came to him over 100 years ago. He said: “His lyrics are full of subtle rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies, of invention – the work of a supreme culture.” The same can be said of India today: a diverse community humming with dynamism and energy, a great and ancient society reinventing itself to be able to thrive in the 21st century. Tagore wrote, and I quote: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” We have to act together.

Mr. Prime Minister, our conversations these past two days leave me with absolute confidence that we can cross the sea together. And we are encouraged – all of us who have been in contact with you these last couple days – with your sense of purpose, with your incredible energy, and with your commitment to this relationship. So Mr. Prime Minister, welcome again, and the floor is yours. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER MODI: (Via interpreter) Honorable Vice President Mr. Joe Biden, Secretary of State Mr. Kerry, the words that have used for praising me, the sentiments that you’ve expressed praising me, I’m very grateful to you wholeheartedly for that. And listening to both of you, it is very clear that because of my travel this time, the relations between India and America a new confidence has risen in that relationship, a new excitement is there in this relationship. And ultimately, the relationship between two countries, the basis of this relationship is always the manner in which the kind of confidence that is there in the two countries, and what is the chemistry between the leadership of two countries – that is what works for a long time, and in the last two days especially and for last four days that I have been in the U.S., I have been feeling this, that not only on Mars have we met. India and U.S. haven’t met only on Mars. We are also meeting on the Earth as well, and we are coming close.

There are certain problems. You use a system which is 120-volts, and we use 220-volt system in India. So 120 and 220 – when you have to bring them together and the difference in the energy which is there, so we’ll have to undertake necessary steps in order to bring it together, and I’m sure we’ll succeed in it. Then 120-volt and 220-volt system – both the systems will start working together, and that is how I am standing here amidst you.

And regarding both these individuals here – honorable Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary John Kerry – that in political life it is so easy to take the simpler path, and people try to take simpler paths. But there are very few people who take difficult paths and undertake different journeys, and both these leaders have always undertaken difficult journeys wherever there have been problems. And they have risen beyond politics, and they have tried to deal with those problems and solve with those problems, and they have worked very hard for these. And this is the nature of both these leaders, and it is rarely seen in politics, because it is so easy to draw a line on butter. But to draw a line on stone, you need to work a lot and you need great courage. And both these leaders belong to this temperament.

And today I say this with great confidence: that India would – is moving fast, and forward very fast. And the youth part that is there in India and the talent which is there in India, and the very innovative nature of Indians and India, and the ancient civilization that we have in India – all these things that are there. And today at the world forum generate a new hope, are creating a new hope. And the hopes that the people in the world have to fulfill those aspirations and hopes – India is committed, India is determined. And I would like to assure the world community and especially the America – the United States of America – that to fulfill the aspirations – hopes and aspirations of the world, they are all looking up to India, and India has become ready for that. India is ready to march ahead step-by-step and in tune with the Americas. We would like to select those parts which take us to the welfare of the world and humankind, and strengthen the democracy. And the smallest of the small nations in the world which are struggling, and the backward people in the world – we are committed to removing their difficulties, and I’m fully confident that we will put our energies to this use.

It is a hugely successful journey that I have undertaken here, and today I got this opportunity to meet all of you here. And I would also like to thank His Excellency President Obama from the core of my heart that you took out a lot of time. We were together yesterday and today for a – for quite some time, and today, in fact, he took me around. And with such ease, with such humility, he has given a new dimension to our relations. And for this I would also like to thank His Excellency President Obama and both the Excellencies who are present here – His Excellency the Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden, from the core of my heart; and also the Secretary of State, His Excellency Mr. John Kerry. And also thank all of you very much. Thank you very much. (Applause.)