Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
August 7, 2009


QUESTION: Secretary Clinton’s trip, euphoric in the U.S. I spoke to a lot of analysts, et cetera, but mixed in India; some euphoric, some lukewarm. The Secretary, however, clearly spelled out her agenda – the President’s agenda at the USIBC and then all over India while she was there. How do you take it to the next level, the 3.0 that she spoke about? Where do you sort of go from here in putting meat on this agenda, and sort of the tangible implementation of some of the agreements, et cetera, that you have reached?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as you say, the Secretary had a very successful trip to India, both on the public diplomacy front in explaining that India is going to be one of our most important strategic partners in the 21st century, but also in telling our Indian friends, both to the public but also to those in the government that we feel that there are enormous opportunities in our relationship now, not only on the bilateral side in terms of all of the various dialogues that we’ve set up, but also increasingly to work productively on the multilateral front on very important global issues like climate change, nonproliferation, trade, and so forth. I think that the Indians agree with that, and so we feel that there’s really a very important opportunity, and I want to underscore that.

In terms of your specific question, as you know, we set up five pillars of cooperation, and the Secretary of State will oversee these pillars along with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Krishna. This is really an attempt on our part, both of our parts, to elevate our strategic dialogue. What we plan to do is to have all of these dialogues that were mentioned in the joint statement and in our fact sheet meet as soon as possible. Many of those are chaired at the cabinet level, but also many at the subcabinet level. So we want to have those meet as soon as possible and set forth action plans about how to move the ball forward in each of those areas.

I have to say that a lot of what we’re trying to do in many cases now is not so much obscure government work. It is to try to figure out ways to remove obstacles for private sector cooperation, or cooperation between academic institutions or cooperation between scientists and so forth. It’s really unleashing the potential of people outside of government to cooperate, because we feel there’s such a vast range of contacts that are already taking place across the board between India and the United States.

One of the most effective things that we can do is to try to empower those contacts further, and let me give you one specific example, which would be education, where for many years, as you know, American educational institutions have wanted to do much more in India, and really haven’t been able to do so because of various restrictions. Now, we understand from our Indian friends that there really are going to be numerous opportunities. The Minister of Education, Kapil Sibal is going to be shepherding a very important piece of legislation through the Lok Sabha this fall that we understand will enable new areas of participation for U.S. higher education and other educational institutions.

So all I can say is that our colleges and universities are chomping at the bit to do more in India, and this is a very good example of the kind of things that our two governments can do to allow our private institutions to work together. We’re very hopeful about opportunities in this sector, and we think that all of these young Indians who are now entering into the workforce, or will be in the next 20 years, will need the education to compete effectively in the 21st century. And we think that American universities are uniquely well-placed to help them to gain those skills. That is just one of many opportunities that we look to try to take advantage of in working with our friends in the government.

QUESTION: And in terms of those meetings that is going to take place in terms of running the ball and putting the meat to the bones and the agenda that the Secretary spelt – clearly spelt out, when are those going to take place? Soon, in a few months?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes, we are just in the process of organizing that right now. But certainly, you’ll be hearing about them because those will all be very high-profile events. But our goalpost is the Prime Minister’s visit, the state visit on November 24th here to Washington. So certainly by then, we hope to have had all of the major meetings and action plans developed, so the Secretary and her counterpart, Foreign Minister Krishna, can report to the two leaders where we plan to take all of these dialogues.

QUESTION: And obviously, I guess it is to be expected that there might be some announcements during the prime minister’s state visit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: In some of the areas that – the pillars that the Secretary spelt out?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I don’t want to try to preview that right away. That’s a little early to do that. But we’re certainly going to work on some important announcements.

QUESTION: And what is in store in terms of the prime minister’s visit? I believe he might come for the G-20 in Pittsburgh, too, while there are some reports --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Correct.

QUESTION: -- that he may not. What is in store in terms of the state visit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, there is a standard protocol for state visits, and that includes a reception, a receiving on the White House lawn and a very important ceremony there. There will be a state dinner. Typically, the two leaders will have a meeting and then maybe a wider meeting with the appropriate cabinet-level ministers and so forth.

QUESTION: Sort of a working lunch and then (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly. I think that this is going to be an extremely important event. This is our first state visit in the Obama Administration.
QUESTION: And in terms of – and there is a special significance, then, to the fact that it is the first state visit --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: -- in the Obama Administration.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly. I think that’s, again, a signal of the importance that we attach to our relations with India.

QUESTION: Yeah. And coming back, quickly, to the example you cited in terms of the education pillar and some of the forward meetings with Minister Sibal, et cetera, you know, South Asia experts like even Steve Cohen and others who have been sort of India hands for long, long time have always complained that Indians are pretty paranoid when it comes to things like research. (Phone rings.) Yeah, go ahead.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, no problem. Yeah. I was talking about sort of the paranoia, you know, that some of the South Asian scholars talk about in terms of doing some research, while there are no such (inaudible) where Indian students can come and do, you know, probably – not classified research, but some, you know, cutting-edge research, et cetera. So have these been sort of worked out and there is going to be more sort of openness where American scholars who are just dying to get out there and do so much work can go ahead and do that kind of work?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, I would say that already there’s an enormous amount of that kind of work already going on. But this is a cross-cutting theme in many of our dialogues. We’ll try to do more in science and technology, in education, in agriculture. And a very important component of many of those will be these research exchanges that you’re talking about. And so, yes, that will certainly be a theme. But I don’t want to imply that there are great restrictions. There is already an enormous amount of good work that’s being done and we’d like to just try our best to open up as many new opportunities for those kind of things to take place in areas such as health, and science and technology. Because, again, we see some of the big opportunities in the innovation and information economy that we both have. And so obviously, one of the important parts that underlies that is these academic and other exchanges.

QUESTION: Yeah. And quickly on that subject in terms of the people-to-people interactions you also spoke about, since India Abroad is the largest India newspaper here in the U.S., and sort of our consistuency, the large Indian American community, what role do you sort of foresee this sort of very affluent, vibrant, you know, politically-astute and savvy Indian American community, doing in terms of furthering the bridge that they were very catalytic in?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as you say, the – I think that the Diaspora played an enormously important role in the transformation that has taken place in our bilateral relations. And in many ways, they’ve been out in front of the governments ever since we started. And so I really have to pay considerable tribute to the very important role that they’ve already played.

I think we’d like to try in this Administration to do more to capitalize on that, and to do more outreach with the Indian Diaspora and other Diasporas as well, quite frankly. There are groups like the Bangladeshi Diaspora, the Pakistani Diaspora that have important roles to play as well. But I think the Indian Diaspora really came together around the civil nuclear agenda. And now that they are well-organized, I think that they’re a significant constituency. And so we’d like to, again, try to do more. I think what we’ll do is just brief them on all that we’re doing and see about ways that we can get their help, because I think that so many of them already are acting as bridges on all of these different spheres that I’ve just described. And so it’s just a matter of trying to understand how we can help them and perhaps how they can help us.

QUESTION: Yeah. And in terms of the G-20 meeting, although the President is going to have a series of bilaterals, one of each probably would be with the Indian prime minister, is there any sort of a tentative agenda or anything of that sort, or is it going to be strictly in terms of the whole –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I can’t really tell you. The people at the White House are really running the G-20 agenda. I just don’t have anything to tell you about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. And in terms of the end-use monitoring setup, not exactly the (inaudible) signed agreement, but sort of the understanding, there are still a lot of questions being raised. And of course, we all know about, you know, what went on in parliament, et cetera. What’s the clear Administration position on this? Will there be sort of ironclad agreement to be signed soon, so that this can go ahead? Because sort of the defense military industrial complex is just sort of salivating to get going on this.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the end-use monitoring. This is not an agreement that has to be signed. This is language that we have with 80 of our best trading partners around the world --

QUESTION: Yeah, most of them very close allies.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: – to enable us to do more, as you say, in a lot of this high technology trade, particularly on the defense side. And the language that has been agreed to is the language that will go into what are called letters of offers or letters of acceptance for specific contracts. So it’s not a matter of having some sort of written agreement or anything like that. It’s just getting that language together. And again, this is very standardized language that we have with all of our most important partners. I don’t think that anybody should read any particular – there’s nothing very secretive about this.

QUESTION: Yeah, nothing sinister. Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: This is just one more of many steps that we’ve taken to try to expand our defense trade. And again, I think the most recent figures are that the United States has exported something like $2.2 billion worth of various kinds of defense equipment to India. As you know, there are very important new contracts that will be coming up, the most important of which will be the multirole combat aircraft, but many others. And important considerations there will be the high technology components of some of those very important sales. This agreement helps to, again, expand access for Indian companies and the Indian Government to a lot of that high technology.

QUESTION: Yeah. And after all, this is sort of a congressional requirement also.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. And of course, there will be the usual submissions.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I wouldn’t say congressional, it’s a legal requirement.

QUESTION: A legal requirement.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s under our --

QUESTION: Yeah. And in terms of the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, as always, you know, the boisterous and noisy Indian parliaments and Indian journalists, et cetera, always talk about, you know, is this going to happen? But that’s a done deal. And I guess now it’s the case of implementation of that deal.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.

QUESTION: Yeah, but also, there are fears among some critics that, as they like to call them, the nuclear ayatollahs, the nonproliferation ayatollahs of Bob Einhorn, Ellen Tauscher, Gary Samore – he’s at the National Security Council et cetera, all that, and that there might be some sort of pressure that the U.S. may prevail upon India in terms of NPT, CTBT, FMCT, et cetera. And since the U.S. is very committed to those, the CTBT ban, NPT, as well as the FMCT, and the U.S. wants to put it on a fast track, where do you see India on these issues? And will the U.S. prevail on India?

(Laughter.) Yeah. Well, I didn’t want –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There are several different questions there. First of all, on the civil nuclear initiative, the Administration is fully committed to implementing the civil nuclear initiative. We are making good progress in that regard. I want to say that there was nothing in the recent G-8 language that is going to affect that cooperation There’s been a little bit of a misunderstanding about some of the enrichment and reprocessing and statements the Secretary have made. There have been no changes in our policy on those, and we remain fully committed to our civil nuclear cooperation. Let me just reassure your readers that.

We think, again, there are some big opportunities. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Krishna announced during the visit that the Indians will establish two reactor parks, in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, where American companies can come and invest. I think our companies are very excited abut that.

There’s still one more important step that needs to be taken, which is the passage by the Lok Sabha of the liability legislation that would protect our companies, because unlike, let’s say, the French companies, many of whom are government-owned companies, ours are all private, and so they need that very important liability legislation.

But again, I don’t foresee a problem there. From what we understand from our Indian friends, that’s been passed through all of the government parts of the process and now needs to be cleared through the parliament as well. So they don’t anticipate a problem; it’s just a matter of getting that done and getting it voted on. So again, we see good opportunities there on the bilateral side.

With respect to the multilateral side, I wouldn’t characterize people like Under Secretary Tauscher and Bob Einhorn and Gary Samore, as nuclear ayatollahs. These are all people that have a great deal of experience. Bob Einhorn and Gary Samore have worked a lot on India and are, I think, well and favorably known inside India. We think the civil nuclear agreement unlocks the possibility for us to cooperate much more on some of these big global nonproliferation issues. And India wants to work on these issues with us, and they’ve said so publicly. Shyam Saran and others have said that. We welcome that. Under Secretary Tauscher and Bob Einhorn and Gary and others will all be working in these dialogues with their Indian counterparts to explore the way forward.

So again, I would emphasize the positive here that we really do have an opportunity to work constructively with our Indian friends. The President, as you know, laid out a very ambitious agenda in Prague outlining his vision for a world that is free of nuclear weapons. Manmohan Singh at various times has echoed that vision, but of course wants to make sure that other countries in the region will also be part of that, and that’s certainly perfectly understandable. So we want to work closely with our Indian friends, and we believe there are good opportunities to achieve progress.

QUESTION: And you also said that there is nothing to fear, like in terms of the G-8 language, and there has been so much being written of it. And in spite of the Secretary making very clear during her trip that there was nothing to fear, there is still the debate’s that going on, et cetera. And the argument is that while India may not have to worry about nuclear fuel supplies, they may have to worry about things like nuclear technology and other such technologies, high technologies, which is sort of encompassed in the G-8 language. Is that something for India to worry about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, it depends what you mean by nuclear technology. If you’re talking about civil nuclear energy technology, reactors for example, I don’t think they do need to worry about that. This is something that we’re going to do. Obviously, there’s a licensing process that has to take place. But as I said, our companies are very excited about working with your country to provide more, to help secure your energy future, a part of which will be from nuclear power. And so we want to be a part of that new future, and so I wouldn’t worry about that part of it.

QUESTION: Yeah. And India has sort of unambiguously asserted that it will not accept any caps on carbon emissions. And of course, the Indian minister, standing next to the Secretary herself, had some very tough words on this. Will this be sort of a hiccup in terms of the U.S.-India 3.0 that the Secretary keeps talking about? Because climate change is going to be a major issue, and it’s a major issue for the President.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.

QUESTION: And of course, Secretary – at least Senator Kerry was out at the National Press Club last week, also speaking about the tough words that the Indian minister --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- in terms of climate change. So how much of a hiccup are you anticipating in implementing 3.0?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m not anticipating that much of a hiccup. I think that there is much more that unites us than divides us on the issue of climate change. And in that same meeting that you referred to that the Secretary had with Minister Jairam Ramesh, the Minister outlined the important steps that India is already taking on the mitigation front and on the adaptation front.

We came away from that meeting, and from Special Envoy Todd Stern’s subsequent meetings with a wide range of Indian counterparts and with the Indian business community and with the NGO community, that India wants to work with us towards a successful outcome at Copenhagen, and we welcome that. And again, we think that there is much more that unites us than divides us. And so I would put the focus on that, and not on any particular remark that the minister might have made.

But there is also a sort of Doha – can the Doha round be completed? And India has been sort of uncompromising on the issue, like agriculture, and wants to protect its farmers. How much of a bridging of differences do you see in terms of hopefully completing the Doha round?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think it’s significant that one of the very first visits that Minister Sharma made after his swearing-in, after he became the new minister, was to Washington to come meet with our U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who also is new to the job. And I think that the statements that you saw coming out from both of them reflected a new, more business-like attitude to work together to achieve a successful outcome. I think that with your elections behind you, and our elections behind us, that, in many ways, removes a fairly significant barrier, because of course everybody’s so worried about what the voters might perceive or misperceive about various positions that might be taken in these.

So we now have a five-year window, at least on the Indian side, and a four-year window on our side, in terms of the electoral cycle, to make some progress. And we hope that there will be a successful Doha round. And we think that the prospects are better now. I don’t want to go further than that because we’re just starting the process. But again, the first statements and the first meetings that have taken place offer signs of encouragement.

QUESTION: In terms of India-Pakistan relations, there is also the contention in some circles that the U.S. sort of prevailed upon India to have this meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that the U.S. has been pushing for the resurrection of the composite dialogue. What exactly happened? What’s going on here in terms of a U.S. role in terms of trying to bring India and Pakistan back to the composite dialogue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would like to categorically deny that the United States had anything to do with the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting. That was a purely India-Pakistan initiative that took place, and a very welcome one, I might add. It was the latest in a series of meetings that have taken place. There was a previous meeting in Yekaterinburgh. The foreign secretaries have met, the foreign ministers have met, and we believe those are very welcome. There was no U.S. role in any of those meetings. These are things that were arranged purely by the two sides. Of course, we welcome the progress, the meetings that take place.

In terms of next steps, I think the prime minister has already talked about that, Prime Minister Singh, which is that for there to be progress to restart the composite dialogue, India hopes that Pakistan first will prosecute the five Mumbai suspects, and I think more broadly that they will, and that Pakistan will take steps to ensure that Pakistani soil is not used as a platform to attack India or, for that matter, other countries – Afghanistan, United States, and others.

So I think those will be important steps for Pakistan to take, and that those will then provide the basis for a resumption, we hope, and I know the prime minister hopes, of the composite dialogue and of many confidence-building measures that were agreed to and were, in fact, implemented from 2004 to 2007. I think many people have forgotten the tremendous progress that was made in that time between the two countries, again, entirely on their own initiative, without any involvement from the United States or any other country.

So we very much hope that both countries can get back to that level of cooperation. And as we look ahead, we think there are great opportunities. Let me just take one example, which would be trade. I think the level of your bilateral trade now is about $2.1 billion, if I’m not mistaken. A lot of the trade that in fact takes place is hidden. A lot of India’s exports go through Dubai and things like that. If you were to take two similar countries – China and Indonesia, who are not neighboring countries, so – but they have roughly the same populations. The level of their bilateral trade is $30 billion. So it just shows that there’s tremendous scope, particularly because India and Pakistan are right on each other’s borders. There’s tremendous scope for significantly expanded trade, which would put many people to work on both sides of the border and would benefit your societies and your economies.

And so again, I just hope that both countries can get beyond the narrow issue of terrorism and that progress can be made on that that will then enable some of these very important other opportunities to be seized.

QUESTION: But on this issue, India has been very insistent that the Pakistanis bring the Mumbai terror perpetrators to justice. And there is a belief that the Pakistanis are hedging and putting a lot of other issues on the table, et cetera. How much is the U.S. pushing Pakistan in terms of bringing these perpetrators (inaudible) and also to once and for all close down these training camps, close down militant groups like Lakshar e-Tayyiba, et cetera?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, this is a larger issue than just LET. The United States is working very hard with our friends in Pakistan to improve their capabilities to take action on on this threat. And let me stress that the militant groups inside Pakistan are a threat to Pakistan. Pakistan has been a country that has suffered greatly from terrorism, and so I think Pakistan already has taken important measures to address that threat, most particularly in the Swat Valley. We welcome the steps that they have taken, and we welcome the statements that have been made by Pakistani officials, senior officials, that they do not want to have Pakistani soil be used by terrorists of all stripes to attack neighboring countries or attack the United States. And that’s our objective, and that’s the shared objective of all three countries, the United States and India and Pakistan. And I think we have a good opportunity to work productively on those issues. And certainly, we encourage continued progress by the Pakistanis on these issues.

QUESTION: You mentioned – you categorically denied that the U.S. had anything to do in terms of Sharm el-Sheikh meeting.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Correct.

QUESTION: So would you also categorically deny – because there has been speculation that the U.S. had something to do with the joint statement vis-à-vis Balochistan, et cetera.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly. Same thing. We had nothing to do with the joint statement, I can assure you.

QUESTION: Yeah. And it was not a case of, you know, trying to insert Balochistan so that the peace process could take place? Nothing of the sort?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No. It had nothing to do with that.

QUESTION: Categorical denial on all those issues?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Yeah. And –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m afraid I’m going to have to run –

QUESTION: Can I have two quick questions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: One last question.

QUESTONI: Yeah, yeah. Well, then let me –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Choose your one.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I think I’ll choose the –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Because I’ve got to run at 11.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Since you were ambassador in Sri Lanka, U.S. put a lot of pressure in terms of the humanitarian issues preceding the campaign against Prabhakaran and the LTTE. Where do you stand in terms of U.S. policy? What do you like Sri Lanka to do now on the whole Sri Lanka issue, because there is still a lot of fears by the Tamils? There is a sense of vulnerability, et cetera.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right. Well, very briefly, we have encouraged progress on two particular fronts. First, on the humanitarian front, there are still more than 250,000 internally displaced persons who are residing in camps under detention conditions, and so we’ve encouraged the Sri Lankan Government to allow them freedom of movement, and, more importantly, to allow them to be resettled to their homes as quickly as possible. The government has pledged to resettle the majority of the IDPs by the end of this year, which would certainly be a very welcome step. We encourage rapid progress towards that goal, but also steps taken so that the international community and the UN and ICRC and others have access to the camps so that the IDPs who are there now can be assured that they are receiving treatment and that everything that goes on there is up to international standards. So that’s really what we’re seeking.

Secondly, we hope that our friends in Sri Lanka will make progress towards greater political reconciliation, because really, that’s the only way that there’s going to be a definitive end to terrorism. And that means figuring out ways to have a dialogue with the Tamil community, the wide Tamil community inside, but also outside –

QUESTION: Absolutely.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: India on –

QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly – I’m sorry, outside Sri Lanka, about exactly what those measures should entail. Clearly, that will include devolution of power under the 13th amendment, but there may be other suggestions as well. I think it’s important for there to be significant outreach, and it needs to take place sooner rather than later. We’ve been disappointed to hear recent statements by the president that he’s not going to be in a position to take any measures on devolution of power until after presidential elections. We think that something needs to take place more quickly than that, and we are encouraging the government to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Any chance of a quickie just on Kashmir, because –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I really got to go.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Wish you all the best.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, sir.

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