Briefing on U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
MR. CROWLEY: Everyone here this afternoon gets a gold star. (Laughter.) Approaching a three-day weekend, but we have an intrepid group of journalists with us this afternoon.
We’ll being this afternoon with Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Bob Blake, as we preview next week’s U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue that will be held in Washington beginning on Tuesday. And also, as you heard from the Secretary earlier today, we had an excellent bilateral meeting with the foreign minister of Sri Lanka. And if you have any additional questions, I’m sure Bob can handle that, too. But we’ll start off with Bob.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thanks a lot, P.J. Good afternoon everybody, nice to see you all again. As P.J. said, let me just provide a little backdrop for strategic dialogue meetings, briefly describe the program that we envision, and then I’d be glad to take your questions.
President Obama has called India an indispensable partner and has said that India will be one of the defining partnerships for the United States in the 21st century. India matters to the United States because it’s the world’s largest democracy. It has the world’s second fastest growing economy and an economy that is a very important source for – of exports for United States companies, and also because it is an increasingly important partner for the United States in addressing common global concerns. In just 10 years, we’ve had a complete transformation in our bilateral relations and a transformation that enjoys bipartisan support both in India and the United States.
Perhaps most importantly, we see tremendous potential for growth in our relations with India. That’s why President Obama and Secretary Clinton decided to elevate our relations with India by establishing a strategic dialogue to be led by Secretary Clinton and her counterpart, External Affairs Minister Krishna. As many of you know, the Secretary announced this dialogue last summer on her trip to India, following which Prime Minister Singh was invited by President Obama to be this Administration’s first state visit in November to – again, to reaffirm the importance that we attach to our relations with India.
We have made very good progress over the last year on both the global and bilateral fronts in our relations with India. Let me start with the global, because I think it’s one of the good signs of the growing cooperation between the United States, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible even two or three years ago.
Prime Minister Singh played a very important role in Copenhagen in the climate change negotiations in helping to reach an accord there. Prime Minister Singh also attended the recent Global Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by the President, and announced then that India will build a center for nuclear security that will provide training for countries from a number of regions. Food security is also a very important new area of cooperation. You heard some announcements earlier this week about the important food security efforts that we’re going to be undertaking and, again, I think India will be, I think, a strong partner in those efforts.
Finally, on health, we have established, or in the process of establishing a global disease detection center that has the potential to be one of the flagship science and technology ventures between the United States and India, in which our joint researchers will be able to study and hopefully find cures for some of the major global pandemic diseases.
And lastly in the G-20 context, I think you all heard yesterday General Jones and talking about the national security strategy saying that one of the important new initiatives of the Obama Administration was to establish the G-20 as one of the premier mechanisms for economic decision making. And I think the President very much values the wisdom and experience of Prime Minster Singh who has long experience, particularly in these economic issues.
On the bilateral front, we have 18 separate dialogues underway between the United States and India to really try to capture the full scope of the opportunities ahead of us. Let me just mention a few things that I think are important in terms of some results. One is on the very important nuclear issue, following up on the civil nuclear agreement in the Bush Administration. Earlier this year, we have reached agreement on a nuclear reprocessing agreement that was concluded six months ahead of schedule and is one of now three that we have around the world, the other ones being with the EU and with Japan.
As a follow-up to that, we are now following very closely the nuclear liability legislation that the Indian Government has introduced into the Indian parliament. We hope that that will be consistent with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. And if so, and if passed, it would provide a very important legal protection and open the way for billions of dollars in American reactor exports and thousands of jobs.
I’d also like to highlight the unprecedented counterterrorism cooperation that is taking place between our two governments. Again, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. And we’ve raised counterterrorism cooperation by focusing on law enforcement cooperation and intelligence sharing between our two governments because of the increasingly common threats that we face, particularly those in India faced by Lashkar e-Tayyiba and other groups. And again, I think we’ve had very close cooperation, and we look forward to doing even more in that area.
Lastly, let me just draw attention to education where, again, a very important draft bill has been introduced into the Indian parliament that would open up for the first time India allowing foreign universities to offer degrees and set up campuses in India. India, as you know, has an overwhelmingly service economy, but also, increasingly, a knowledge-based economy. And they feel that it is very important to be able to provide higher education to the young population of India, half of whom who are under the age of 26, and therefore, they will be welcoming, I think, if this legislation passes – and they expect that it will – they will be welcoming large numbers of American universities at all levels, the sort of premier Ivy League kinds of universities, but also community colleges, and also things like distance learning, which I think – so there are many, many opportunities in this area, and this will be a very important subject of discussion during this dialogue.
Let me just briefly describe the schedule. Most of the delegations will be arriving on June 2nd – I’m sorry, on June 1st. On June 2nd, we will have both private sector and government activities. The U.S.-India Business Council will be hosting its 35th annual meeting. Our – Mr. Summers, Larry Summers, will be addressing that, as will our Secretary of Education. And then on the government-to-government level, Under Secretary Burns – Bill Burns, our Under Secretary of Political Affairs – and his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Rao, will oversee a very wide-ranging foreign policy dialogue that will cover Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, probably China, and many other topics.
On June 3rd, we will have the main strategic dialogue chaired by the Secretary and her counterpart, External Affairs Minister Krishna. I think what’s notable about this is that it’ll be the first time that our two governments are going to have really a whole-of-government conversation about not so much what we’ve accomplished, but to look ahead about what we can accomplish, and particularly look ahead to the President’s visit sometime this fall to India.
On the Indian side, he will be joined by the deputy head of the planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who has broad responsibilities beyond planning. He also works – he chairs the energy dialogue for the Indians and also is very involved in the agricultural dialogue.
Secretary – sorry, Minister Sibal, who is the education minister, will also be here for those very important discussions that I talked about. The minister of state for science and technology, Prithviraj Chavan, who is an old friend of the United States, has worked for many years on our various issues, now handles not only science and technology but also many of the nuclear issues that I discussed. We will also have a number of secretary-level people from the Indian side.
On our side, we’ll have, of course, the Secretary. National Security Advisor Jones will be there, Secretary Locke, FBI Director Mueller, the AID Director Dr. Shah, and many, many other subcabinet officials for those – for that dialogue.
We will have, really, two sessions. We’ll have a plenary session that will cover a lot of the – all the bilateral issues that we’re working on – counterterrorism, export controls and high technology, economics and finance, infrastructure, education, energy, climate change. And the purpose of that is really, again, to look broadly at the relationships to try to break down some of these stovepipes that we’ve seen and think creatively and strategically about the new opportunities before us in this relationship.
Then over lunch, the Secretary and External Affairs Minister Krishna will have a discussion on both the global issues that I mentioned, but again come back to some of the important regional issues, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, that I discussed earlier.
Later in the day, there will be a reception that the Secretary will host to honor the Indian delegation, but also to include many of the members of the Indian diaspora and other people who contribute so much to our relations. We’re very proud of the 2.5 million Indian Americans who are there, who really do provide a unique bridge for the United States with our friends in India. We’re also very proud of the hundred thousand-plus Indian students that are here studying in the United States, the largest single group of foreign students. And again, we think that this education bill that’s now pending in the Indian parliament will help to broaden even further the education cooperation in that area.
So let me stop there and I’d be glad to take your questions about that or about Sri Lanka. Why don’t we start with India?
QUESTION: Ambassador, I remember when I had a long interview with you last year just after the Secretary’s trip and all the fanfare about India-U.S. 3.0.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: You spoke about the fact that teams are going to get in place and there were going to be – they were going to work on deliverables. The education bill is still not passed, the nuclear liability still has not passed. On the U.S. side, India has complaints about high technology transfers, et cetera. Are there going to be any tangible deliverables? Because when you look at the strategic dialogue between U.S. and Pakistan, U.S.-China, there have been these tangible deliverables. Is it going to be just a whole heap of ministers on both sides and secretaries on both sides getting together talking, but at the end of it, there are no deliverables?
And a quick one on Sri Lanka: Is it all hunky-dory now? (Laughter.) There was a – because I remember the Secretary calling President Mahinda Rajapaksa and very angrily telling him that they would like a ceasefire. And there was even the Pentagon sort of getting ready to even transport some of the IDPs. But they were getting all that aid from China and Iran; they told the U.S. to take a hike, went on. So is everything hunky-dory now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me take your India question first. With respect to deliverables, I would say that, first of all, there will be deliverables; I don’t want to talk about the deliverables now. But we’re really not focused that much on deliverables. The purpose of this dialogue is really to think strategically and, again, to get the key people who work on these issues together to think ahead to the President’s visit and to think strategically about what we can do.
It’s not so much to have a review of all the things that we’ve done. We know what we’ve done. It’s really to think ahead. And when we have all of these senior-level officials together in one place, we have to take maximum advantage of their time and, again, use it productively.
So that’s the real purpose of the strategic dialogue. It is not to supplant the 18 different dialogues that we have, headed by all these different cabinet ministers on both sides. Those will be really the areas during those dialogues where they will announce deliverables of one sort or another.
With respect to Sri Lanka, I would say that, as the Secretary herself said, that she had a very productive meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Peiris. They had a chance to have a really extensive and productive review of all of the important issues that you’ve heard me talk about a lot – political reconciliation, accountability, the need to resettle the internally displaced people as quickly as possible, the need to improve the human rights situation. All of those were covered in a very good exchange between our two ministers.
I wouldn’t say everything’s hunky-dory. I think, as the minister himself would be the first to admit, they’re – they’ve now just begun this process now that the elections are over with in Sri Lanka, first the presidential elections that took place earlier this year, and more recently, the parliamentary elections.
So now that a new cabinet is in place, the president has a two-thirds majority in the Sri Lankan Parliament. The minister told the Secretary that he is really ready now to take some important actions. And so the Secretary – and he outlined what those actions are going to be. And the Secretary welcomed that, but she also said that we’re going to be watching closely, and particularly on these issues involving the reconciliation commission. Because I think that’s a particularly hot-button issue not only in Sri Lanka, but in other countries around the world.
And the minister helpfully said that they are – that the commission will have an investigatory role and that if, for any reason, this commission is found to have shortcomings, that they would welcome the assistance and the advice of the UN to help remedy those shortcomings. So I think that we’re in a good position, but now is the time for Sri Lanka to deliver and to proceed with its commission.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on Sri Lanka?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Just follow on Sri Lanka?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You know, Mr. Secretary, in India and in the United States, when we contest elections and if you lose, we don’t put you on – in the jail or court martial. That’s what happened in Sri Lanka, what many people are – including many think tankers and also human rights organizations are asking. Is this the case?
And also, if you are going to discuss the minister’s visit to Washington with the visiting Indian delegations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, I didn’t understand the second question, but let me ask – the first question first.
QUESTION: If you are going to --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: With respect to --
QUESTION: Foreign minister’s visit to Washington, if you are going to discuss with the visiting Indian delegations.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Okay. I’ll get to that in a second. On the question of General Fonseka, who was the opposition candidate during the presidential elections, as was rightly noted, he was arrested shortly thereafter, and there are charges pending against him – court martial charges in two separate, different cases.
We haven’t seen the specifics of the charges, but we have consistently stressed that it is important that General Fonseka’s rights be respected and that he be accorded a full due process. And we welcome the fact that the Sri Lankan Government has said that whatever decision is made in the military courts will be reviewed in the civilian courts, so that there will be greater transparency about not only the charges, but the process that has been followed in these cases. So, again, we’ll follow the process of these cases very carefully.
With respect to whether Sri Lanka will come up, I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I mean, I think probably in terms of the region, the most important focus will be Afghanistan, because of course, that’s a very, very high priority for both of our countries. India, I think, is following very closely, particularly this reconciliation process, as we all are. So I imagine that that will probably be more of a focus than Sri Lanka.
QUESTION: And Mr. Secretary --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But I don’t rule it out. I mean, there’s not really necessarily a set agenda. So --
QUESTION: Right. Just to – a quick follow-up.
MR. CROWLEY: No, let’s let the rest – spread it around.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: Okay. Foster Klug with the AP.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Hi, Foster.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing the briefing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about the perception in India that the relationship has slipped since the glory days of the Bush Administration, that China and Pakistan are sort of surpassing India in terms of interests? Why is this the case when you have so many working groups, when there are so many high-level visits to India with the state visit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And then what are you going to say and do next week to sort of allay those fears that there’s some sort of change in the relationship or India is not being given the same level of attention it was given during the Bush days?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, let me just say that there has not been any change, and that, as I said earlier, the Obama Administration attaches great importance to our relations with India, and as President Obama himself has said, this will be one of our signature partnerships in the 21st century. And that was shown by the President’s decision to invite Prime Minister Singh. It’s shown by the huge number of dialogues that we have. And it’s shown even more by the huge private sector component to our relations and all of the people-to-people contacts that we have. If anything, in our case, it’s the governments who are catching up to the people in terms of all of the many, many ties that exist at so many levels of our two countries.
So we don’t – we certainly attach great, great importance to that. I grant your question that there certainly are people who perceive that, and the only way that we’re really going to get beyond that is just by delivering results and by showing, in a concrete way, all of the various things that we’re doing. And so I think that’s going to be one of the purposes of the strategic dialogue, is to think through what are the big, new opportunities and where are the big areas of cooperation.
Let me just add one more thing. As I was reading the Nuclear Security Strategy – the National Security Strategy yesterday, I was struck that in everything that the Secretary mentioned and that General Jones mentioned, every single area that were defined as new priorities for the Administration are areas in which the United States and India are cooperating. And I think that is really quite significant, and I can – let me see if I can find the reference to that. It was – they talked about the four national – enduring national interests of security, prosperity, values, and international order. They also talked about the President’s commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and combating climate change.
These are all areas where we are working productively with the Indians, and I think one of the reasons that we have such great confidence in this relationship is that because of these common values and common interests, we are persuaded that India’s influence is going to grow over time as its economy grows, and that we are going to be working ever more closely together because of those common values. So it is very much in our interest now to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the strategic dialogue, to think strategically at a high level about how to capitalize on those opportunities. And I think when we do that, we will address many of the skeptics that you talked about.
QUESTION: Andy Quinn from Reuters. Just a follow-up on that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: It seems that from the Indian perspective, one potential big deliverable might be signs of success that the U.S. is somehow persuading elements in Pakistan and the Pakistan military, the Pakistan Government, to rein in connections with extremists on that side of the border. What are you going to tell them we’ve been able to do in order to cut their own fears of future attacks from – or at least backed by Pakistan?
And secondly, on the nuclear cooperation deal, this has been the subject of a lot of discussion and a lot of patting of backs for quite some time now, and yet it’s still – the liability law still isn’t passed. Is the U.S. frustrated with the pace that this – with the pace that this is moving through the system? And why do think it’s – why is it taking so long? This is a big deal for big American companies. Why can’t we get this in place?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just take that second question first. First of all, I don’t think it’s taken that long. India is a democracy and, like our own democracy, they have to work a bill through – first through their own cabinet system and then they have get a consensus within their own parliamentary system on this very, very important bill. And it has some political resonance in India because of the Bhopal disaster. So people are – obviously look at this very closely and they should. It deserves that kind of scrutiny.
But I think the prime minister addressed this very forthrightly himself in his recent press conference in which he said that this – the passage of this legislation is a priority for the Indian Government. And it’s a priority because it’s going to help the United States to – and other countries – to deliver nuclear technology that will help to meet the needs, the energy needs, of India’s fast-growing economy. And it will also help us because we’ll be able to substantially increase our exports, but also provide much needed new jobs in the United States.
So we see this as a win-win for both of our countries. And we’re not frustrated. We think that this – we trust Prime Minister Singh’s judgment on this. And our main interest is in making sure that the legislation that is passed is compliant with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, which is the international standard for such legislation.
Sorry, you asked your – I’ve already forgotten your first question.
QUESTION: Essentially reining in Pakistan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Oh, yes, sorry. On Pakistan, I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion. We will welcome the announcement that has been made by the Indians and the Pakistanis that their two foreign ministers will meet in Islamabad in mid-July. That meeting will be preceded by a very important meeting between the home ministers that will take place in late June. Home Minister Chidambaram of India will be, again, visiting Islamabad. So those are very important opportunities to try to expand relations and to reduce some of the frictions between these two friends of the United States.
One of the most important obstacles to expansion of those relations is the continuing infiltration from Pakistan to by Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and others. And the United States has consistently called for greater action on the part of Pakistan to stop these – the activities of these groups.
Pakistan has done so in the past between 2004 and 2007, and that laid the basis for a very significant expansion in relations between India and Pakistan. So we’d like to see these two friends get back on that same course again. But one of the first things that has to happen is for there to be visible progress in stopping this.
And I think the point that the Secretary and Secretary Gates and the President himself has made is that increasingly, these groups are all operating together as a syndicate. And so it’s very much in Pakistan’s own interest to take on these groups as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up with that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
QUESTION: General Kayani of Pakistan was very clear when he was here in Washington saying he thought it was unacceptable for India to be training the Afghan army or to be involved in Afghanistan in that way. Is there any sense that – or any move on the U.S. part to relay those concerns to India, or do you see it not as you’re – is it, you know, your place to do so?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, I’m not sure that India’s providing that much training to the Afghan army. I mean, most – the vast majority of the assistance that the Indians are providing to Afghanistan is in the form of economic assistance.
QUESTION: I think it was a plan. It hasn’t started yet. But is there any move by the U.S. to ask India to limit in any way its – what it’s doing in Afghanistan? And then I had one quick question –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No. I mean, I would say we’ve welcomed very much the assistance that India has provided and all of our cabinet-level officials have welcomed that and will continue to do so. We think that they’ve really played a very important role with the $1.3 billion in assistance that they provided to date, mostly in infrastructure and other kinds of reconstruction projects, but also capacity building and training and so forth. And so we think that is a very important part of the international effort to help stabilize Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Where does Kashmir and the line of control fit into this puzzle?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first, you’ll have to ask the two countries themselves. I think that’s not going to be an issue that’s going to be addressed right away. I think, again, that what’s most important is first to get these talks going again and to focus on – once they’ve gotten beyond the immediate counterterrorism issues, to focus on some of the important opportunities like trade that exist between these two countries. And once they have developed a degree of confidence, they might then be able to take up some of these more sensitive territorial issues.
QUESTION: In – last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that in December, the President had signed a directive about how U.S. can play an important role in reducing tension between India and Pakistan. And there’s a perception in India that U.S. is pressurizing India to have its dialogue with Pakistan, despite the fact that Pakistan has not taken any action against Mumbai – those responsible – Mumbai terrorist attack – LET. So can you address that perception?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we always have an interest in seeing our two friends have peaceful relations, but we are not pressurizing either side, as you say. We have consistently said that it is up to India and Pakistan to determine how to improve their relations and that the pace and the scope and the character of whatever talks they have is really up to those two countries to decide. But we will always stand ready to help in any way that we can, because again, we see it very much in our interest to see improved ties between these two friends of ours.
QUESTION: Can you also give us a sense of the situation in Nepal? Today was the last day for a constitution – drafting the final constitution.
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I have a little bit of news on that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Oh, my spokesman. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Big news?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s just said that an agreement has been reached, so I’m very happy to hear that. I didn’t know that. And this is something that the United States and many other countries have been supporting, which is dialogue between the parties to reach a consensus on an agreement. As you know, May 28th was the deadline and if they had failed to reach an agreement, the constituent assembly would have lapsed and they would have faced a potential parliamentary crisis and a constitutional crisis.
So since I’ve obviously just gotten this news, I’m not really in a position to describe what happened, but certainly, that’s very welcome news.
QUESTION: One more on Sri Lanka?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s been about a year. I think Tamils in the United States are marking a year since the government --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- took over the Tamil areas with many, many, many civilian casualties. A lot of different conflicting information has been reported about what the U.S.’s position is on, you know, the role that outsiders should play in looking at whether war crimes are committed there. I mean, what’s the real position? Do outsiders have a role in that? Should they?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think in the first instance, we always look to host governments to play the leading role. And so the Secretary today welcomed the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to establish a reconciliation commission. Ambassador Rice had made a similar statement two or three weeks ago welcoming that commission, and Ambassador Rice laid out a series of things that would – that past practice and past experience has shown would help ensure the success of that commission.
And the Secretary also went through those in some detail today. I can refer you to the transcript of her remarks today, but she talked about how, for example, commission members have – must be independent and impartial, their mandate has to enable them to fully investigate all of the allegations and to make public those recommendations, they’ve got to – the potential witnesses have got to have witness protection, all of those kind of things. So the Secretary went through in great detail all of those things privately, but then also in her subsequent press conference. So --
QUESTION: Do you have confidence that they’re --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- that the Sri Lankan Government is going to be able to (inaudible) itself?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We’ll have to see. It’s up to them now to prove that they will be able to take on all of these responsibilities. The minister expressed confidence that they will be able to do so. But he also importantly said that if they’re not able to do so, that they would welcome assistance and advice from the United Nations to help them. And the Secretary said that the UN can play a very, very important role based on its long experience there.
QUESTION: If this turns out to be a sham, is the U.S. prepared to step in and do something or to say something?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, let’s give them a chance and then we’ll – before we start automatically assuming it’s going to be a sham. So --
QUESTION: So you’re not calling right now for a foreign, independent, outside investigation to come in?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We are not. We are not.
QUESTION: You don’t support Ban Ki-moon’s idea that he should set one up right away? You think that’s a bad idea?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I haven’t seen exactly what – he and the foreign minister met earlier this week, but I haven’t seen any public statements about exactly what he’s going to do, because there have been various reports about that. And so let’s wait and see what the UN itself intends to do before we start making any pronouncements on that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Sri Lanka ended 25 years of bloody war and brought peace, at least now, stability, and working on bringing both community together. And they have brought to justice or (inaudible) this most wanted terrorist and LTTE was banned by India, U.S., and of course, many places – UN. My question is that – is there a lesson for the U.S. to learn from Sri Lanka fighting war in Afghanistan, bringing Usama bin Ladin or his (inaudible) to justice?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think there’s any lessons to be learned there, no. I think the situations are so different between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan that trying to make any kind of tortured comparison really isn’t of much use.
QUESTION: Now, one of the sticking point of India-U.S. relations about this and the public perception is access not being given by U.S. to David Coleman Headley, who was involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack. How you are going to address that issue? It’s a lot of anti-U.S. (inaudible) appearing in Indian media about the – around this particular issue.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, let me just say on that that we are very pleased that the United States and India have been able to cooperate very closely on this critical and very complex issue. And we continue to work very hard with our Indian counterparts to move forward on that. But I don’t have anything more to say. I’d just refer you to the Department of Justice for further comment.
QUESTION: You can’t say whether you’re going to give access to India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m not in a position to.
QUESTION: Is this an issue which comes out between talks or India raises this issue? Do you think this is some kind of sticking point between – (inaudible) with the two countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think it’s a sticking point. I think that we’ve got – again, we’ve got a good dialogue and I think we’ll work out a way forward.
QUESTION: And I’ve got a quick one on the strategic dialogue. You spoke about the fact that Ambassador Bill Burns and Nirupama Rao are going to be discussing global issues, et cetera.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: You ticked off Afghanistan, Pakistan, et cetera, but you didn’t mention Iran. Was that deliberate? Because India has been reticent and has dissuaded any kind of punitive sanctions, saying that that could destabilize the region. And even India’s friends in the U.S. Congress go ballistic about India’s relations, closeness with Iran. And this is sure to probably become an issue as the U.S. proceeds with, you know, imposing the sanctions against Iran.
So was it deliberate that you left out Iran?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, it wasn’t deliberate. We talk about a lot of things and I’m sure we’ll talk about Iran. This is a very important issue for both of our countries. I think the United States and India both share a concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and both of us are opposed to any kind of nuclear arms for Iran. And we understand the strategic consequences for both of us and for – particularly for the Gulf region were that to occur.
So Under Secretary Burns also had some conversations in – during his recent visit out to India, and he said after that that – just what I’ve said, but he also said that India’s record of implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Iran and its record of votes in the IAEA have been very welcome. So this is an area where we will continue to cooperate closely.
India had – the external affairs minister had a recent visit to Iran. I think probably one of the focuses of that was to talk about Afghanistan since India and Afghanistan have a shared aversion for the Taliban. So we look forward to hearing his readout of that and just to having a good exchange about Iran, which we’ve had for many years.
I can see that P.J.’s anxious to get me off the podium, so unless there are any further --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll have you continue well after. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: So again, thank you all very much and we’ll try to maybe arrange something after the dialogue if there’s interest. So, thank you so much.
QUESTION: Thank you and have a nice, long weekend.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You too.
MR. CROWLEY: Excellent.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, sir.
MR. CROWLEY: And breaking news. (Laughter.)