Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
March 20, 2010


Assistant Secretary Blake: Good morning everybody. It’s a great pleasure for me to be back here in India. It’s great to see so many old friends. I’m here for several reasons. First, to participate in this Asia Society conference. We appreciate so much the important role that the Asia Society has played to help enhance relations between the United States and India. I’m also here for consultations with all of our friends and counterparts in the Ministry of External Affairs on the broad range of cooperation that we now have underway as we prepare for what we hope will be the next phase of our strategic dialogue that Secretary Clinton and External Affairs Minister Krishna will host in the next several months. And then as we prepare for what we hope will be the visit of the President of the United States to India sometime later this year, a date for which I do not have.

After this, I’ll be going on to visit Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’m not responsible for those areas -- that’s the responsibility of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. But my bureau does interact with him very closely on India-Pakistan issues, but also on the very important Central Asian equities in Afghanistan as well. Many of the supplies for our troops in Afghanistan come through the countries of Central Asia, and we’re also seeking to expand our relations and our partnerships with those countries. So that is also a very important part of U.S. diplomacy in the region. So, let me stop there, and I’d be glad to take your questions.

Bibhu Pradhan, Bloomberg: India has failed to introduce the nuclear liability bill in Parliament because of strong opposition from the BJP and the Left. The French and Russians are likely to take advantage of this. Is the U.S. worried and therefore putting pressure on India to get the legislation passed?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me first say that the United States remains committed to our civil nuclear partnership with India and we think that we’re making good progress in that partnership. We’re making good progress specifically on the nuclear reprocessing talks that are under way and, as you said, an important part of the agreement is also for India to pass the liability legislation that will enable our companies to begin to invest here. There are a number of American companies who are very excited about the prospects for establishing reactors here in India and helping to develop the civil nuclear energy capabilities in your great country. And India has set aside two reactor parks in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. So we’re pleased with the progress so far, and obviously the liability legislation is an important part of that. But it is up to India to determine the mechanics of passage of the legislation through the Lok Sabha. And so I’ll just leave that to them to comment about how that’s going to proceed.

Ashish, Star News: Yesterday, you made it very clear that after the plea bargain of David Headley it becomes impossible for America to extradite David Headley to India.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Correct.

Star News: But sir, in the evening, after you met MEA officials, the Home Minister of India, Mr. Chidambaram, categorically said that India will still push for his extradition. Is there any chance left that you would consider his extradition or at least grant access to India?

Assistant Secretary Blake: With respect to the Headley case that you mentioned, the plea bargain agreement was announced, and part of the agreement was that the United States would not extradite Mr. Headley either to India or to Pakistan or to Denmark on the charges for which he has now admitted guilt. That does not mean that at some future date some additional charges could not be brought. So I don’t want to speculate too much about the possibility of future extraditions, but at least on these charges he can not be extradited.

The other question that has been raised is whether Indian investigators will be allowed access to Mr. Headley to learn more about his involvement in the planning of the Mumbai attacks. And the answer to that is yes.

Steve Herman, VOA: Turning to Sri Lanka. Do you think the court marshal of General Fonseka is valid? Also, the election commission rejecting the opposition’s request to have international election monitors come for the Parliamentary elections?

Assistant Secretary Blake: With respect to the court marshal that’s under way, there’s just been a few preliminary hearings in Sri Lanka and it is our hope, we’ve said repeatedly that we hope that such proceedings will be conducted in accordance with Sri Lankan law. And that’s all I really want to say about that particular part of it. What was the second part of your question?

VOA: Election monitors.

Assistant Secretary Blake: I haven’t seen that particular statement, so I prefer not to comment until I have a clearer sense of what was said.

Srinjoy Chaudhuri, Times Now: The Indian Foreign Secretary was in Washington not that long ago. The one thing she was very worried about was arms sales from the United States to Pakistan. And she feared that some of those weapons, instead of being used against terrorism, would be used against India as they have been traditionally over these years. Is America aware of this, and what is America doing about it?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We are aware of India’s concerns about that, and all I would say is that we have a good dialogue with our Indian friends about this important matter. We assure our Indian friends that regarding arms sales to Pakistan, the character and the nature of our military relationship is really changing now in Pakistan. We’re increasingly focused on improving the counterinsurgency capabilities of the Pakistani military so that it can deal with the very important challenges on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and to continue to effectively prosecute the war against al Qaeda and against the various Taliban elements that are located in Pakistan. We think that there’s been good progress on that. So, that’s the sort of long-term trend that’s taking place.

The other long-term trend that I think is important to talk about is that, increasingly, we’re placing a much greater emphasis on civilian sector assistance to Pakistan and less on the military component because that is equally important. That is a way of enhancing Pakistan’s democracy, economic development, energy development, and helping the Pakistani government to be able to deliver services to get at some of the conditions that give rise to terrorism in the first place.

Times Now: The second part of my question. Very simple. The only point that remains is that Headley had a sidekick, a chap called Rana. Now, he’s not an American citizen. Is there any way he can be moved to India?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I don’t have any comment on that because I don’t know enough about that particular aspect of the case. So, I’d refer you again to the Department of Justice about that.

Ramesh Ramachandran, The Asian Age: A supplement to the last question. You’ve spoken about al Qaeda and the Taliban. What about the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan who target India? Why is the U.S. reluctant to call Pakistan’s bluff and getting it to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism operating from its soil?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Pakistan has always said that it will not allow terrorists to operate from its soil, and I think we and the other friends of Pakistan expect Pakistan to abide by that very important commitment. I think probably the greatest concern now, in terms of the United States perspective, and I’m sure from the perspective of India, are the operations of LeT, Lashkar-e-Taiba. As we’ve said many times, we think that this is a growing concern to the United States because of the increasing global scope and ambition of LeT. LeT, of course, targeted Americans in the Mumbai attacks. Six Americans were killed. It is also targeting Americans in other parts of the world now. So, we think it’s very important that Pakistan take on the LeT threat. Not just because of the security and stability of the United States, but also of India, and other countries. So this is something that I’m sure we’ll be discussing on our trip to Pakistan.

Santosh Tiwari, Headlines Today: There is still this perception that despite all the statements of cooperation on the Mumbai attacks, India has got nothing from the U.S. or Pakistan that could help nail the perpetrators. Would your government like to do something in this regard?

Assistant Secretary Blake: With respect to that, I don’t know how you can say we’re not cooperating. We just had a major case of Mr. Headley and so forth. So I’d say that cooperation is exceptional between the United States and India on the Mumbai attacks. And I think, if anything, counterterrorism cooperation has really blossomed between the United States and India since the Mumbai attacks, and we’ll continue to make progress. Your Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram, had a very successful visit to the United States last fall. And, as a result of that visit, we’re proceeding in a number of directions to try to expand from our counterterrorism consultations and specific cooperation. But also, increasingly, U.S. and Indian counterterrorism law enforcement officials have a wide web of exchanges and cooperation on all the various important issues that affect our two countries. So, I think we’re very satisfied with the significant progress that we’ve made and, I don’t want to speak for the Indians, but I think they are as well.