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Diplomacy in Action

Press Conference

Press Conference
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Male', Maldives
July 22, 2010


Good afternoon everybody. My name is Robert Blake. I am the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. Many of you knew me previously when I was the Ambassador in Sri Lanka, but also responsible for the Maldives. It’s great to be back here in the Maldives. This is my first visit as Assistant Secretary.

I have had a very good and productive visit today. I had the honor of meeting with President Nasheed; several members of his cabinet; the opposition leader, Mr. Thasmeen; the Speaker of Parliament Mr. Shahid; and with members of civil society.

The U.S. is a longtime friend of the Maldives and we’ve been a strong supporter of democracy here. We think that Maldives should be very proud of the democratic progress that has been made over the last several years. The current political crisis that Maldives faces is one that is familiar to many democracies. The president represents one party while the opposition controls the parliament.

I told the president and Mr. Thasmeen that there is only one way out of such crisis. Both sides must be open to dialogue and to compromise. I am very confident that both sides are capable of that. Many of the figures who are involved in the current political impasse, such as President Nasheed and the Speaker of Parliament, played important roles in resolving even more difficult problems as they negotiated the draft constitution in 2007 and 2008. A continued stalemate here in the Maldives serves no one’s interest. There is a risk of further violence and that in turn could impact tourism and aggravate the economic challenges the Maldives faces. President Nasheed has shown very strong international leadership in areas such as climate change. The United States hopes that he and Mr. Thasmeen could show equally strong leadership now to work collaboratively to end the current political impasse.

It’s time for all sides to put aside narrow partisan differences so they can resume work to serve the interests of the Maldivian people and restore public confidence in both their leaders and the public institutions of the Maldives.

Again, thank you very much for coming today and I’d be pleased to take a few questions.

QUESTION: President Nasheed said yesterday that he does not encourage people from other countries to act as mediators and that he’d prefer locals. My question is that you have been a close friend of the Maldives and also this government, what are your achievements so far in regards to the current situation in the Maldives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As you say I am a longtime friend of the Maldives. I have worked closely with both sides for several years. My purpose was not to come and try to mediate the dispute. This was really a visit to reestablish contact as my first visit as Assistant Secretary of State. I think I did have an opportunity to talk to both sides to urge them to work together and to compromise. Again, I think that they are capable of doing so---that they’ve resolved more difficult issues in previous years. I think the people want to see their politicians work together and deal with some of the big challenges that your country is facing now.

QUESTION: In your negotiations, have there been any outcomes regarding the release of Mr. Yaameen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I wasn’t involved in any negotiations of any kind, but with respect to Mr. Yaameen, I believe that he should either be charged with some sort of offense, or he should be released. I think he is in somewhat of an ambiguous legal status now, and I think that clarifying that status would be a helpful start to resolving the impasse that exists.

QUESTION: Any reaction on that from the MNDF?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I didn’t speak to the MNDF about that. I spoke to the government and political leaders about that.

QUESTION: Was there any willingness of the Government and the opposition parties to negotiate?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think they have shown willingness to negotiate. I think there is some common ground and I think that they both understand the need to move forward on their reform agenda. So it’s a matter now of trying to calm some of the tensions; to not have too much in the way of public demonstrations and those kinds of things; and to talk quietly in a room together about a way forward. And I do believe that is possible.

QUESTION: There recently was a donor’s forum where a lot of promises were made, including from the United States. Do you think that this crisis that we are facing now will give us any trouble in collecting commitments from the donors?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think that the crisis will have so much of an impact on donor funding, but I do think that it could have a quite significant economic impact if it’s not resolved - for the simple reason that if there is a continued impasse, there could be more violence here and that violence in turn could discourage tourists from coming to the Maldives. I remember very well during the bombing that took place in 2008. That had quite a severe impact on tourism even though most people didn’t recognize that that bombing took place on Malé, while most of the islands were completely free of any kind of threats. But most of the tourists that live in Europe or elsewhere don’t really make that distinction. If they see that there is a problem in Male, they will assume that there is a wider problem.

Again, I think it underlines the importance of trying to resolve this and to get on with completing the process of passing and implementing legislation for the constitution and dealing with the budget deficit here, which I think is quite an important problem still--so passing some laws that will help to shore up the Maldives economic situation. Those are really the things that need to be done and so the sooner the parties can get together and get parliament working again, the better.

QUESTION: Early U.S. efforts for a solution by the Ambassador failed, but as you just mentioned, you just said that you’ve seen signs from both sides. What do you expect to happen this time?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: What I think would be a positive step now would be for the President to try to meet with Mr. Thasmeen and have a dialogue about where they can find common ground so that the President’s cabinet can be appointed again and be approved by the parliament. Perhaps they have some concerns in the parliament about individual members that should be part of the discussions. But there should be movement ahead on that and I think that both sides need to agree on a way forward in terms of what legislation they are going to move forward together, because unless they do work together, we are not going to see any progress. And I think that it is very important that they do make that progress so that the Maldivian people can have confidence in their public institutions and in their leaders in this very sensitive and this very early stage in Maldivian democracy.

QUESTION: The Maldivian parliament recently has passed a resolution to the effect that Guantanamo prisoners cannot be brought without the consent of the Parliament. My question is, are you still going ahead with the plan to transfer prisoners to Maldives or do you have any updates on your side about what’s going to be next?


QUESTION: Guantanamo prisoners to the Maldives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, we didn’t discuss that, so I don’t have any…Oh, the Guantanamo…sorry, I didn’t hear that. I’ll just let the President talk about that. I’d rather let him address that question.

QUESTION: So, you didn’t discuss it at all?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we did discuss it, but I’d rather have him take that on, because again that’s something for them to address. It’s not something for us to address.

QUESTION: I’d to like also to ask about Guantanamo once again. The negotiations and agreement with the U.S. and Maldivian government to settle prisoners were not even shared or discussed with parliament. Why did the State Department not discuss with the Maldivian government the importance of discussing the issue with the Maldivian parliament before signing any agreement or settlement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The State Department has such agreements with foreign governments and it’s up to the foreign governments themselves to determine what further procedures are necessary in their own domestic context. Sometimes there is a notification procedure with parliament, sometimes not. And again, that is completely up to the local host government to determine that. It’s really not up to us to advise them about that.

QUESTION: I’m sorry if this question has already been asked, but I was wondering if you could tell us about the meetings that you had with the opposition government. What were the things were discussed mainly? And what were your suggestions to bring an end to this current political deadlock?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t really want to get into the details of what suggestions I made, but again, I urged them to work together to try to find common ground and to get beyond this impasse because I do believe there is a significant risk if this impasse continues--there is a potential for violence and that that again could impact the economy and could erode the public confidence in their leaders and also in their institutions.

QUESTION: What about the case of the MP Yaameen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I answered that question. I can tell you about that afterwards.

QUESTION: One of the things at the moment is the falling public confidence in the performance and consistency of the judiciary. One of the many suggestions from the international community, the State Department, the UN and the Commonwealth has been calls for the government to, and the situation to, resort to the rule of law to resolve the issues this country faces. How has the government, in this situation, been able to legitimize cases against political leaders with a weakened judiciary?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think that it’s very important for the government to work in accordance with the rule of law at this point. That’s a very important part of reestablishing public confidence in Maldivian institutions. In that context, I do believe that it is important for the government to either charge Mr. Yaameen or to release him. I know that there are some very important steps that need to be taken in the very near future regarding the Supreme Court nominees and the continuation of their terms. And so that’s just one more reason for the governments to try to work together with the opposition to reach a common ground so that they can move forward on that and on some of the other legislation that I talked about.

I’ll take one more question and then I’ve got to go.

QUESTION: During your meetings today, was there any discussion of a possible meeting later? Is there any possibility that the U.S. might act as a negotiator in the future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No. We’re not going to act as mediators. As we always do as friends, we will continue to offer advice and try to encourage the parties to work together. But we’re not in there as official mediators. Nor have we been asked. I think that as one of the questioners said, they are looking to see if there are Maldivians who might be able to play such a role.

Sorry, one more question, go ahead.

QUESTION: In yesterday’s press conference, Nasheed said he’s willing to conduct another election if the parliament and the people agree to have a parliamentary form of government. If he agrees to have a parliamentary form of government instead of a presidential form of government, do you think our problem here at the movement will resolve here if he put in a different government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s a hypothetical question. I really can’t answer that. You should ask that of the president and also of the opposition leader.

Thank you very much. It’s nice to see a lot of old friends in the crowd.

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