MODERATOR: Hi, good afternoon. I’m Nicole Chulick. I’m the press attaché at the U.S. Embassy. I want to thank all of you for coming out today, particularly on a Saturday. I appreciate that. And I also want to lead off with asking you, please, to turn off your mobile phones. I want everybody to get the best sound they can, and if you have your mobiles on it affects the sound system. So if you please turn those off at this point, I would appreciate that.
It is my honor to be able to introduce new Assistant Secretary Bob Blake. He was appointed to this position in May of 2009. This is his first official visit to Nepal, but he comes to this position with experience in the region. He served in India and was most recently Ambassador in Sri Lanka. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce Assistant Secretary Robert Blake.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you very much, Nicole. And thank you all very much for coming today. It’s nice to see such a big crowd here today. It’s a pleasure for me to be here in Nepal. This is my first trip here, to this country, since I was appointed by the President to be the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the State Department.
I came here to reaffirm the long friendship between the United States and Nepal, and also to urge progress to complete the peace process that was started in 2006. I want to thank the Prime Minister, and the President, and the Foreign Minister, and the many others who made the time to meet with me during the course of my visit to discuss our bilateral relations and the current political situation.
I told all those that I met with that the United States is dedicated both to helping Nepal become democratic, stable, and prosperous, and to assisting Nepal’s long-term development. All of those with whom I spoke told me the Nepali people want their political leaders to work together to complete the peace--the peace process, including the very important task of drafting the new constitution.
Political leaders from across the political spectrum told me that they, too, want to achieve peace. But I found a wide range of views about how to do that, and some concern that political leaders are much better at making promises than they are at acting to implement them. So in all of my meetings I encouraged all of the political parties and institutions to work together to complete the peace process. I encouraged the new government to move quickly to name all the new ministers and their portfolios so this important work on the peace process can begin.
Before I take your questions, let me just briefly thank our Chargé d’Affaires, Randy Berry, and all the members of our team here at the American Embassy for the outstanding work that they do here to represent the United States in Nepal and also for all of the great work that they did to support my visit.
And with that I would be happy to take any questions that any of you would like to ask me.
I’ll ask Nicole to…
QUESTION: Hello, sir. Namaste.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Namaste.
QUESTION: I am Mahesh Acharya from Kantipur Radio. First of all wish you a successful tenure.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you.
QUESTION: And I just have two short questions for you. How important is Nepal for U.S. and in what parameters? And my next query is: how do you analyze Maoist transformation from a rebel to a mainstream political force? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you. Nepal is very important to the United States. As I say, our friendship goes back more than fifty years and we have long supported Nepal’s development, and we will continue to do so. With regard to your second question, about the Maoists, we think that the Maoists have made a great deal of progress. We think it’s important that they remain a part of the democratic process here, even though they are in the opposition now. But it’s very important, going forward, that the Maoists work with all of the other political parties to achieve this peace. It is very, very important again that the Maoists be part of the solution, and that they work constructively to achieve peace in Nepal.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. I am Akanshya from Republica. Sir, since you spoke with the Maoist leaders as well yesterday, my question is: despite the mention of the integration in the interim constitution, the new government especially, the defense minister, has been saying management and rehabilitation. So what is the U.S. government position inas far as the integration of the Maoist combatants into the Nepal army? And, sir, did you also meet with the Army Chief? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you. We think that the integration is certainly a very important part of completing the peace process, along with the other tasks that all of you are very familiar with, particularly the drafting of the new constitution. And also developing a plan for the discharge of minors and disqualified from the cantonments. But how that will take place will really be up to the people and the political leaders of Nepal to decide, and that’s why we consistently emphasize the importance of all of them working together to achieve that.
Oh, sorry, you had a question about whether—I did not have a separate meeting with General Katwal. I met him briefly at a cocktail party, just to say hello to him, but that was it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Namaste.
QUESTION: Myself H.H. Upadhyaya from Kantipur Television. My question is: where is the process of lifting the terrorist tag from Maoist? Where is the process right now? And is there any effect of the recently release of videotape of Prachanda, where he reviews his stature to capture the state power, and wherein he very happily says that how he fooled the UNMIN about making seven thousand combatants into thirty-five thousand?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you for that question. Let me take the second question first, which is that that tape really has no bearing on our, the U.S. government’s consideration of the Maoists on our terrorism list. As you know, they’re on several of our terrorism exclusion lists in the United States. And your question was what is the way forward to have them removed from that list. I’d say there are a number of factors that will be part of the process that we take into consideration in taking them off the lists. And I think one of them is that the Maoists renounce violence and terrorism. The second would be that they stop the violent activities of the Young Communist League. And the third would be that they actively participate, and work together with the other parties, to support the peace process. There are other things, but those are the main factors that likely will go into our consideration.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, sir. I’m Manesh Shrestha from Kathmandu Post. Two questions. The first is what you said earlier that you found a wide range of views how peace can be achieved—
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you give us two examples of two extremes of those views that former political leaders… And second question is—
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me answer that one first. I don’t really want to be in the business of characterizing the views of different political parties, but I found that there’s a range of views not only within the parties, but also between the parties, so I think, again, it’s very important for the parties themselves to quickly determine what their views are on all these key issues that I’ve already outlined. But then, even more importantly, for the political leaders to get together and achieve consensus on the way forward, so that rapid progress can be achieved to complete the peace process.
QUESTION: During your meeting with the Maoist Chairman, did you get the impression that he is unconditionally committed to multi-party democracy? Or do you think, uh, do you still get the impression that, I mean -- do you have these doubts -- doubts about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t want to try to characterize his views, he can characterize his views very well, but as I said earlier, it will be very, very important for the Maoists to play a constructive role, even though they’re in the opposition, and work together with these other parties to finish this peace process.
QUESTION: This is Ram Humagai from Gorkhapatra. Sir, what is the importance of business sector they are raising the questions about providing quota from the government of the USA? You didn’t discuss about this and where is the process in your country [inaudible].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It didn’t really come up in my bilateral discussions. Right now there are a number of bills and pieces of legislation that are pending in the United States, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It’s hard to really characterize where those are going. As you know, my country is still facing some economic difficulties, although we think—we feel now that we are beginning to see the light and that we are coming out of some of the economic troubles that we’ve faced. But in light of those economic difficulties that the American economy is still experiencing, I think there will be some opposition to new bills and new legislation to significantly increase market access, because of course the focus now is on trying to increase jobs. Most of the American legislators, the Members of Congress, will be trying to increase jobs in the United States, because that’s one of the key components to recovery of our economy. In turn, the recovery of the American economy will help to increase opportunities for investment, opportunities for exports, and opportunities for recovery by other countries around the world, including Nepal.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. Good afternoon, sir. This is Surendra Phuyal with BBC. You know, friends ask me, just now little while ago they ask me about the status of the, you know, progress you made so far in removing the Maoists from the U.S. list of terrorists? How long is this process going to take? We’ve been hearing this for the last couple of years. That’s one. And two: what do you think is the biggest single threat to Nepal’s peace process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: In terms of how long it will take to remove the Maoists from our list—that’s really up to the Maoists. If they take the steps that we’ve outlined, then this process can move very quickly. But it’s really up to them to act, and we’re waiting for that to happen.
Sorry, what was your second question?
QUESTION: The biggest single threat to Nepal’s peace process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’d say the biggest threat to the process is just a failure of all the leaders to act together, and have this process just drag out. So again, it’s very important for there not to just be rhetorical support for the peace process, but for everybody to actively engage now and work together to complete this process.
MODERATOR: Are there any more questions?
QUESTION: Sir, yesterday, during your meeting with the Prime Minister, you said that the U.S. government is ready to introduce new programs in support of those programs. Can you please specify, and what is the U.S. looking athow much are you going to spend on Nepal’s peace process? And what are these programs that you are talking about? And also, yesterday…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, really, let me just take that question first. We don’t really have that many new programs. However, the United States has been the, one of the largest bilateral donors here in Nepal, and we will continue to be so. We are providing approximately 70 million dollars worth of assistance this year. That covers a wide range of areas. I think the largest single area is in the area of health, where we’re helping on, for example, maternal/child health, HIV/AIDS programs. We’re also helping with very important programs like vocational training, to help people get back to work. And then we are providing assistance, technical assistance to support, for example, the drafting of the new constitution, and to support the role of civil society in helping to inform that process.
Did you have a second question?
QUESTION: There are lots of questions, but [laughter]. Uh, this… We were told yesterday, if you’ve looked at the newspapers today, we were told that you were—you were very worried about the stability of the new government…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: How’s that, about what?
QUESTION: About the new government.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Ah.
QUESTION: Because of the failure of the government to set up the cabinet can you please specify this.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think I ever said that I was very worried about the stability of the new government. I just-
QUESTION: You were very sarcastic about this.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And I certainly wasn’t sarcastic. Let me say that I, as I said in my opening remarks, it’s important for the government to proceed as quickly as possible to name all the new ministers and to name their portfolios so that the government and the other parties can get on with the very, very important work of completing the peace process. And that’s what I said.
Why don’t we take one more question?
QUESTION: What is the U.S. position in extension of UNMIN’s mandate, as its mandate is going to expire in July?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As you say, UNMIN’s mandate will expire in July. I would say that the United States is following closely the work that UNMIN is doing, but I think that Nepal should not think that there will be unlimited patience on the part of the international community for this process. And, as you know, UNMIN is quite an expensive undertaking, supported by the United States and other donors, so this should not be considered a blank check. I think we and other donors feel that it’s important for there to be real, concrete progress, and for the Nepalis to show to everyone that they are truly committed to achieving progress. And if there is that kind of progress, I think that will provide the basis for future support for UNMIN’s very important activities.
MODERATOR: One more.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: All right, one more question.
QUESTION: Ah, sir, this is Bishnu Budathoki from Newsfront. Can you specify the major achievement of your trip in Nepal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: [Laughter] I’m not very good at talking about myself. But I’d say the main purpose of my trip is simply to, again, extend a message of friendship to the people of Nepal, and to the leaders of Nepal, but also to underline the, the importance of moving ahead right now on the peace process, and acting, as I said earlier. I think we’ve successfully conveyed that message, and all of the leaders responded that they, too, are committed to this process and now it’s just important that they act to implement those pledges. The United States and I personally will be following very closely developments in Nepal, and we hope to see rapid progress on all of these issues.
Well, let me thank you all again for coming today. It’s nice to see you. I hope to be back in Nepal several times during the course of my job here at the State Department, and I look forward to seeing you all again on my next trip. Thank you very much.