I am delighted to be back in Nepal.
I am very happy that my visit coincided with the arrival of Ambassador Peter Bodde, who is returning to serve in the Embassy in Kathmandu for the third time in his career. Peter is one of our most experienced career diplomats. I know he will do a splendid job advancing our interests and our relations with Nepal at this crucial time in Nepal’s history.
I have had a busy and productive visit. I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Bhattarai, Nepali Congress Vice President Ram Chandra Poudel, CPN-UML Chairman Khanal, Maoist Chairman Prachanda, Chief of Army Staff Rana, business leaders, and members of the Tibetan community as well as civil society.
U.S. policy goals in Nepal are clear. We wish to see a stable, democratic, and prosperous Nepal in which the rights of all citizens are protected and the rule of law respected.
Nepal has made significant progress since the end of the conflict in 2006. Now is the time for all political leaders to commit to finishing the job for the future of the country. I urged political party leaders to demonstrate real statesmanship and flexibility. If Nepal’s political leaders can put aside their differences and work together, we are confident that outstanding constitutional issues can be settled.
A key part of concluding a successful peace process will be for all parties to develop transitional justice mechanisms that are independent, credible, and transparent, and that address the concerns of all Nepalis, particularly the victims and their families. It is crucial that any Truth and Reconciliation Commission be credible and aligned with internationally recognized human rights standards. We know most Nepalis agree that more must be done to hold wrongdoers accountable and uphold the rule of law.
On September 6 the Department of State revoked the designation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from two designated terrorist lists. This delisting reflects the United States’ resolve to keep our terrorism sanctions current and demonstrates that a group need not stay on a terrorist list forever, should it demonstrate a credible commitment to pursuing peace and reconciliation. This action frees the party’s property within the U.S. and allows U.S. entities to engage in transactions with CPN(M) without having to obtain a license.
While political discussions continue, creating an attractive investment climate is critical for Nepal’s economic growth and development. Business leaders briefed me on the negative effects internal political problems, corruption, and lack of dependable electricity have had on investment. I encourage renewed effort to work with the government to develop sound economic policies and a stable political situation that will attract foreign investors.
The U.S. has been proud to support Nepal’s development for 61 years and that strong support continues. Nepal is a strong partner in three of President Obama’s signature development initiatives: 1) improving health, especially for Nepali mothers and children, 2) increasing food security, and 3) addressing the impact of climate change. We are also working together on natural disaster risk reduction, combating human trafficking and safeguarding human rights for minority groups, women and the LGBT community. The arrival of 20 new Peace Corps volunteers after an eight-year absence is one of the many positive developments in our bilateral relationship, as is a commitment to establish a new Millennium Challenge Corporation program, for which discussions will begin shortly.
Last but not least, Nepal has been a generous host to Tibetan refugees for more than 50 years. Nepal’s commitment to the protection of Tibetan refugees, both those in the long-staying community and new arrivals transiting to India, has earned Nepal international respect. We believe strongly that Tibetan refugees, like all people, deserve to lead lives of dignity and purpose.
So with that I’d be glad to take a few of your questions. So I will ask my colleagues here to help call on people. Thank you.
Q. I am Keshav Poudel, the editor of Spotlight magazine. My question is that since you met all the political leaders and they have been talking, talking, talking for three months about consensus, how do you see, consensus, political consensus, after meeting with them, how it is possible to have consensus sooner, and the second question is, the United States has already accepted sixty-thousand Bhutanese refugees. Is there any plan to take Tibetan individuals from Nepal? That’s all, thank you.
Blake: First of all, with respect to the political situation here, as I said in my remarks, I think there’s been significant progress over the last years. Maoists have given up their arms, most of the Maoists have now been demobilized, there is agreement on most aspects of the constitution, and security around the country has improved. I think the main challenges from my talks today appear to be still those concerns about the number of states, the names, and what the boundaries of those states will be. But I was heartened to hear from political leaders that they are engaged in discussions and that they hope to narrow their differences and then agree on a process for a way forward.
In terms of the refugees, the United States has been very proud to accept, as you said, sixty-thousand now, Bhutanese refugees, and I think we’re open to taking more, but we also tell our Bhutanese friends that it’s very important for them to also play their role and to take their share as well. So that will continue to be an important part of our relations with Bhutan.
Q. Gopal Sharma with Reuters. Sir, Pakistani intelligence officials have expressed their concerns that branding Afghanis as terrorists will affect the ties, or hurt the ties between United States and Pakistan. Do you have any comments to that?
Blake: I don’t have any comment on that. I’m sorry, I’m not fully up to speed on all the things going on in Washington, so I will let our spokesman in Washington handle that question.
Reuters: Right. Thank you.
Q. Sir this is Anil Giri from The Kathmandu Post. Just now you have mentioned that you have met some of the representatives of the Tibetan refugees here.
Anil: And could you tell us that American Government is happy with the policy that Nepal government has adopted towards the Bhutanese Refugee, and does the Nepal government fully abide by the gentleman agreement that has been agreed some decades back on the Tibetan refugee to get them safe passage to India, and my third question is…
Blake: I’m sorry, too many questions at once, I’m not smart enough to remember them. With respect to the gentleman’s agreement, I think Nepal has had a good record of observing the gentleman’s agreement, and as I said, we had a chance to discuss that again today. We think that there is room for the government to do more to help regularize the status of the longer-term Tibetan community that is here, by, for example, providing them documentation that would allow them to get jobs, to travel, and so forth. So again, that was a subject of our discussions.
Q. Good Afternoon – this is Ashok Dahal from ABC Television. And I just want to ask that every US high level visit in Nepal takes concern toward Tibetan refugees in Nepal. What is the vested interest of US toward them? Thank you.
Blake: Well, first of all, the United States takes an active interest in refugees around the world. We’re one of the most generous donors with respect to refugees. We have a very active program not only here in Nepal, but around the world. In South Asia, we’ve devoted a great deal of time and attention to the refugee situation, the IDP situation in Sri Lanka, to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, so these are always very high on our list. But certainly the status of Tibetan refugees is also a very important consideration for us, as is the status of the Bhutanese refugees.
Q. I am Sirish Pradhan, I represent PTI – Press Trust of India. Good evening. I have two questions, so only that as the US government has lifted the terrorist tag from the Maoists. Does it mean that the Maoists have now been converted into a fully democratic party or do you watch their behavior for some time? And secondly, as Nepalis passing through deeper political crisis with no constitution in place and the absence of any elected body – either parliament or the local body – so in this situation how can the international community, including US, help to restore democracy, full-fledged democracy in Nepal. Thank you.
Blake: Let me start with the last one first: It’s up to Nepal’s political leaders to take the steps necessary to reestablish democracy here, and I think all of them are committed to doing so from what I heard today in my talks and from yesterday as well. With respect to the question of the delisting of the Maoists and whether that makes them democratic, that’s not really the purpose of the delisting. The delisting addresses the narrower question of whether they are still pursuing terrorist activities, and in our judgment, they are not, that the Maoists have made a significant effort to support the peace and reconciliation effort that is underway here in Nepal, and they have been very cooperative with this whole process of giving up their arms and demobilizing and reintegrating former Maoist combatants, all of which are very significant parts of the peace process that has gotten you to where you are today. So in terms of, you know, the impact on our relations, it means now that we, that entities in the United States can do business, with the Maoists, it means that they can engage in transactions and it means that whatever property they might have is no longer frozen in the United States. So it effectively normalizes much of what we do with the Maoists now.
Q. Excellency, thank you very much for taking our questions. I have one query relating to the statement that was made by Department of State, State Department and that says, like, CPN Maoist party, the CPN Maoist has already changed, it has become Unified Communist Party, UCPN Maoist, and there are so many few parties that have already split from the Maoists. So, does it also include that even Matrika Yadav-led Maoist and other Maoist Mohan Baidya-led Maoists are also delisted from this TEL or something?
Blake: Yes, it includes that the two main Maoist factions, yes. But I will say that, and this is the message that I gave to Chairman Prachanda, that while we have delisted the Maoists, it’s very, very important that all factions continue to refrain from violence and continue to refrain from terrorist activities, and that should any one faction not do so, obviously these kinds of terrorist listings can be reinstated. So, this is a very dynamic process, and it hopefully will serve as a strong incentive for the Maoists to continue to play a constructive role in the peace process, and again, to encourage all of their members and cadres to totally renounce violence and to participate peacefully through the democratic process.
Q. I am Nanda Lal Tiwari from The Rising Nepal. Your Excellency, your visit has coincided with the first ever military drill between the Nepal Army and the U.S. Army, and some political parties have opposed it, saying that it might jeopardize relations, Nepal-China relations, and they are analyzing it as a way to make U.S. military presence in Nepal. Your comment. Thank you.
Blake: Well, I don’t think the Chinese should fear anything to do with our exercise program. This is a very large humanitarian and medical exercise, and these are things that we conduct with many, many countries around the world, with many, many friends, and it should not be seen in any way as a threat to China. It’s to support Nepal’s own internal objectives and of course everything that we do is done with the full consent and participation of the Nepalese government and also the Nepalese military.
Q. Thank you. John Parajuli with the BBC. You met with the political leaders and I wanted to ask for your assessment as to what form of agreement might take place, whether it would be reinstatement of Constituent Assembly or a fresh election, and also how soon that might take place. Your assessment.
Blake: Well, again, I think you’ll have to ask them that question, it’s really up to them to make these decisions. As I said earlier, I think, I’m encouraged that they’re meeting again and that they do seem committed to trying to reach an agreement on all of these complicated issues that you mentioned. But, it’s certainly not up to me to make any announcements about where they are in the process.
Q. Again, this is Sirish Pradhan. As you are here at very critical time, as there are two polarizations among the political parties here, so what message have you brought from the U.S. government and the people, so that the Nepalese political parties can diffuse the crisis.
Blake: Well again, my main message is what I said in the beginning. My main message was one of support for the progress that has already been made and that now is the time for leadership and flexibility, and a time for all of the parties to put aside whatever partisan differences they have and try to come together and reach a consensus for the sake of the country. Because I heard from many other Nepalis, from civil society and others, that this impasse has now gone on for quite a long time and it has an effect, for example, on the business community’s ability to attract foreign investment. So it is important to try to reach a consensus as quickly as possible, and as I said earlier, I was encouraged that efforts are underway to try to build that consensus.
Q. On Bhutanese refugees, as we know it the United States has already resettled about 60,000 refugees, and you also mentioned that Bhutan should try to take some of them back. Do you believe, when the process is done, the remaining should be locally assimilated and would that be your position?
Blake: Well again, it’s a little early to start talking about when their process is done. Their process is still underway and we’re still in talks, both with our friends in Nepal but also our friends in Bhutan. As I said earlier, the United States has done more than its share to accept 60,000 refugees, and I think we’re still open to accepting more, but we think it’s also very, very important for Bhutan to do its share as well, and so we’ll continue to have, I’m sure, constructive talks with the Bhutanese about that important objective.
So again, I want to thank you all for coming today, and it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, and we look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you very much.