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Diplomacy in Action

New Strategic Partnerships


Interview
Robert O. Blake
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Press Trust of India
Washington, DC
June 29, 2009

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QUESTION: I would like to ask you about Secretary Clinton’s visit to India next month. What are U.S. expectations from this trip?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We are very excited about Secretary Clinton’s visit. As Under Secretary [of State] for Political Affairs, Bill Burns, announced while he was in Delhi, we expect her to visit in second half of July. This would be an opportunity for the United States and for Secretary Clinton to lay out with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Krishna, the new strategic partnership and how we are going to upgrade it and take it forward in the new administration.

QUESTION: Any specific thing, you are expecting from the Indian Government during the trip?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We had very detailed discussions during my and Under Secretary Burns’ visit to New Delhi and I think there is strong convergence between the Ministry of External Affairs and the State Department and other agencies on the way forward. Secretary Clinton described in her speech before the U.S.-India Business Council some of the areas which we hope to take this relationship forward. She talked for example about education, about science and technology, about climate change. We are very excited about the possibilities and about the opportunities to continue to strengthen our strategic partnership with India.

QUESTION: Afghanistan and Pakistan is the main focus point of the Obama Administration. What do you expect from India to meet your goals in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we intend to continue to consult very closely with our friends in India on this. As you say, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic priorities, but I do not want to imply that comes at the expense of India. India will continue to be also a strategic priority for the United States, and I think this will come out very clearly during Secretary Clinton’s visit.

QUESTION: Last week, a delegation of Indian MPs was here (in Washington). They met you also. One of the concerns they raised was the possibility of U.S. aid being used against India, as has been the case previously. How do you address those concerns?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do not think India needs to be concerned about U.S. assistance to Pakistan. As you know, the new focus in terms of our relationship with Pakistan is to dramatically increase economic assistance to help that country overcome its economic challenges and to extend the writ of the government to other parts of Pakistan. All of those things should be very much in India’s interest as well. I think the people of India should support and agree with what we are trying to do.

QUESTION: They are not concerned about the U.S. aid to Pakistan as such. They are concerned about the use of those aids to build up the Pak military against India.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I do not think that they should be concerned about that. Pakistan is increasingly focused on dealing with the extremist problems in its own country. We have seen very important progress that has taken place for example in the Swat Valley. What is important to note is that not only is the Government of Pakistan taking this action, but this action has garnered strong support from Pakistani people. We think this represents a very important development and we should give the Government of Pakistan encouragement to continue this process of confronting the extremists inside Pakistan.

QUESTION: During your Congressional testimony last week, you referred to Pakistan reducing its troops from Indian border and moving them towards the western parts of the country. Do you expect similar kind of things from India?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We are not in a position of trying to dictate India how it should move its troops around.

QUESTION: How close are India and the United States with regard to end user agreement on sensitive defense sales?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think we have been narrowing our differences and I hope that we will reach agreement very soon because it would be an important way for us to increase our defense exports to India, but to also share more technology with India. That is an agreement which would be of benefit to both sides.

QUESTION: Should we expect this during Secretary Clinton’s visit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do not want to make any predictions on what is going to be done, or not done by the time of the Secretary’s visit. But we are working very hard.

QUESTION: About the implementation of the civilian nuclear deal, where we are? What needs to be done now from the U.S. side?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: India has taken a lot of the very important steps. As you know, recently it signed its Additional Protocol. Now it needs to file its declaration of facilities with the IAEA. After that we hope that India would be in a position to announce the two nuclear reactor park sites that would be dedicated to American companies. There is also very important nuclear liability legislation pending in India. I hope there could be movement on both of those. That would make possible more civil nuclear trade and investment between our two countries.

QUESTION: When it comes to South Asia, India seems to be the only stability factor, with problems in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and earlier it was in Bangladesh. How do you view India’s role in South Asia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: India is a preeminent power in the region. One of the most important and most noteworthy aspects of our relations over the past six, seven, eight years has been the growing consultations that have been taking place between the United States and India on the whole range of issues in South Asia, and the growing convergence of our views. Just take Sri Lanka for example: I coordinated very closely with my Indian counterpart, High Commissioner Alok Prasad, and we have very close and similar views about the situation there, but also in Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries. That dialogue itself is a reflection of the close relationship between us.

QUESTION: Coming to Sri Lanka, as you mentioned, how do you situation there? Is the Lankan Government making move towards political reconciliation. Are the United States and India satisfied?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would say the Sri Lankan Government has taken some steps on the humanitarian side. International access has improved inside the camps in Sri Lanka. International NGOs and other humanitarian organizations are able to get goods and services into the camps now, largely without restrictions. But there are still some issues with regard to access of the ICRC, which performs important protection works inside the camps. Broadly speaking, I think, the Government is committed to try to do more. For example, I heard last week that fishing restrictions have been eased all over the island which will help to improve livelihoods for people not just in the North but also in Eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

In terms of future priorities, we are very much looking forward to seeing a plan from the Government about demining, and how the Government is going to work with international NGOs. Several have already been approved to begin demining in areas around Mannar and the United States is going to provide additional funding for those international NGOs to help the Government with its demining program. The demining would then enable very rapid resettlement of the almost 300,000 internally displaced persons in the camps. The Government has made important pledges to try to resettle as many IDPs as possible, before the end of the year. We hope that these pledges will be met and we look forward to working with the Government to help them meet these commitments, particularly on the demining program.

QUESTION: Last week, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, said that the United States should support India as a Permanent Member of the Security Council. What is the Obama Administration’s view on Security Council reform?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We are still reviewing that question. There is an administration-wide review underway about Security Council reform more broadly. I do not have anything new to say on that.

QUESTION: The Government has not taken any decision?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We have not taken a position on it yet.

QUESTION: When do you expect President Obama to visit India?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: All I can say on that is that you know, our National Security Advisor, General James Jones, was just in India, and he extended an invitation to Prime Minister Singh to visit Washington in the fall. That would be the first visit that would take place, in addition to the meeting that would take place on the margins of the G-20 Summit in September. There would be a separate bilateral visit sometime in the fall. At that time, they would be able to discuss a Presidential visit to India. I know the President very much wants to go to India; it is just a matter of figuring out the time on his schedule.
QUESTION: In her speech at USIBC, Secretary Clinton spoke about India 3.0. Could you elaborate on that? How does the Administration want to proceed on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: She talked about India 1.0 which was essentially the time between India’s independence and the end of the Cold War. Then 2.0 was the period between 1988 – the Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott dialogue, President Clinton’s visit, all the way through the last Administration. During that period, obviously quite a lot of progress was made on bilateral relations. 3.0 is now our time, when we hope to take this relationship to new heights. The Secretary outlined a number of areas where we hope to expand our cooperation and elevate this strategic partnership.

QUESTION: What does it mean in general to an Indian and American national – 3.0?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, it means, first of all, we are going to expand our range of our cooperation. We are going to build on our strong people-to-people ties that already exist between our two countries, and most of all, we are trying to figure our ways that the two governments can help the private sectors and the people to expand their cooperation. Secretary Clinton noted during her speech that in many times the Governments have been behind the people in terms of expanding our relations. We want to catch up. We also want to try to do the best we can to remove obstacles for private sector cooperation, to technology exchanges. We want to the maximum extent possible to be able to have our two societies work more on addressing the global challenges that we all face be they non-proliferation, global health issues, or climate change/clean energy. We think that in this new era of 3.0, the two governments and the two societies are prepared to do that.

QUESTION: Last week a delegation from the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was here. They are pushing for a Free Trade Agreement between India and the United States excluding agriculture. Do you think that is feasible? Can that be done?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I say that is really up to the Indian Government largely. We have had a good trade dialogue so far and the United States is always prepared to look seriously about bilateral free trade agreements, but we want to make sure that they are comprehensive and they cover all aspects of trade. To my knowledge, we do not do free trade agreement on just one particular sector. This is something our two trade ministers should discuss. You have a dynamic new Trade Minister Anand Sharma; we have a dynamic minister Ron Kirk. They already have had a positive first meeting, when Minister Sharma visited here earlier. This is something which Minister Sharma should talk about with Mr. Kirk. I think he will be receptive as long as it is comprehensive in scope.



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