'We have a Pakistan policy and a very clear one at that'

Maha Siddiqui, India Today: Madam, your work has been widely appreciated over the past one year. You have also been rated as the number one minister by certain surveys. But over the last one year, you have kept a very low profile. Is that how you intended to work or was that expected by the prime minister for all the Ministers and for you specifically?

External affairs minister: I think being number one, number two or three, this competition should not be there among teammates. The team works together, plays together. Rivalry is between rivals, not with teammates. When I look back I feel and find that all of my colleagues are working as number one and are giving their best.

Insofar your question on my keeping a low profile, I think that the low profile goes with my job. The prime minister has not put any limits on anyone and not on me either. You are getting this feeling because I have become the external affairs minister after being the LoP (Leader of Opposition). Being the LoP, I had to speak every day. That was my role there. But as external affairs minister, it has been my feeling that the minister should not be speaking on domestic issues. Why one should not be speaking on that is because when the external affairs minister speaks, their opinion is not treated as their personal or party's opinion but as the country's opinion. Therefore, I feel that an external affairs minister should not be speaking on domestic issues. Therefore, when we are facing you I should be speaking at that time; otherwise, I should be maintaining a low profile.

Ashish Kumar Singh, ABP News: Madam, a short while back you talked about the visits and dialogues, and you mentioned about Peshawar. But Pakistan had instantly blamed us after the incident, and we have also seen observations made from our side, and there have been regular flip-flops in which you also played your role. Do we have a Pakistan policy at all or not?

External affairs minister: We definitely have a policy and a very clear one at that. So far as making comments is concerned, we have three separate ministries - home ministry, defence ministry and the external affairs ministry - and the three ministers have their different roles. If there is firing on the border, then the home minister cannot keep silent. They have to take action, and they will speak a language that is required. And the defence ministry has the responsibility to safeguard the country. They have to maintain the safety and security of the country. So far as external affairs ministry is concerned, to look at the positives in the entire gamut of relationship is the responsibility of the external affairs minister. So, while I was speaking, I mentioned about the positives in that.

So... there are no flip-flops in the policy. On the very first day, we decided on three parameters for discussion and dialogue. When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had come here for the swearing-in ceremony, he had a meeting the next day with our prime minister. I was present there. Since then we have been sticking to those three principles, whether it is the foreign secretary's visit or other occasions. One is that we will resolve all issues through peaceful dialogue. We are prepared to do that. This is the first principle.

Second, the discussion, the dialogue will be between two countries - us and Pakistan - and no third party will be involved. Third, we will have discussion and dialogue in a peaceful atmosphere and through (the) Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. This has been clearly outlined and there has been no deviation from this. We have been repeatedly telling Pakistan that these are the three principles based on which we will follow our foreign policy with them.

Santosh Thakur, Dainik Bhaskar: Madam, you said that you were present there at the White House when (Barack) Obama was ready to embrace Modi. But he also made observations with regard to minorities, religious minorities. How do you look at that comment?

External affairs minister: As far as religious tolerance is concerned, not only President Obama but if any person tries to teach religious tolerance to India, then perhaps they are not fully aware of Indian culture. We believe in vasudhaiva kutumbkam, that is, the entire world is a village.

Smriti Ramachandran, The Hindu: Madam, India has already announced e-visas for tourists from China. But is there any clarification from the Chinese side on the stapled visa issue?

External affairs minister: These two things are not co-related. E-visa is a different thing and stapled visa is a different thing. E-visa is not a concession. It is only meant to promote tourism for only 30 days and that too after proper verification. So far as staple visa is concerned, that issue remains unresolved. When the prime minister visited, he had raised this issue during the discussions and I am hopeful this issue will be resolved...

Manish Jha, India TV: Madam, there has been a lot of discussion about your ministry being very active and you were working all the time. There was also discussion that the prime minister stays abroad most of the time, and the leaders from the Opposition have been saying that he goes to Mongolia but does not visit the farmers. There were jokes doing the rounds that the PM is visiting India. What would you say?

External affairs minister: I would say that the perception is wrong. It is the first year of the prime minister's tenure, and he had this responsibility of visiting all the forums. And if you look at the other prime ministers' tours, you will not find much of a difference.

Zakka Jacob, CNN-IBN: Madam, my question is on China. In your first visit to China, when you went there in January, you said the border problem needs an out-of-the-box solution. The prime minister was recently in China and we have not seen any out-of-the-box solution. The only thing that we have seen is the prime minister publically asking for a re-clarification of the LAC (Line of Actual Control). What are these out-of-the-box ideas that you have? What is the Chinese response to this re-clarification of the LAC?

External affairs minister: When I said out of the box, there is no timeline set for thinking out of the box. I did not say that this out-of-the-box solution came out in that meeting. This cannot be made public in the media. So far as out-of-the-box thinking is concerned, there is no timeline fixed for it, nor can it be announced in the media. What the Prime Minister has mentioned, it is a suggestion. They have listened to it, they will respond to it.
Excerpts from a press conference addressed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on completing one year in office, May 31, 2015 in New Delhi

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