Beginning of Meeting with President of the Indian National Congress Party Sonia Gandhi 2005-06-15 16:30:00 Konstantinovsky Palace, St Petersburg President Vladimir Putin: Dear Mrs Gandhi, allow me to wish you a warm welcome to Russia. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your election to the post of President of the Indian National Congress Party. You and I have already had a number of occasions to discuss the history of Russian-Indian relations during my visits to India. I am pleased to see that today our relations are developing very well indeed. Our political agenda is very full. Just recently, we had the pleasure of receiving the Indian Prime Minister in Moscow on May 9, and this was followed by the Indian President’s visit. The second half of this year promises to be just as busy with a lot of contacts taking place. Our relations are developing both in the area of economic ties and in military-technical cooperation. We propose making 2008 the year of Russia in India, and 2009 the Year of India in Russia. We could plan a whole series of cultural events in both countries. I am sure that these events would be an added impulse for bringing our two peoples closer together and consolidating our cooperation in all different areas. Finally, I hope that your visit here will be of both use and pleasure. I hope that you enjoyed your stay in Moscow and that your visit to St Petersburg will be just as fruitful. Sonia Gandhi: First of all, Mr President, I would like to thank you for the invitation to visit your wonderful country, Moscow and St Petersburg. This gesture means a great deal to me personally, the fact that you have invited me, and I, and not just I but all my family, will have the very best memories of this visit. Right from the beginning, when we were planning this visit, we of course saw its central point as being the meeting with you and the chance to discuss all the issues of interest to us. Aside from this meeting with the Russian President, we also planned to concentrate on the cultural agenda and arranged to visit different cultural and religious centres. Yesterday, for example, I spent most of the day visiting Moscow’s museums. We also visited the churches of Vladimir – truly amazing monuments. The restoration work has been done magnificently and we were really filled with admiration for the works of art that it has been possible to restore. Of course, I am also greatly looking forward to visiting the cultural sights here in St Petersburg and the environs after my meeting with you. I would also like to say, Mr President, that we in India watched with great interest the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. This was a wonderful event and the fact that so many heads of state and government came to Moscow to take part in these celebrations bears witness to the important role and the immense prestige that your country has in the world. In this connection I would like to congratulate you on this event. I would also like to touch on the development of our bilateral relations that you mentioned. We have indeed built up excellent cooperation in a very diverse range of areas, including in trade. But I would like to agree with what our Prime Minister said during his visit to your country, namely, that we could do a lot more to develop our bilateral relations in this area. As our Prime Minister proposed, we could, for example, set up a joint research group. You discussed this idea with him during your talks. We also have good cooperation in the defence sector. I think there is great potential for continuing to develop our relations in other areas, including in high technology, information technology, biotechnology, and in the energy sector, the oil and gas sectors. We talked about this at our meeting in December 2004. Furthermore, both our countries find themselves confronting a common challenge, that of terrorism. I think then that we should work together on finding a response to this challenge. Of course, there cannot be any double standards in the fight against terrorism. This is something that should be done in a transparent and objective manner. When we talk about the fight against terrorism and the need to counter acts of terrorism, we think above all of those who are most vulnerable to this threat. Among those for whose lives we fear the most are, of course, women and children. In this fight against terrorism we must do all we can to protect families and help the victims and their families, help them to live through the loss of loved ones and do as much as we can to ease their pain and help them get through the situation. We remember the pain and grief of Beslan. In this respect, I would like to say that yesterday, when we had only just arrived in your country, we were informed that a terrorist act had been committed in Kashmir. A bomb exploded there, causing the deaths of 12 schoolchildren. You mentioned our Prime Minister’s visit to your country and our President’s visit to Russia. I also hope that our Prime Minister will make another visit to Russia in November. I hope that, aside from these political contacts at every level, including at the highest level, contacts between our people, our citizens, will also develop. I think these contacts are no less important. They reach out to all the people in our countries, starting from the youngest, from children, and this helps to build up relations between ordinary people. This all contributes towards establishing ties between civil society in each of our countries. In this respect, we think the proposal you mentioned, namely, the idea of holding a Year of Russia in India and a Year of India in Russia is a wonderful idea. For my part, I will be very keen to have the opportunity of becoming personally involved in the activities connected to holding these events in our two countries. Vladimir Putin: I was told that your children are accompanying you on this visit. Sonia Gandhi: Unfortunately not. This time they could not come with me. My son wanted to at first, and he planned to come, but when the time came he was abroad, not in India, unfortunately, and so he could not come with me on this visit, although he was certainly interested, of course. Earlier, however, I already came to Russia six times. This is my seventh visit. My children did come with me on previous visits. This visit comes after quite a long break. My son and daughter have visited Russia twice, I think. But of course, enormous change has taken place in your country since they were last here. Of course they would have been very interested to see for themselves what has changed here. They follow events in Russia and keep up with the situation here, but nothing can replace coming here for yourself and seeing everything with your own eyes. Vladimir Putin: I hope that you will share with them your impressions of Russia and that they will follow your advice and we will have the pleasure of receiving them in Moscow, St Petersburg and maybe in some of our country’s other cities too.