Linas Linkevicius,Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, has been honoured with a number of decorations including the Order of the Polar Star,Grand Cross (Sweden,2015), the Grand Cross of Commander of the Order of Vytautas the Great (2015),the Golden Sign of Honour (Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, 2014, Cross of Commander of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas (Lithuania, 2003), the Golden Sign of Honour (Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, 2014) .

He began his career in 1983 and held many prestigious positions including Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania,Ambassadorat-Large,Transatlantic Cooperation and Security Policy Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania,Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Lithuania to the Republic of Belarus,amongst others.

He holds the position of Faculty of Automatics,Kaunas Polytechnic Institute. In this interview with The Statesman, he talks about the potential of bilateral relations with India and the encouraging prospects of the same.

Excerpts: What is the purpose of your visit to India and who will you meet during your visit? Two important reasons have prompted me to come to India. First, the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. My colleague, Minister of State MJ Akbar, visited Lithuania on that occasion this May, and I promised to pay a return visit shortly. Second, this year modern Lithuania celebrates the centenary of the restoration of its stateshood. To mark this important anniversary, the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra is coming to perform in Mumbai. I will attend their first concert on 10 October.

In May, we agreed with the Indian minister that our exchange of visits could be more intense. My last visit to India took place in 2013. And from India, we have never received a guest at the Union Minister level or above. Meanwhile, India has been growing as an important strategic partner globally. Lithuania has also increased its position in various dimensions.

The time is ripe to break the formal approach and engage with each other more closely. In New Delhi, I am meeting the Hon’ble External Affairs Minister. A courtesy call on the Vice President is also scheduled. I will also give a talk at a roundtable organised by Carnegie India.

In Mumbai, the Mumbai Port Trust is hosting an event where we will present Lithuania’s seaport of Klaipeda to Indian companies. How do you look at bilateral relations with India?

We do not have issues with India which we cannot resolve. This is our bottomline. There is also a vast historical and cultural legacy which facilitates a friendly atmosphere between us. Thus, Lithuanian is a closest surviving sister to Sanskrit in Europe. Generations of Lithuanias have been brought up on this idea. Our cultural cooperation is also very active and has built many bridges between our people.The number of Indian students in our universities is rapidly growing. And recently, trade has also picked up and now demonstrates impressive figures. Thus, last year, almost one -fifth of all peas India imported came from Lithuania. But definitely, it’s not only about peas… We also export lasers and other high-end technologies to India. In broadest terms, we can celebrate a story of success in our bilateral cooperation. Lithuania is a member of the European Union (EU).

Why have India and the EU not been able to conclude negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA)?

In the EU, all trade negotiations are conducted by the European Commission. We have given them a mandate to seek an ambitious trade agreement with India. And we hope that the remaining difficulties will soon be overcome, so that two really gigantic economies, Indian and European, can benefit from the new agreement. Lithuania is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).

Why is India not being allowed to join the NSG?

I was told that joining some of Delhi’s most prestigious golf clubs may take 40 years and more… But seriously, any club has its own set of rules, and every new applicant has to deal with them. NSG is no exception. One of the founding requirements for all NSG members is to join the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT). And India is not a member of NPT. So when under such circumstances the majority of NSG members nevertheless support India’s application, and actively work to make it a reality, to overlook the progress already achieved in accommodating the differences between NSG’s ‘constitution’ and India’s position would be a huge mistake. Rather, we should focus our efforts on reconciling the remaining differences. Lithuania looks forward to a successful result.

How do you look at India’s role in the comity of nations,given our size and population?

Since its rebirth as an independent nation, Lithuania has followed the principles of democracy and international law. We believe that an international system based on these principles suits our interests best. We therefore joined the European Union and NATO and work actively to strengthen democratic institutions in our neighborhood. As a democratic nation herself, India could be our natural ally in a world where non-democratic regimes try to impose their own rules based on fear and intimidation.

Does Lithuania support India’s candidature for a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Lithuania supports reform of the Security Council, which would include the expansion of both permanent and nonpermanent membership. It is hard to imagine an overhaul of such scale taking place without considering India’s application.

How do the two countries propose to further promote people-to-people contacts?

One thing which immediately comes to my mind: We need an Indian embassy in Lithuania. The promise was issued more than a decade ago, so we look forward to seeing it finally materialising.

The level of interest about India among Lithuanians is very high, and the Indian Ambassador, based in Warsaw, has been busy in meeting the growing demand. We are happy to discover various aspects of modern India, as witnessed by the successful showcasing of India’s leading fashion designers in Vilnius recently. The rapidly growing number of Indian students in Lithuania (the number has almost reached 1,000) puts a pressure of its own.