British Prime Minister Theresa May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury and Syria, expressing concern and making clear their opposition to the use of chemical weapons by any party in any circumstances, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Wednesday, hours after they met ahead of the CHOGM summit.
While there was no official statement from the Indian side, the joint statement agreed by the two sides described the Salisbury incident as an “appalling nerve agent attack”, and — without mentioning Russia anywhere — it reiterated India’s stated position that it “oppose(s) the use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anybody, under any circumstances”. This position was articulated by Indian envoy to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on April 4.
In March, a former Russian military intelligence officer and British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a nerve agent, according to UK officials. They regained consciousness after weeks and London accused Moscow of attempted murder and announced a series of punitive measures including the expulsion of diplomats. Russia denied the accusations.
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The Salisbury incident was one of the tricky issues to be negotiated between two countries, since India was cautious in not taking any side between Russia and the UK.
Avoiding any mention of Russian involvement, the India-UK joint statement said, “In the wake of the appalling nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the UK and India have reiterated their shared interest in strengthening the disarmament and non-proliferation regimes against the spread and use of chemical weapons”.
“They shared their deepest concern about the continued reports of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic. They oppose the use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anybody, under any circumstances and are committed to strengthening the effective implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. They emphasise the need for urgent investigations and underline that the conduct of all investigations of any use of chemical weapons must be strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Convention,” it said.
However, the Downing Street spokesperson did point out Russian involvement, and said, “The Prime Minister (Theresa May) reiterated the UK’s position on Russia’s recent destabilising behaviour, underlined by the attack in Salisbury and the protection provided for the Syrian regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against its people.”
There was no joint press statements or a press conference after the meeting between May and Modi. However, Modi tweeted, “Wonderful meeting with Prime Minister @theresa_may at 10, Downing Street. We had fruitful discussions on multiple aspects of India-UK relations.”
From the Indian perspective, a key takeaway was UK’s commitment to welcome Indian students in the country amid the perception that British immigration authorities are tightening the visa regime. The joint statement said: “We welcome the best and brightest to study and work in the UK, especially in subjects and sectors that develop the skills and capabilities that will boost the prosperity of both our countries.”
With the issue of Cambridge Analytica and data leak being one of the major areas, the two sides also agreed to work towards a “secure cyberspace”. The joint statement said, “We have agreed to further enhance our cooperation to promote international security and stability in cyberspace through a framework that recognises the applicability of international law to State behaviour in a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace.”
Counter-terrorism was one of the major issues of discussion and commonalities were quite clear with the naming of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the joint statement.
“The leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation to take decisive and concerted actions against globally-proscribed terrorists and terror entities to protect our citizens, including Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, ISIS (Da’esh) and their affiliates, as well as tackling the online radicalisation and violent extremism which feeds this,” the joint statement said.
In the area of defence, the focus was on “Make in India” and beyond — “creating in India”. This was reflected in the joint statement, “We shall design, create and manufacture technologies that will address these threats; and our security and military forces will share technologies, capabilities and equipment.”
There was a broad discussion on China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea: “A secure, free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific is in the interests of India, the UK and the international community. The UK and India will also work together to tackle threats such as piracy, protect freedom of navigation and open access, and improve maritime domain awareness in the region.”
The two leaders also discussed Brexit, where Modi said there would be no dilution in the importance of the UK to India post-Brexit.
The Downing Street spokesperson said, “The Prime Minister updated Prime Minister Modi on the progress of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, saying the implementation period agreed in March gives Indian companies and investors the confidence that market access will continue on current terms until the end of 2020. She reiterated that the UK will remain committed to global free trade and investment and that the UK will remain a leading hub for global finance. Prime Minister Modi said there would be no dilution in the importance of the UK to India post-Brexit. He said the City of London was of great importance to India for accessing the global markets and would remain so.”
“The Prime Ministers welcomed the £1 billion of commercial deals which has been agreed today. They agreed to build on the recommendations of the UK-India Joint Trade Review to reduce barriers to trade, to make it easier to do business in both countries and enable a stronger bilateral trade relationship for the future”, it said.
They also discussed the new UK-India Tech Partnership agreed today which will create thousands of jobs and generate significant investment in both economies, the Downing Street spokesperson said.