Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
November 16, 2009

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much Devinda for that introduction, and thank you Dr. Prakash for organizing this today. It is a great pleasure for me to share the stage with a lot of friends and colleagues, and of course with my old friend Arun Singh. We’ve done a lot of business and he is a great friend. Jonah Blank of course for playing a critical role up on the hill with Senator Kerry, and Raja Mohan who first taught me about Indian-American relations when I arrived in Delhi in 2003. And of course Ted, who has done such an outstanding job at the US-India Business Council.

I’m also happy to see a lot of old friends in the audience today. Much of what I have to say probably won’t surprise too many of you, because you all follow it very closely. But let me just tell you briefly about our view of the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which is very notable because it is the first state visit of any foreign leader under the Obama Administration. I think there is a reason for that, and that is that we want to take our strategic partnership with India to the next level. We feel that India is going to be one of our most important partners in the 21st century, and we are putting in place now a wide range of bilateral cooperation to really reflect that new level of engagement.

We are very optimistic now that we have a significant opportunity to make some progress on our bilateral relations. President Obama has recently taken office, so he has a couple of years left, and will hopefully be re-elected. Prime Minister Singh also came through with a strong showing in elections in May, and because of that doesn’t have to rely on some of his unhelpful coalition partners of before, and therefore I think has a much better ability to pursue the policies that he thinks are right. The PM courageously staked his own government on the civil nuclear initiative last year, so I think it’s clear that he attaches great importance to the relationship with the United States, but I’ll let Arun speak about that.

In terms of relations with India from the US perspective, I think it really began to turn after 9/11, when we began to see increasingly convergent values and interests, and we were able to put the Pokhran sanctions that Dr. Prakash has made reference to, behind us, and quickly put into place a new strategic partnership. I think what is truly notable about our relations now is that there really is bipartisan support both in the US and in India for taking this relationship forward. And I will come back to that at the end particularly with respect to the people-to-people ties that we have. In the last administration their most signature work was on the civil nuclear initiative, which transformed the most significant bilateral irritant into a real strategic opportunity, and I want to say that the Obama Administration is fully committed to the civil nuclear partnership. Under Secretary of State Bill Burns and I were in India about a month ago, and near the end of that visit the Indians announced that the two nuclear reactor part sites in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat will be dedicated to the United States, which is obviously a very welcome step and again we are firmly committed to moving forward on that as soon as possible.

Secretary of State Clinton was in Delhi in July of this year and she was the first to really announce our intentions to take our relations to a new level – she announced a new strategic partnership and dialogue with India that will have five key pillars. Let me just briefly summarize some of the activities in those pillars.

First is in strategic cooperation. I see a lot of friends from the defense industry here, obviously our bilateral exchange program has been growing very rapidly over the years both in sophistication and in scope. Practical cooperation is now occurring, for example we are working together to combat some of the piracy that is taking place off the Somali coast. Defense sales are also rising rapidly. Recently contracts were awarded for C1-30Js and P8s and there are up to 18 billion dollars of contracts that will be made available over the next several years that American companies will be competing for, most significantly, the multi-role combat aircraft, in which two American companies are competitors. On the CT (counter terrorism) front, again I think our cooperation has expanded quite rapidly, especially since 26/11, the terrible attacks that occurred in Mumbai. Home Minister Chidambaram was here in September for a very important and high-level visit in which he saw Secretary-level counterparts in many different government agencies. I think based on that we have a very clear way forward to expand our cooperation in that area. Lastly in the strategic front is non-proliferation, where again I think we have for the first time a real opportunity to work with our friends in India. Our Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher was in India for what we call “strategic stability talks,” and I’d be glad to talk about that later if there is interest in that.

The second pillar that we think is going to be a very important part of our future collaboration will be in the area of energy and climate change. With the Copenhagen Conference now only less than a month away this is obviously a very significant time in our energy cooperation and particularly in climate change cooperation. Certainly it is very important that India, China, and other developing countries work with us to achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen. India only emits about 4% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but as we all know the Indian economy is growing very rapidly now, and as that expansion continues, its greenhouse gases are projected to increase by 50% over the next 20 years. I think you will see here in the course of this visit we will have some important deliverables to announce in the area of energy and climate change.

The third important area in our cooperation is economics, trade, and agriculture. As I don’t need to tell this audience, the Indian economy has been one of the fastest growing in the world over the last several years. Largely on the strength of reforms that were first initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he was finance minister beginning in 1991. We have seen the results of that in terms of our own trade and investment. Our bilateral trade has doubled over the past 5 years. American investment is now 18 billion dollars and growing, and I think it’s really a factor of the significant growth that we’ve seen in some of the industries inside India that have been empowered by these reforms, particularly in IT, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and increasingly in manufacturing and clean energy. So I feel that American companies feel that there are significant opportunities to work with our friends in India on those and many other fields.

Climate change is going to have a very significant impact in India. There have been recent studies that have shown that if current climate change projections continue, South Asia will be the most seriously affected of all regions in the world. Food production will be seriously affected, and a particular effect on subsistence farmers in India. I think there is a particular urgency therefore for us to work together on not only climate change solutions but also in agriculture, because that can really benefit a large rural majority in India that I think is such an important part of securing India’s future. We will have some announcements to make in that area as well.

The fourth pillar is in education and development, and again I think this is going to be one of the most significant parts that we’ll be working on together in these next several years. As I think you know, the HRD minister/Education minister Kapil Sibal was recently here in the US touring around various university campuses, in advance of a bill he intends to introduce in the Lok Sabha, the Parliament of India, to authorize the possibility of foreign investment in the education sector. He said during his visit that there are now 220 million Indians who are enrolled in primary and secondary schools in India, of whom only about 10 million have the opportunity to go to college.

The Indians would like to raise that to about 30%, to enhance their own knowledge-society and knowledge-economy, and I think that American universities of all kinds are extremely interested in working with India and expanding their presences in India if that new law does permit it. And that would be everything from the very high-end Ivy League universities to more technical universities and community colleges. So we are very excited about the possibilities that I am sure Arun will have more to say about.

The last key pillar is in the area of science technology and innovation, and again this is like education, something that cuts across the full range of our activities with India. Secretary of State Clinton and her counterpart External Affairs Minister Krishna signed an agreement during Secretary Clinton’s visit that created a 30 million dollar science and technology endowment that will be used for joint research and development and innovation and commercialization activities in science and technology. I’m very happy to see Satish Kulkarni, our former science counselor, who had a very big hand in getting that endowment going. So those are the five pillars.

One of the things I’d really like to emphasize, is that the Obama Administration would really like to do much more to engage the private sector, both in public-private partnerships, but also in advising and working with both governments to see how we can move the private sector portion of every one of those dialogues that I just talked about into the forefront. Traditionally the private sector has been mostly engaged on the economic side of things, as you might expect, with trying to promote trade, investment, and some of those things. But as I said earlier we really have an opportunity now to work in energy, education, science and technology, with the new education bill there will be the opportunity to think about research triangles and really mobilize not only our governments but increasingly our private sectors, our scientists, and our researchers, to all be working together in a very synergistic way.

I think we are very excited about those opportunities. The CEO Forum, the membership of that has been changed on both sides to reflect some of these new opportunities and agendas we are working on. The CEO Forum will meet on the margins of the summit next week, and will also have a brief meeting I think with the President and Prime Minister.

Let me just say a word about some of the global challenges and multilateral issues we have been working on. I think one of the real marks of the big changes that are taking place is that I can stand up here today and talk about the possibility that we are going to work more in the multilateral context on some of these big important issues like climate change, nonproliferation, and global trade, where even a few years ago cooperation was often difficult quite frankly. We really see that there are significant new opportunities to work with our Indian friends; there is a much greater willingness in India to work with us, to work with other partners, and to be part of the solution to these big global challenges. We see that already in the context of the G20 and certainly in things like the Major Economies Forum where the President and Prime Minister have already worked very closely together, but I think you are going to see more and more of that as part of our relationship over time.

I would like to just conclude with a very brief mention of the people-to-people ties between our countries, because I think that really has underpinned the strength of the ties between our two countries. Polls have consistently showed in India a very strong support for the United States, even when polls in other countries did not show such a strong support, and I think that is because of the tremendous impact the Indian-American community here has had and the tremendous success that they have enjoyed in helping to build our own society, to build our knowledge-economy. As you know there more than 2 million Indian-Americans, they increasingly came together as a diaspora, and it is a group that we in the Administration want to work much more closely with in every aspect of what we are doing.

Just like the CEO Forum, I had some meetings last week up in New York, sponsored by the Asia Society, where we had some very good discussions on ways we might take that forward. The other very key group of people are all the students. Most recent studies have shown that there are now 103,000 Indian students in the United States studying in the 2008-2009 academic year, which is really quite an extraordinary figure. They are the largest group of foreign students in the United States, and are certainly very welcome all over our great country. When I was in India, because of their presence, we saw so many American University representatives coming out to India to express their interest in doing more, both to attract your students, but also to try to get exchanges going in the other direction as well, which is something we very much welcome.

So let me stop here, and not take any of Arun’s time or more of it, and just say how excited we are about welcoming the Prime Minister here, we really think we have a unique opportunity over the next three to four years to really achieve something special. And again a warm thanks to Bridging Nations and all our other sponsors here today for putting this on.

Questions and Answers Session with Assistant Secretary Robert O. Blake, Jr. and Ambassador Arun Singh, Deputy Chief of Mission, Indian Embassy.

QUESTION: Ambassador Blake, will human rights be on the table when Obama meets Singh? Especially, the concern is what happened in Kashmir. To Ambassador Singh, if the relationship is so strong, why did the Indian government refuse (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t expect human rights to be a major focus of the visit, and it’s hard for me to say what will come up, but India is a democracy and committed to human rights. Of course there are human rights violations, but we have a good dialogue in the Indian government, and increasingly we want to work with India on human rights issues outside of India. Things like Iran and countries like that, I think that is more of the focus of where we are looking in the future.

AMBASSADOR SINGH: The point I would make is that no country in the world is perfect in terms of conserving human rights and norms, and in India we have a vibrant democracy, a vibrant civil society, and an extremely vibrant media. We have more than 70 24-hour news channels. Much of the problems that there are in Indian society are brought to the fore by Indian civil society activists, so there is a clear sense that the mechanisms in India exist to deal with problems that exist in society – and all societies deal with problems of different kinds. And I think there is a sense in India that we have a certain framework, and of course there are certain challenges at certain times, but the mechanisms that are there, both in government, civil society, and media, are sufficient for us to attempt to tackle whatever constraints we have.

QUESTION: I would like to take Ambassador Blake up on his offer to discuss a little more the visit to India by Under Secretary Tauscher. The question is in addition to the broader strategic stabilities issues – is there any discussion of export controls and streamlining them to facilitate US-India trade?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you John. I would characterize Under Secretary Tauscher’s talks as kind of ‘getting to know you’ talks with her new counterpart. This first round was for the two sides to explain their positions on all the important issues – on the nonproliferation/disarmament agenda – as Arun said during his remarks our two leaders share a mission of trying to get to a nuclear weapons free world. We will be talking about the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), CTBT, and many other issues. And I think there is a sense that we can work together on many of these important issues, including on export controls, where there has been a steady progress on lifting export controls as India has strengthened its own nonproliferation and its own internal controls, so I would expect that trend to continue.

QUESTION: My question is while Prime Minister Singh visits Washington, India is still under a high level of red alert from terrorism, facing threats on many fronts. So what do you think the Indian government and the Prime Minister is thinking about this because the threats are not going to go away, especially from China and other neighbors in the region?

AMBASSADOR SINGH: In terms of the talk of terrorism, clearly there is something our government is very conscious about. We are taking whatever steps can be taken relative to that. We had good cooperation from the United States, including after the 26/11 Mumbai attack, in terms of sharing of information and intelligence, to deal with the threat, which is really a common threat to all countries. I think people realize that nobody is safe from the reach of terrorism – the kind of linkages they have, given the support they provide each other, in terms of infrastructure, ideology, weapons, funding, etc. So clearly all groups tend to (inaudible) and this forms a real challenge to everyone, and that’s why we find a common interest in dealing with this damage.

QUESTION: Ambassador Blake, how is the endowment project being implemented?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well if you are referring to the science and technology endowment, we have a joint board that reviews proposals and funds them, so it is a fairly simple mechanism. Again we feel that there is an opportunity not only for our scientists to work together, but also increasingly for the business community to get involved not only in funding it, but also in working more closely to generate ideas. Once the education cooperation begins, I think many of our universities will be quite interested in partnering with Indian counterparts in many of these areas.

QUESTION: Ambassador Blake, what are US expectations of India-Afghanistan? Does the US subscribe to the Pakistani criticism that (inaudible) India should or does the US want India to increase its footprint in Afghanistan beyond what has now been done?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well I wouldn’t say that we have expectations. I would say that we welcome the important role that India has played in Afghanistan. India has invested more than 1.2 billion dollars in various reconstruction projects that Arun just described. I think those are playing a very helpful role in helping to stabilize Afghanistan and help the Afghan people. (Do you want India to get even more involved then?) Again that is up to India to decide, I don’t want to dictate what India should and should not do.

QUESTION: Ambassador Blake, you spoke about some deliverables on climate change and agriculture, have you all nailed this down considering that most of the principals are in the country. And also, in terms of the residuals that are still there in the civilian-nuclear deal, you know I know you all make the commitment to the deal, but it seems to be a hanging thread here. What exactly are the residuals that need to be sorted out here?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I will answer the 2nd question first. Again let me reiterate that we are committed to full implementation of the civil-nuclear deal. After the announcement of the civil-nuclear sites, I would say that the main interest now from the perspective of our companies is to see the passage of liability legislation. Unlike the French and Russian companies, many of which are associated with state-owned enterprises, all of our companies are private, and therefore they need that legislation to move forward. I don’t think there is any particular issue there; I think it has mostly been through the Indian bureaucracy already, I think it is just a matter of going through Parliament. I think we have received assurances that that should not encounter any undue difficulties.

With respect to climate change, deliverables if you will, I would just say that will be an extremely important part of our future cooperation. I don’t want to talk about the ins and outs of what we are and are not doing right now, we will have something to announce with the visit. For those of you that have been following the President’s meetings with APEC leaders in Singapore, they announced at that time that there is going to be a little bit of a change in terms of what we are seeking at the Copenhagen meeting itself. There is a recognition that we are unlikely to reach a global binding agreement by early December, so the Danish prime minister has announced that the international community will seek to reach what he called a “prompt start accord,” that is basically an interim agreement that would cover all of the major issues – mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology, cooperation, dissemination, forests, etc – and that that would be a step towards an agreement, not a substitute for that agreement. So again I think India is making progress on all of those issues, and again I don’t want to get out ahead of our two leaders and what they’re going to announce.

QUESTION: Hi I’m Gary Marat, a USAID alumni, I want to thank you very much Ambassador for mentioning Norman Borlaug. That was one of the most singular things that USAID ever did, was to foster that green revolution in collaboration with India. My question realizing that of course formal public sector aid of the sort that USAID has managed a very small part of the whole thing these days, that said are these meetings of your conferalls dealing at all with the USAID-type interest, one of the things that’s crippled USAID in recent years has been the proliferation of US public sector transfers to all kinds of agencies. Are you giving any thought to USAID’s future role in better consolidation of US government sector transfers? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think USAID will have a role to play. I wouldn’t say it’s the major role. I think increasingly we’re looking at what we’re doing in all of our assistance now, which is public-private partnerships. If you look at, for example, what we’re doing in the area of health, by far the largest program now from the USAID perspective, we leverage about roughly 3 dollars for every 1 dollar spent, so in terms of public-private sector support, and I think we’ll try to do the same on agricultural cooperation. Obviously, there’s a very strong science and technology component, as Arun described, but also increasingly a private sector one, because we have already quite a substantial American company investment India, principally in Punjab and in other areas as well. We have groups like Walmart that now has a joint venture with Bharti, and they’ve already sent up a wholesale venture, again, just outside of Amritsar, and they’ll be significantly expanding that. One of their principal focuses will be precisely what Arun was talking about; the whole farm-to-market challenge, the cold chain and reducing the post-harvest losses that have taken place traditionally.

I do think there is going to be a quite a substantial expansion of private sector activity working with government, that’s where the CEO Forum comes in, but we’ll also be looking to tap the expertise of our universities and our agricultural universities that have played such an important role in the past. So, it’s going to be a quite important multi-sectoral initiative.

AMBASSADOR SINGH: I just wanted to add the point that different mechanisms will work towards powerful cooperation. Clearly, there will be some role for USAID. There will be an important role for the private sector and also many areas of cooperation that we are bringing about. It’s contribution by both sides. If you look at the science and technology and government for example, it’s a 15 million dollar contribution by each side. Earlier we had the Fulbright Scholarship Program, now it is the Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship Program, where each side will make a matching contribution. So, I think reflecting the changes and growth taking place in India, the attempt is to have it as a mutually beneficial partnership rather than just a one-way flow. And even in terms of investments, as I’ve mentioned, we have done more than 18 billion dollars worth of investments in the last 5 years in the US, and 10 billion dollars in 2008. So there is a significant Indian investment. So, seeing whatever works best and reflecting, sort of, new levels of progress in India, we’ve brought different mechanisms.

MODERATOR: We’ll take 3 more questions, then we’ll have to hold the rest of the questions to the panel. If you have questions, let’s run through the questions, perhaps we can run through the answers together.

QUESTION: Colonel Dota. Foreign policy registration. Resident Indian Veterans Association. Historically, India has been embedded in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And, at present, the Taliban threatens as well as Al-Qaeda threatens, every action directly as a matter of direction on India also. How is it that the American army does not hear us, does not want us to fight together so that we pick up a common front. Because Taliban have really got ambitions so far as India’s frontiers are concerned, and they are not very far away. This is just a plea.

QUESTION: My question goes to both ambassadors. We’ve had a lot of work done on the Doha round. India and the United States are reputed to have been at loggerheads. Along that, there’s a new minister involved, a new US TR, and perhaps a new approach from heads of government, heads of state. Can you tell us whether there will be any progress made in multilateral trade investment field in this summit, or is that something that will be put aside for another time?

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more question back there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the French embassy. Ambassador Blake, could you give some more details about the program of the Prime Minister? (laughter)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you. Let me just respond very briefly to those, and I’ll let Arun respond about the program. First of all, with respect to the Colonel’s question about the Indian role in Afghanistan, we welcome very much the important Indian role that is already being played.

With respect to security forces, I think there’s been a general reluctance to get the forces of neighboring countries involved. That’s not just India, but also Central Asia, which I’m also responsible for, and many of the other neighbors, because it would have a complicating effect on some of the efforts that NATO and ISAF and so forth are trying to get accomplished there. That’s why you’ve seen the decisions that have been made. Again, we continue to consult very, very closely with our friends in India on the situation in Afghanistan. As you say, they have a very important stake in the outcome there.

Your question about trade, I think there will be some announcement, not so much on the global Doha round, but on bilateral trade. Let me say that the President and everyone under him have stressed our commitment to achieving a successful Doha round in 2010, and it will again be very important that we work closely with India to achieve such an outcome. I must say, I think we’ve made a good start. Our own Ron Kirk, our US Trade Representative, has had a good meetings with his Indian counterpart, Minister Sharma, very, very business-like. I think there is a way forward. Of course this is a huge multilateral engagement, so there’s much, much work still ahead of us.

AMBASSADOR SINGH: Just very briefly, on Afghanistan, clearly, we have provided assistance where we think our assistance will be most effective. Because India is itself, it’s not a traditional donor. It’s still a developing country. In terms of the effectiveness, in terms of the capability of India, to provide assistance and having an impact on the ground, that has been the motivating factor to the benefit of the people of Afghanistan. On the Doha round, of course, the USTR and our Commerce Minister have had several rounds of good discussions, and we look forward to building on that. As far as this summit is concerned, clearly the focus will be more on bilateral rather than multilateral issues. As far as the program is concerned, from an embassy, I hope you understand that I must protect my job (laughter) and not give out the program before it is announced.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Secretary Blake thank you very much, and Ambassador Singh thank you (applause).