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Diplomacy in Action

Media Interaction in Mumbai With Five Vernacular Journalists


Interview
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Mumbai, India
December 16, 2011

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MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming today. We have with us Deputy Secretary Burns. We have just come in from Pune. This is the end of a long regional Asia trip today; and I’ve provided you with copies of the speech that he gave this morning at Pune University.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thanks. Well, I am delighted to be back in India. This is my first trip as Deputy Secretary of State. I’ve been to Mumbai actually several times in my previous incarnation as Under Secretary for Political Affairs and certainly one of my highest priorities in my new position remains India and the U.S.- India relationship. President Obama, as you know, has described our partnership as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. I really don’t believe that’s an overstatement. That does not mean that every day in our relationship is going to bring the kind of dramatic breakthrough that we have become accustomed to in recent years. I had the privilege of working on some of them: completing the civil nuclear agreement at the end of 2008, at the end of the last administration; Prime Minister Singh’s State Visit to Washington in 2009 —quite significant as the first state visit by a foreign leader during the Obama administration, and then of course President Obama’s historic visit here last year. So, if every day cannot bring those kind of dramatic breakthroughs, I think every day can bring the kind of sustained steady work at the relationship between governments but also efforts to build closer links between our two societies, which I think in many respects is equally important.

I was in Delhi on Monday for very positive meetings with the Prime Minister, with Minister Krishna, with Minister Mukherjee, with National Security Advisor Menon and with a range of others. And then, as my colleague mentioned, I went on to Southeast Asia and back again. I was in Pune earlier today to give a speech and then have a discussion with students and faculty members largely focused on a particularly important dimension of our emerging partnership: the rise of the Asia-Pacific, as you look ahead to the coming decades; why it matters so much for both of us; and I will be glad to talk about that some more as well. So in short, I think this is an exciting moment in relations between our two countries. I am very glad to be able to open our new Consulate General, which I think in some way symbolizes the growth of relations and the promise what lies ahead. So, with that I would be delighted to take your questions.

QUESTION: In India there is strong opposition against this FDI. Local businessman, small traders, they are all against FDI. And opposition parties have raised their voice against FDI. That condition -- would you like to throw some light.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: On the issue of retail sector- multi brand retail, I’ll say two or three things in response; it’s a very good question. First, India obviously has its own political processes, which is a sovereign right. Indians—only Indians—can make these choices. We are not exactly strangers in Washington to complicated political processes these days.

Second, objectively from the American perspective, if you look around the world, reforms like this to open up important sectors of the economy to foreign direct investment have proven in concrete terms to be quite beneficial. If you look at some of the biggest developing economies around the world -- China, Brazil -- reforms of this nature have actually brought big benefits to those countries creating jobs, and contributing to economic growth.

Third, the United States, as we do in any place in the world, will certainly support whatever opportunities a reform like this opens up for American companies because we believe that American companies can make important contributions which are in the interests of Americans, but are also in the interest of India and its continued economic growth.

QUESTION: One question about recent NATO strikes on Pakistan and after that there is much talk that in 2012, there will be more deterioration in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. What impact will it have on South Asia as a whole on this bigger canvas--this is the first. And the second is about China making a base in Seychelles and more military relations with Pakistan. So how do you see that and what will be your take on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, these are two important questions. First, I certainly hope very much that in 2012 we do not see a further deterioration of US-Pakistan relations. We, each of us I believe, have an interest in a healthy relationship for all sorts of obvious reasons and we are going to continue to work at it, notwithstanding the differences which exist and the recent events which have caused, I think, greater questions between the two sides, including the border incident that you mentioned.

Second, with regard to China, I meant as I said in the speech I gave in Pune earlier today -- there is a lot of speculation that the emphasis that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have put on the Asia Pacific as a priority region for the United States is somehow aimed at encircling or containing China -- that’s not true. Like India, the United States has an important interest in a healthy relationship with China. President Obama has made clear that we welcome the rise of a prosperous stable China which can contribute to prosperity and security across the Asia Pacific and around the world. That does not mean that we do not have differences from time to time but we certainly have an interest and we are working very hard with China to build the healthiest possible relationship and a relationship which is positive and cooperative.

And we also certainly welcome India’s own efforts to build that kind of a positive and cooperative bilateral relationship with China. Shankar Menon, the National Security Advisor, said a couple of years ago, the world is big enough for China, India and the United States, and I firmly believe that it’s true. I think our mutual interests are best served -- our interest in continued economic growth and a stable international order -- by healthy relations among us.

QUESTION: Do you think that the deteriorating relations between India, Pakistan and the U.S. would further affect the goal of the U.S. to wipe out the terrorism from the Western Asia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the United States’ commitment -- like India’s commitment to fighting terrorism -- is as strong as ever and we have continued to emphasize to the Pakistani leadership the importance of working against violent extremist groups without distinction. Because Lashkar-e-Taiba threatens Pakistan and its future as much as it threatens India or United States or anyone else. And the same is true about the Haqqani group or other kinds of violent extremists. So we are going to continue to work energetically and consistently against terrorism and I think the practical co-operation that’s been built up between United States and India, especially in the last three years since the terrible events of 26/11 has been quite important for both of our countries. And we want to continue to deepen that because the challenge has not gone away, and I think it’s only through the kind of cooperation that we have built up especially in the last three years that we can successfully confront it.

QUESTION: I want to ask you one question: How successful is Obama administration in improving its country’s image in Muslim countries. Because of the Iraq war and this Afghanistan war, there is, some may say, hatred in the Muslim world. So how are President Barack Obama and the administration improving?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the President certainly placed high priority and proved this in the speech that he gave in Cairo more than two years ago on improving America’s relations, across not just the Middle East but the Islamic world in general. It’s not a secret that there are lots of people across the Muslim world who have questions and concerns about aspects of the American policy; it’s true on the Palestinian issue. I think there were too many people who concluded, after they looked at the scenes of Tahrir Square last January and they didn’t see a lot of banners criticizing Israel or expressing solidarity with Palestinians, they concluded that somehow that issue didn’t matter so much anymore, and I think that’s profoundly mistaken. And I think it’s an issue that matters enormously and that United States has particular responsibility to show leadership in trying to bring about progress toward a two-state solution.

On Iraq, which you mentioned is now in the process of winding down a war that’s gone on for many years, American involvement in that war, I think, will leave behind an Iraq which has made considerable progress in recent years. It still faces a number of challenges. It’s an Iraq that can still count on American support because, even though we are withdrawing military forces, which is a natural step now, we are moving into a new phase in which the United States will remain very much committed diplomatically and in terms of providing security assistance to a stable Iraq, because it is very important to the interests of the whole region.

And the President finally has been very clear in his support for the various kinds of efforts to promote democracy and to realize human dignity in a number of Arab states across the so-called Arab awakening or Arab Spring in the past year -- whether it’s in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya and other places, and in Syria. And the President has made very clear that it’s the policy of United States to support the universal human rights of citizens of those countries and to support their aspirations for participation in their political systems, for respect for those human rights, for economic opportunity and we recognize this is just the beginning. This is a process that is going to be with us for many years, but the United States is going to do everything it can to be supportive of a wave in that part of the world that we believe is going to bring a lot of short term complications. It’s not going to be easy, but I think holds enormous promise over the long run for peoples in that region.

QUESTION: Another thing, US has formally withdrawn its military from Iraq -- how do you see that playing out in Afghanistan? When do you think some such situation will happen in Afghanistan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, NATO made a decision at the Lisbon Summit last year that by the end of 2014, responsibility for security in Afghanistan will be turned over to the Afghan leadership itself. Our challenge between now and then is to do everything we can to support the modernization and strengthening of the Afghan national army and the Afghan security forces, to work with our ISAF partners against the Taliban and violent extremists in Afghanistan who threaten that kind of stability; it’s to do everything we can do to be supportive of a stronger economy and better governance in Afghanistan. And also and not least importantly a very high priority in our approach is to work with all of the of the key players in the neighborhood in the international community to strengthen support for Afghanistan and to make clear that our support is not going to end at the end of 2014, it’s just going to move into a different phase.

But I think it’s critically important that we avoid the mistakes of the 1990s when there was a tendency after the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan for people to turn their attention elsewhere. And I think Indians understand better than anyone it’s very important for the international community not to repeat that mistake. We welcome India’s involvement particularly in development efforts and investment efforts in Afghanistan; we welcome the strategic partnership agreement that was reached between the Afghan and Indian governments recently, and we want to continue to work closely to promote a stable Afghanistan which, you know, is not going to be a challenge that ends at the end of 2014; we are going to have to continue to work at it.

QUESTION: Also, now that the U.S. has taken out Osama right from the heart of Pakistan, there are several other fugitives who are now believed to be in Pakistan. So what kind of pressure, do you think, is going to work because the decision to freeze the funds to Pakistan has been rolled back; so what is the kind of pressure that you want to put on Pakistan to make sure that they are cooperating?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The reality is that violent extremists, particularly Al-Qaeda, are as much a threat to Pakistan and its future as they are to anyone else. And it’s a point that we continue to drive home at every opportunity. It’s in our mutual interests to work against Al-Qaeda. Now the truth is there have been more terrorists killed in Pakistan than just about anyplace else, and so as President Obama has said before, there has been a significant degree of cooperation from Pakistan at different moments in the past and we want to try to build on that because again. The threat is not something that is directed just against United States or India or Afghanistan; it’s directed against Pakistan and its future as well. That will remain our very firm sense of purpose.

QUESTION: A year back, just complementing this question, when President Obama had come to India, he had remarked that, Pakistan is doing, but it’s not doing much to our expectation. This was a sense which was quoted by him. So what is the current situation and how does U.S. view this situation? Is Pakistan doing enough for acting against terrorism?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The challenge requires all of us to do more and certainly we hope very much that cooperation with Pakistan in fighting violent extremists can expand and increase in the future. Again, as I said, because it’s a common threat, it’s not a favor to the United States or anyone else. It’s deeply in the interest of Pakistan to fight against those groups.

MODERATOR:: Maybe we have time for one more question.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. administration still against Narendra Modi’s visit to America—the Chief Minister of Gujarat?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well if your question is about the visa, there are two parts to the answer. I can’t honestly comment on past visa issues because those are private in our law; and second, if any individual applies for a visa in the future, they would be dealt with on the merits but I also can’t make predictions.

QUESTION: Just one more on this: that currently everywhere, in India also and everywhere, people’s movements have got attention and they have momentum also. The protestor is Time’s man of the year. So how do you look at this? They are actually… All these movements are arising through social networking sites also, and everywhere. It is catching up? How does the U.S. look at this, for seeking change and in the U.S. also?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there is a lot of frustration in the U.S. It’s not exactly a secret — over economic issues, there’s frustration with Wall Street, you know it goes back to 2008, which continues today, at a time when too many people are finding it difficult to find employment. Now I believe that the most recent indicators offer some basis for hope that you are going to see broader economic progress in U.S.; unemployment figures are coming down; I think there is the potential for reviving step-by-step economic growth in the United States and I am an optimist about the possibilities for revival of the American economy, because I think we have a capacity to innovate and I think there is a great deal of potential if we can create a more open trading environment globally. India benefits from that as much as anyone because of your capacity to trade with the rest of the world. So we are envious of the high growth rates that India has but I am an optimist about what’s possible for the American economy. But I think that to answer your question I think that the protests you see are a reflection of the sense of frustration and you see it taking different forms in different countries.

In the Arab world, to go back to the earlier question, I think a lot of the deep frustration you see is about dignity; you know is about the people’s sense – or about the lack of dignity – whether it is in political systems, economic systems, in unresolved regional conflicts, and that’s what people are trying to address and from the point of view of Americans, I mean it’s important to understand that it’s not about us; it’s about people in those societies who are trying to realize that kind of dignity. It’s not about us, but it matters a lot to us, which is why to get back to your earlier question, we have such an interest in contributing to a sense of economic possibility in a country like Egypt and also being supportive of people’s interests in creating a democratic institutions. I t doesn’t happen overnight; it’s going to take years. But it is a very important direction.

QUESTION: A very short question. Now the U.S. is entering the election phase. European economies are in a mess right now. And a favorite whipping horse during elections – as I witnessed during rallies there -- is this whole thing about India and China stealing American jobs. So do you think anything on that front we should be worried about—India -- in terms of outsourcing?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think partly as a result of President Obama’s visit here and Prime Minister Singh’s visit to the United States, I think there is a greater recognition in the United States about the mutual benefits in our expanding economic relationship -- that the growth of trade and investment between the United States and India in recent years has actually created thousands of jobs in both our countries— that both of us benefit from some of the positive changes that we have seen recently. S o I think people understand clearly, even at a moment of economic frustration, all the benefits for us of expanding economic relationships overseas—particularly with India.

QUESTION: No, I guess we all understand that. But every election rally that I went to there— I was there last fall, they would all talk about this; and people would start clapping; and we all understand that we have quit jobs here and similarly there. But does the public understand that? We all know that the health bill is really good for the U.S., but there is tremendous opposition.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think, as I said, because of the attention that has been focused on our relationship especially with the President’s visit here, which did capture attention in the United States, I honestly do believe that there is a healthier understanding that this is a two-way street, and that we both benefit from expanding trade and investment. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t frustrations on both sides. There is a sense of impatience sometimes, but my honest answer is that people generally appreciate the possibilities that exist right now.

QUESTION: One question I want to ask about the Arab street, when the revolution came in Tunisia in the Egypt, the Islamic party came to power. So what is the view of the Obama administration in this regard?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well our focus is on the playing field. Our focus is on playing by the democratic rules of the game. And so we have made very clear that as long as the players are on that playing field, play by the rules -- in other words, they are committed to non violence, to the realization of political choices through democratic means, respect for the rule of law, that’s a part of what democracy is…

MODERATOR: Ok, this is really the last question!

QUESTION: Do you think a progress has been made for the Security Council seat for India?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: First, the point of the view of the United States: President Obama made very clear that we welcome India’s membership in a reformed Security Council in the years ahead. It’s a complicated issue with the U.S. being only one of a number of players on this issue. But you know, our position was very clearly stated by the President and it reflects the reality that the U.S. is making a very important strategic bet on India’s rise not only for India but for the United States and the kind of world you want to see, and the decision that the President announced on the Security Council about America’s position on that issue is very much a reflection of that conviction.

Thank you.



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