5 Oct 2013

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid: We would obviously want to share information on Sinhurakshak accident with Russia

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, who visited Moscow on September 2-4, has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about India‘s entry to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the energy launch of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, the Sinhurakshak submarine accident, and the TAPI gas pipeline.

Question: You have said that India‘s Prime Minster is going to visit Russia soon. Could you please specify the exact dates of the visit?

Answer: We have not announced them yet, but this is going to be very shortly. As the Russian side hasn‘t announced the date, so it wouldn‘t be fair for me to be announcing it. But we are already working on his coming in the next couple of weeks.

Q.: You discussed with Minister Lavrov India‘s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As far as I know, the organization lacks appropriate legal base for accepting new members. When India may join the SCO?

A.: Actually, we have already made a formal application to become a full member. There is a fair amount of support amongst the founding members, there is fair amount of support for India and Pakistan also. Since 2005 we‘ve been observers, and I think that everyone thinks that we should now become full-time members. We have certainly received a very positive response and I have urged the Russian foreign minister to continue helping us and urging other partners in the SCO to take India as a full member.
Of course, what they need to do is to prepare some internal regulations and documentation on the basis of which new members will be decided. We were hoping that at the last SCO conference they will be able to bring that draft and get it approved, but that hasn‘t yet happened. We have urged the Secretariat to continue pushing this and at the earliest possible opportunity bring India on board.

Q.: So you did not discuss the specific date of the entry, 2014 or 2015 probably?

A.: Well, the documents were supposed to be ready this year. So if they were not ready this year, then let‘s try to have them done by next year. We certainly want to be full members as quickly as possible, but in any case till such time that we are full members there is a sense that there could be greater contribution and participation by observers. We would certainly welcome that.

Q.: What do you expect to get from joining the SCO?

A.: I think the SCO has several dimensions. It has an essential dimension of economic cooperation which is today the most important that this region requires. Then of course it has a strategic and security dimension. For us the most important dimension and factor is counter-terrorism. I think there is a major concern in the entire region and the SCO for fighting against terrorism. We are already collaborating with the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). Of course, as a full member of the SCO, these are the things that we can take even further.

Q.: When is the energy launch of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant expected to take place?

A.: The plant has already been launched, and we are raising the electricity production gradually and we‘ll bring it up to 1,000 MW in due course.
As you know, we have in India a planned position of increasing the contribution from nuclear power plants towards the total grid of electricity supply in our country. This is a very conscious decision that we have taken keeping in mind that were are depleting a lot of natural resources plus a lot of our coal is difficult to reach, because it lies under thick forest cover. Since forest cover in India is down to 19%. We cannot afford to allow more trees to be cut down even if it‘s to access coal. As far as thermal power plants are concerned, we have a major difficulty about water because we need water for irrigation and drinking purposes. There is an issue of having not enough water for thermal power plants. So we have to depend quite heavily on alternative sources of energy, renewable sources of energy which of course is expensive and will take time. Nuclear energy, therefore, is a very important alternative for us. Of course we have been working to ensure much higher levels of safety and greater acceptability amongst people, a lot of whom have been influenced by international movements against nuclear power plants particularly in Europe, Japan and so on. So we have to ensure that our circumstances require us to remain committed to nuclear energy but it should be done at a pace that is acceptable to our people and it‘s therefore important to make people understand and get them better informed on the usefulness of nuclear energy.

Q.: Am I right to understand that the Kudankulam Power Plant is already producing energy?

A.: Yes, and it will be connected to the grid very shortly.

Q.: When?

A.: I think that is a matter of several weeks.

Q.: When will Indian authorities be able to present results of the inquiry on the INS Sindhurakshak?

A.: The Board of Inquiry has already started their procedure, but we need to lift the submarine from the bottom of the sea for which an international tender has been floated. We have to get people, who have the technology to lift it from the bottom. It‘s not sitting in deep waters, therefore we need the right technology to get it back to the surface. Only then presumably the Board of Inquiry can complete the inquiry and the conclusion will be made available to the government to examine. I think they will look into all aspects of this matter because it is very important that we know exactly what went wrong, because we have several other submarines of the same make. And because the submarine was made in Russia and there would be similar submarines used in the Russian Navy, the information that we can gather and conclusions that we can draw, we would obviously want to share with Russia. In the process of that inquiry I am sure that some technical information that is required will be sought from the designers and manufacturers of the submarine.

Q.: Are there suspicions that part of the guilt is on the Russian side?

A.: I shouldn‘t prejudge the inquiry, but I think that there is no reason to believe that. There are many aspects. It could be a human error - that‘s always an important factor in an inquiry - it could be some functional fault in the equipment, its maintenance, it could be sabotage, anything that could have happened cannot be ruled out.

Q.: India has been developing military cooperation with such countries as the United States and France recently. Can this be explained by disappointment in cooperation with Russia over a number of recent incidents in this sphere?

A.: Most certainly not. I think that our dependence and our partnership in strategic matters and in defense equipment is extremely valuable to India. It is very vast, it has great depth and a very, very significant historical context. I don‘t think that this is something that can be given up and that our relationship with any other country would be at the cost of our relationship with Russia. I think a bulk of our defense equipment remains still tied to Russian manufacturers but don‘t forget that the breakup of the Soviet Union also means that many of your defense equipment was from regions of the Soviet Union, which are now independent. We continue to contact them as well. Just as we have now a growing relationship with Israel, because they are very good at supplying certain equipment. We now have co-production with the United States, and that equipment is available to anyone else in the world. Similarly we are looking forward to co-production and co-design with Russia, and I see no reason why anybody in Russia should have doubts about the future, the depth and the extent of our relationship. In fact this is not a sense or a signal that I have ever received from senior Russian colleagues.

Q.: It was reported in August that Pakistani authorities refused to take part in the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline over tensions in Indian-Pakistani relations and fears that India may shut down gas supplies to Pakistan. Could you comment on the report?

A.: It is the other way round. Since the pipeline will come through Pakistan to India, we should be worried that the pipeline gas will be switched off by Pakistan and will not reach India.
But the fact is that the way the four countries have looked at the TAPI pipeline, they will be so interdependent on each other and the entire project will be so integrated that no country would want to take the risk of inviting huge damages and indignation of other countries by interfering with the flow of gas in that project. In fact the viability of the project comes largely from the fact that ultimately the supply would go to India.
I don‘t think that‘s a problem. We are committed to the TAPI pipeline. We see it as a factor towards helping India and Pakistan normalize their relationship. Not that the relationship will hold this pipeline hostage, but the pipeline itself may contribute to a greater understanding and a greater reason for India and Pakistan to normalize relations between them. I think this pipeline is a great investment in the future of the entire region and for much greater connectivity between Central Asia and India.