Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
October 22, 2010


QUESTION: Mr. Blake, thank you so much for joining NDTV today.

My first question was about the larger component of this visit. In India we often make a comparison to President Bush’s visit because you had one big ticket announcement that the Indians walked away with a nuclear deal that was said to be [from] that relationship. What will Mr. Obama’s visit do for India in terms of that big ticket announcement that everyone is talking about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, it’s a pleasure to be with you and all of your viewers. I think the significance of the nuclear deal was that that was probably the most significant irritant in our relations at that time and we turned it into an opportunity for cooperation. There really aren’t the same number of irritants any more in our relations. Far from it, we’re looking for how we can cooperate more and more together.

So I think what this visit is really all going to be about is how do we seize new opportunities for cooperation? We have our two great democracies, our two knowledge-based economies, our civil societies, our scientists, and we want to basically work together to build a new international system in which trade is promoted, in which other democracies can flourish. Again, scientists and our business people can work together for new innovations that will benefit the world. So I think that’s what this visit is going to be all about -- defining some of those new areas of cooperation and providing some specific initiatives that the President will announce.

QUESTION: There has been this perception for a while in India that it’s not the same, the relationship with the Obama administration is not the same and that’s sometimes seen in a negative way. That there have been strains, whether it’s over outsourcing, whether it’s over the hike in the visa fee, the nuclear liability bill. We have concerns on that. Can you dispel some of those concerns here?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah. I really don’t see it that way at all. First of all, the President made Prime Minister Singh the very first state visitor of his administration last November. This is going to be the longest visit that the President makes to any foreign country during his presidency so far. So the President really sees this as one of the defining partnerships that we’re going to have in the 21st Century, our partnership with India. He and the Secretary are the ones that established the strategic dialogue, to give strategic direction to the things that we’re doing now. Because we really have entered a new phase where we’re not just cooperating on the bilateral and the regional level, but increasingly at the global level. Again, I think a lot of that will be set out in the course of this very historic visit.

QUESTION: I know that the Indian government has told you that it cannot make any changes to the nuclear liability law. It’s now law, it’s been passed by the Indian parliament. But you still do have concerns about how your companies will be able to do nuclear commerce with India. Therefore, will American companies start nuclear commerce anyway, despite the fact that this law was enacted?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We’re under discussion now with our friends in the Indian government about this. Obviously our companies would like to benefit from the enormous opportunities to help meet India’s growing energy needs, and we think there are significant opportunities. Two sites, reactor sites, have been set aside in Gujarat and inAndhra Pradesh . So this is a subject of intense discussion now between our governments and obviously we hope for an outcome where our companies can be in a good position to be able to compete and have a level playing field.

QUESTION: Coming back to some of the strain in the relationship, on the issue of David Headley, and I know this is a question you’ve been asked many times, but the recent revelations in the American media about his wife tipping off the FBI with very specific information on what he was doing. The Indian foreign minister just said a few days ago that no specific intelligence was shared with India on what Headley was doing. Therefore, strengthening the suspicions here that he was basically a double agent, and that’s why the United States didn’t share that information. What would you say to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would want to reassure all of your viewers that whenever we have specific information about any terrorist attack, wherever it is around the world, particularly against our friends like India, we share that information on a real-time basis right away, to make sure that our friends in that government have that information. That is particularly true with India because we really attach so much importance now to our relations with India.

I think one of the areas where we’ve seen the greatest growth and cooperation has been in the area of counterterrorism.

So we are working very very cooperatively. None of that is really visible to the public, of course, because it’s highly sensitive --

QUESTION: But when the Indian foreign minister says that India did not get specific information on Headley, does that mean that you didn’t have specific information?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t want to get into the specific areas because that’s, again, highly sensitive intelligence information. But I’d just come back to what I said earlier which is that whenever we have any kind of specific information, we immediately make it a practice to share that with our Indian friends.

QUESTION: One final question. There is also a lot of expectation here that perhaps the President will announce some kind of support for India at the UN Security Council for a permanent seat. Are we going to see any forward movement on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I probably won’t have my job very long if I tell you in advance what the President’s going to say. But let me just say that we are looking forward and the President is looking forward to a highly successful and really historic visit here. I think we’ll have many many important announcements to make. I don’t really want to talk about it in advance because that’s obviously up to the President.

QUESTION: Mr. Blake, thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much.

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