New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Prannoy Roy, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the US government's earlier decision to deny Narendra Modi a visa, the allegations that the BJP was cleared as a potential target of surveillance by the National Security Agency or NSA, and the stand-off with Delhi on a key WTO global customs deal. India has refused to sign unless the world body approves its stockpiling of food for the poor.
Mr Kerry was accompanied by US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Here is the transcript of their interview with Prannoy Roy.
NDTV: You have taken an important job in administration, following Hillary Clinton's footsteps, what's it like following her footsteps and what kind of President will she make?
Kerry: Hillary said many times, one of the joys in office is to answer to those political questions but I'm a great admirer and a friend of Hillary Clinton and hard to follow her footsteps which have left big prints, who knows what she is going on to do, but obviously I wish her well whatever it is.
NDTV: Make a great President?
Kerry: She's a very capable person and proven in each step of her public life and I have no doubts, but I'm not supposed to comment on this.
NDTV: You said big footsteps, actually in India she was seen as a great friend of India so that's, is there a positive for you?
Kerry: I have been a great friend of India from the beginning of my Senate career, for years I came here in the 1990s, I was the first United States Senator to bring a trade mission to India and I've come here many times since then and my sister's state relationship is Bangalore.
NDTV: You know India well.
Kerry: Well, I don't know
NDTV: None of us really know
Kerry: That's a nice admission, I appreciate that but India is fascinating and we, Penny and I really happy to be invited here. We want a new relationship, we want the things move, we are excited about Prime Minister Modi's directions and wanting to provide jobs, the things he wants to do for electricity, for the people and we think that there's a lot that United States and India can work on together, that's why the Secretary of Commerce is here.
NDTV: We couldn't have a better person than you, you are a billionaire in your right, you were a marathon runner; you've learnt Sudoku. Which of these three are going to be important in making a deal here? You are a deal maker obviously, you don't become so successful in the private sector without knowing how to strike a deal, what attributes of that are you going to use most in India?
Pritzker: The thing I know about making deals is it starts with relationships and I think one of the things that's most exciting is the attitude and tone that this new government and Prime Minister Modi will bring to the relationship. And that's where John and I have a real opportunity, the first senior officials from the Obama administration to be here to really lay down the predicate for the relationship between our two countries, there is so much opportunity and optimism out there
NDTV: And you are an optimist by nature
Pritzker: I'm an optimist by nature. I spent the last couple of years in Mumbai talking with Indian business leaders, American business leaders and there's a real belief that we can do good things together, that will not just benefit the business community, but benefit the people of both of our countries.
NDTV: So when you say you want to start a new relationship, you want to start on positive, but you have to get over a couple of negatives which are hanging around, for example the visa issue of Mr Modi, you refused him a visa. Now he's accepted do you think that was a big mistake? You've done a complete u-turn, you can't be right then and now
Kerry: Wrong because it wasn't me, that's what I'm saying, that's a very big deal, different government is different government, just like it is here. We will welcome Prime Minister Modi and of course he will get a visa, no questions whatsoever and we look forward to the terrific meeting with President Obama in September.
NDTV: And the other government made a mistake, you think?
Kerry: Look there's no gain folks, we are going forward, I don't spend my time looking backward in politics and who made what decision. What I try to do is solve current issues and Penny and I are here not to look backwards, but to look forward, we are here to take relationship between Indian and United States forward
NDTV: The WTO has been bit of a issue, you come when it's the deadline, today is the deadline, what's the problem, from our point of view India needs food stocks. I'm an agricultural economist. I have studied this; we have volatile monsoons sometimes, like this year we didn't have a very good monsoon; we need stocks. Just let India have food stocks and move ahead, that's the deal. How can food stocks for poor people and to control prices ever agree by such a bigger agreement?
Pritzker: I think first of us all let's remember we are here to build on a bilateral relationship, the WTO is a multi-lateral relationship that India faces and we are sympathetic with that, but the membership of WTO also made a deal, everybody made a deal in December. And now a change that the need is to work on food security challenge in India and so there's an absolute commitment, and as recently as in the last several hours there's been a real effort to find a common ground, because going forward is in the interest of all the members of the WTO and particularly for India. India is a developing country. We must remember what's the deal is about, the deal is about trade facilitation, making it easier for all of us to do business together.
NDTV: Everybody wants that so why not say have your food stocks? I mean we need those food stocks in India, where prices shoot up and down depending on monsoons, which is totally out of our control, let India have food stocks and move on, you are a deal-maker
Pritzker: The agreement reached in December was to take the next four years to, remember it's not about lateral deal, its multi-lateral deals, meaning all members have to come together
NDTV: From your end wouldn't you just say, go ahead, if it was just you, If it was bilateral?
Pritzker: Our negotiators in Geneva have been very creative and as you said before I'm an optimist and hopeful that within the period, with today, however one defines today in some parts of the world, there's common ground that's found.
Kerry: In Bali the agreement was that of course for these four years food security for India will be protected, so this is not an agreement to the exclusion of food security, it's an agreement which includes food security. So it's important for people to understand.
NDTV: For us food security essentially means and essential part is food stocks, stock piling, because of variation in output. It's such a small thing and it's needed. Why stop the deal? But anyway I think you've answered that more or less
Kerry: The food security is what we are sensitive to and we care about and we will work with India in order to make it certain it's taken care of. The key is don't lose the opportunity right now. India has a four-year window, safe harbour nothing happens, if they don't sign up agreement they will lose that and then be out of line their compliance with WTO.
NDTV: One more negative that you have come bang in the middle of, as Madam Pritzker just said it's about relationship. Relationships are based on trust, so what is this snooping all about, Snowden wrote about it, Washington Post, are you snooping on BJP politicians, are you going to stop snooping from now on?.
Kerry: We, as you know, no intelligence community discusses anything about intelligence matters in public and we just don't discuss those things. But I can tell you that President Obama has taken extraordinary steps in order to be open and transparent. The entire new directive with respect to everything the United States does or will engage in, no President has been so accountable and so transparent and open and we are continuing to do everything we can for a best co-operative security relationship with India as possible. I had a terrific meeting this morning with your National Security Adviser. We have a huge agenda
NDTV: You met Jaitley as well, any headlines from both those meetings? Anything substantive?
Kerry: Yes, very good, that's a headline
NDTV: Moving on, a believer, I know you are a strong believer, most people are these days, in the free market in goods and services and that's what you are pushing for and aiming at. So there's a lot of puzzlement in India as to when it comes to effecting the United States, you are not so free market, like say the IT sector, visa restrictions and stopping people from going because of political reasons at home. You can't sacrifice a principle of free market and not give visas. So are you going to give more visas for our terrific software people, which will help your country?
Pritzker: As you know the Obama administration and the President himself very much supports the comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. In the Bill passed in the Senate in the United States it expands the number of H1 B visas. We have a over 125,000 Indians studying in our universities today and they are terrific students, we would like them to stay. If they would like to stay and work in the United States the Obama administration would, in the Senate bill, give those folks who have studied in United States, getting a Masters or PhD in Mathematics or Engineering or technical fields, the right to stay in United States with a green card, so we would like to see that.
NDTV: More visas, more people going?
Pritzker: In the Immigration Bill that passed the Senate, they would have more green cards, more visas and H1 B and so our hope is this is that our Congress will pass that bill.
NDTV: You have been so involved in the Middle East, we feel a bit neglected here in Asia but glad that you have come here.
Kerry: That's because you are not fighting. Please, we want you to stay like you are
NDTV: But then Gaza, now Israel is your friend or close ally, but what's been called disproportionate use of force, does that worry you? Does that make you, children being killed, hundreds of children, schools being bombed, don't you tell them sometime, hey friend, you are doing self-damage and doing us damage too, don't you feel this is disproportionate use of force?
Kerry: What worries me is that an organization, that has been enabled and appropriately identified internationally as a terrorist organization, started firing rockets indiscriminately against another country, and no country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug under its border, out of which jump people, who are carrying handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their citizens and take them back and hold them for ransom, that's not....
NDTV: That's not ...
Kerry: No country can support that so
NDTV: The disproportionate response, do you feel that it is disproportionate?
Kerry: Look, it is a terrible thing when any civilian is killed anywhere and I understand, I have been in the war, I know what happens when civilians get killed, it's horrible, it's absolutely horrible and there is nobody in Israel that doesn't hate the fact that innocent civilians are caught in this crossfire. But unfortunately Hamas has a record of also putting civilians in the harm's way, purposefully, as part of their effort, now look I don't want to get caught but what's important thing here is....
NDTV: When you are bombing a school, you are not putting a citizen in the way
Kerry: I don't know who did that.
NDTV: You don't know who did that?
Kerry: I don't know
NDTV: Whoever did it was wrong
Kerry: Of course it's, you don't bomb schools and you don't want children to be hurt, but we also need to know the facts before we start. Let me tell you what's important
NDTV: I'll just tell you a terrible phrase
Kerry: Let me tell you what's important
NDTV: ...stuff happens and this is collateral damage.
Kerry: No, no, no
NDTV: You don't believe in that? I know your background, you don't believe in that.
Kerry: I am not buying that any flip quick phrases that; this is a terrible situation where we clearly want a ceasefire, nobody has been working harder than I, trying to find a way towards a ceasefire, so that we can actually negotiate the very complicated, long standing differences and issues that are at stake here
NDTV: But is...
Kerry: ...the Palestinians want and deserve a country, and we support a two state solution; President Obama supports it, we support it. We are working towards that, but the place to work towards is not on a battlefield, it is at the negotiating table, that's where we want to go.
NDTV: Excessive force, is it damaging your course?
Kerry: Well, look
NDTV: No, yes or no on that, excessive force
Kerry: I don't know it's been excessive or not, I can't make that gesture because I don't know what happened. There are allegations of people firing their own rockets and accidentally hitting people, and then blaming it on the other side, or there are allegations of people being purposefully put in harm's way. This is not the time for the Secretary of State of the United States to start making those judgements, what we are trying to do is stop the violence, get the people to the table and negotiate the real solution that once and for all ends this violence going forward.
NDTV: I want to talk to you about deal making. Now we have tremendous opportunities on the nuclear front. There was a huge historic deal signed between India and America, but then these lawyers of America have taken over. You know, your liability laws, you know in any deal, never let the lawyers take over. France and Russia are carrying on with these laws. Can't you just take charge and say lawyers stand back. We will invest and we will have clean energy, nuclear energy and America will take the lead.
Pritzker: Well America is very committed to working with India, not only on the civil nuclear front, but on really growing its energy capacity. We know the development of India depends upon having energy and it's very important also to us that we help support clean energy development. On the civil nuclear front, your hope is that we can resolve the liability issue, so that the companies can move forward. There's certainly a desire by American businesses to work with, not just the Indian Government, but Indian businesses to see that there is greater energy capacity here in India.
NDTV: Right I know you are very short on time, we're completely running out of time, just an issue that America, President Obama, who said that this is going to be the defining relationship of the 21st century, India and America, which are two great democracies and you were going to support us to become a member of the nuclear suppliers group. But that, are you still supporting India to become a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group?
Kerry: We're supporting India not only in that; we're supporting India in getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. We're supporting India in trying to build a great democracy relationship between the US and India in ways that can define. I mean if we could do the things we're talking about doing with respect to energy, environment, innovation, technology, education...
NDTV: These are all in your heart I know, in your history, yes
Kerry: These are in the Indian heart too. We admire so much, I mean we're both, I said in a speech I gave in Washington the other day that these things are in the DNA of both of us.
Kerry: ...and we need to marry that and...
NDTV: And last question for you, you're a person of numbers so I want a number. India-China, your trade with China is 500 billion, with India it's under a 100 billion, 95 billion. Where are we going to be three years from now? You're going to be here three years from now I hope, sitting in the same chair, and I say have you met you target? Give us a number.
Pritzker: There's enormous opportunity between our two countries in trade. $96 billion of two-way trade is totally insufficient. We want to do more business here, we want Indian companies doing more business in the US and I hope that we....
NDTV: Give us a number, something to...
Kerry: Vice President Biden put the target at 500 billion within the next year. We want to go from 100 to 500. That's the quickest first target.
NDTV: It's in your hands. Thank you very much for...
Kerry: It has put the weight on her. Now she's...
Pritzker: I have a lot of work to do now. It's all good...
NDTV: Both extremely positive. I think it's a sign of an intent to change, to have a turning point with both of you here in India.
Kerry and Pritzker: Thank you.
NDTV: Good luck. Let's hope the positive energy...
Kerry: Good luck to all of us.
NDTV: Exactly. Thank you very much
Kerry and Pritzker: Thank you...