Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Telephone Interview
Washington, DC
April 8, 2010


BBC: Your colleagues there have met the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all let me say that we’re in touch with both sides here. We’ve met with what I would describe as the career bureaucrats who remain in control of the ministries so we’ve been in touch with them. For example with the deputy foreign ministry officials. As you say our Chargé d’Affaires Larry Memmott also met with met with Ms. Otunbayeva today. And he really used the meeting first to urge nonviolence and a quick restoration of peace and order and democracy. I think it is our impression that the current government does seem to be moving in that direction. They seem to be asserting and garnering control of the situation. They appear to have the support of the security services and most of the ministries. So, I think this is moving a positive direction. They’ve asserted that they plan to be in power for six months during which time they will draft a new constitution, draft a new electoral code in preparation for democratic elections.

BBC: (STATIC)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly, yes.

BBC: (STATIC)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we really don’t -- we’re not in the business of recognizing governments; we recognize states. So, we don’t really make a judgment about whether this government has really taken control or not. It is a provisional administration -- I think that is the word that people are using. I think it is important to note that President Bakiyev still has not recognized that provisional administration.

BBC: What’s your relationship with him?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, we’ve been working with President Bakiyev for a long time, since he was elected in 2005. It’s under him that we’ve had some very successful relations on the, for example, the negotiation of the Manas Transit Center. But it is very important that the current, whatever governmental mechanism emerges, reflects the will of the people. Thus far it does appear that the new provisional administration does have the support of the people, at least early indications are of that.

BBC: You mentioned the Manas Transit Center, the air base* [*please note it is a Transit Center, not an air base] which is instrumental in getting military operations in Afghanistan supplied and so on. Any risk to that? Any risk to the U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan from these political upheavals?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think that remains to be determined. What we’ve heard so far from officials is that the provisional administration will probably want to review the existing arrangements, but that those will remain in place pending the results of that review. So of course we very much hope that whoever emerges out of this transitional process will in fact continue to support this transit center because, as you say, it is an important part of allowing many of our troops to transit through there into Afghanistan.

BBC: You mentioned, Ambassador, a series of pledges that you’ve been given by this new interim administration, as you call it. If they don’t deliver, if they don’t deliver the constitution, the elections and so on, what will the U.S. do next?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well I don’t want to start looking into hypotheticals. Let’s give them a chance. They’ve only been in office for one day. They’ve got a lot on their plates. But as I say, they appear to be moving in the right direction. My understanding is they have been in touch with the OSCE as well, to try to ensure that the management of this transition period over the next six months will be in accordance with OSCE principles, so I think that’s a good sign. So let’s wait and see.

BBC: Okay, Ambassador, that’s great. Can I ask you a couple of quick questions about Sri Lanka?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly.

BBC: You were back what, the middle of last year, was it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I left Sri Lanka in May of last year.

BBC: Obviously the first parliamentary elections since the end of the war are critical to the country’s future direction. Do you see real hope for Sri Lanka, that peace can be --

STATIC

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do see real hope. I think this is a real important opportunity right now. The President has always said that he would like to get a two-thirds majority in the parliament that would then allow him to amend the Sri Lankan constitution. He has said that he is committed to implementing what is known as the thirteenth amendment which would provide for devolution of power to the provinces, including to the Northern Province. He has also I think committed to reconciliation. So I think it is very important now that that proceed. So, we’ll have to see how these elections turn out. It appears that he will indeed - his party will - enjoy a majority. I think it is too early to say whether he is going to get that two-thirds majority. But it is likely that he is going to benefit from some crossovers as well. So it is possible that he could get to the two-thirds level.

BBC: You mentioned devolution and of course to the north that’s where many eyes would turn. Is it essential that magnanimity and victory be shown? Because up until now the ruling factions in Colombo have been pretty aggressive in victory.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes, I think it is important. I think it’s important for the administration of President Rajapaksa to reach out to the Tamils. He did in fact make a visit up to Jaffna recently. But it’s important that they feel that they’re going to be able to live a future of hope and of opportunity, that the internally displaced people that are now in camps -- there are still approximately 100,000 of them -- that they be allowed to go back to their homes. And if all of those things are achieved and there’s greater respect for human rights, and I think also some accountability for some of the past violations, I think all of those would contribute a great deal to this reconciliation that I was speaking of.

BBC: Do you worry about nepotism? Because in this election right now they’re looking at Rajapaksa’s sons, cousins, brothers, all looking for seats in parliament. It’s looking like a family business.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think there’s a long tradition of that kind of “family business” as you call it. The Bandaranaikes, before the Rajapaksas, and several other families, have had that kind of thing. So I don’t think that’s unusual in the Sri Lankan context. I think what is important, again, is that there just be free and fair elections and that the Sri Lankan people perceive that there’s a fair process.

BBC: Another race that everybody’s been watching, of course, is the failed presidential contender who is now in prison for his cheek in mounting a bid for the presidency, the general who won the war, General Fonseka.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. Again, I think we’ve just made our views known that we hope that General Fonseka will be tried in accordance with Sri Lankan law, and I think I’ll just leave it there.

BBC: Ambassador, thank you very much indeed.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you.