Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
November 24, 2010


QUESTION: Good morning, Assistant Secretary! Thank you for talking to us… It’s the second anniversary of the Mumbai attacks. What is the U.S. message to India and the world?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, it’s a pleasure to be with you and all of your listeners today on this very solemn occasion. I think our main message is one of solidarity between the American people and the government of the United States and the people of India, as we remember the terrible events of 26/11.

QUESTION: How has the counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries changed in recent months? What is the biggest challenge in counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think we have seen a real mushrooming of cooperation on many, many different fronts between the United States and India since 26/11. I must say even before 26/11, we were doing quite a lot … sharing quite a lot of information, but if anything has improved dramatically since then, it is counter-terrorism cooperation, probably symbolized by the Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative that we signed earlier this summer. When President Obama visited for his very successful visit to India recently in November, he announced that we are initiating a new dialogue between our Department of Homeland Security and the Ministry of Home Affairs to cooperate in those areas. We've got a lot of cooperation between municipal officials on what we call "mega city policing," how cities like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles cope with policing and all the terror threats that they face. I think they can teach a lot to some of India’s big cities. We have our FBI providing training—forensics training—and other kinds of training. Our Department of Defense is providing training in maritime and port security, and many, many other kinds of military counter-terrorism cooperation. And, of course, we have very, very important counter-terrorism training from the State Department. And, last but not least, the daily intelligence and other kinds of cooperation that goes on in terms of sharing threat information that might affect the security of our Indian friends.

QUESTION: Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the United States would prosecute the killers of six Americans in Mumbai. Has the U.S. sought extradition of Pakistani suspects? How hopeful you are of such an extradition?

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Well, let me just say that, on that, I just refer you to the Department of Justice on all these matters involving extradition and the progress of the trials and so forth. They are really the experts on this.

QUESTION: While on the question of extradition, the victims of the Mumbai attacks… their families… they feel that David Coleman Headley should be extradited. How would you respond?

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Well, again, President Obama was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the victims of the attacks during the commemoration at the Taj Hotel during his visit to Mumbai. He again expressed our solidarity with them and their families and all of those who lost loved ones during those terrible attacks. But, again, I don’t want to comment on the specific judicial proceedings. That’s for our Department of Justice to comment on.

QUESTION: For years, the United States did not take the threat of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba seriously, at least some in India feel that way. Now the U.S. is asking Pakistan to crack down on LeT. How do you rate Pakistan’s responsiveness so far?

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: I think I would take polite exception to your suggestion that we haven't taken LeT very seriously. We have always take LeT seriously, as far back as 2001 when they were involved in the Parliament attack and so forth. I think we have always taken this extremely seriously, and now I think you have seen American counter-terrorism experts identify LeT as probably the single most serious counter-terrorist threat the United States faces after al-Qaeda itself. The president was very forthright in his private meetings, but also publicly during the recent visit to India, in which he said that it is Pakistan’s duty and obligation to cooperate to bring those who are responsible for the terrible 26/11 attacks to justice, and to do so as quickly as possible, and also that Pakistan must address the problem of LeT. Because this is a group that is not only targeting India but also increasingly targeting the United States, targeting our troops in Afghanistan and Americans elsewhere . So this is a very important priority for all of us and it's a priority, I think for Pakistan as well. One of the points that Secretary Clinton and President Obama have made repeatedly is that these terrorist groups in Pakistan increasingly operate as a syndicate. So it is increasingly hard to draw distinctions between them. Therefore it's very much in Pakistan’s own interest to deal with these threats and to do so in a timely manner.

QUESTION: You feel that Pakistan has been cracking down on LeT?

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Well, I think, this is a process. Pakistan has made some good progress in Swat and South Waziristan, but clearly more needs to be done against LeT, against some of the other groups based in places like North Waziristan. And Pakistan has expressed its intention to do so, but again, more work needs to be done.

QUESTION: Reports indicate that several high-profile suspects … behind 26/11, such as Sajid Mir, are still at large in Pakistan. What kind of pressure is the U.S. bringing on Pakistan to bring these suspects to book? Why are they taking so long?

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Well, Sajid Mir is the subject of an Interpol "Red Notice," so there is in effect an international arrest warrant out for him already, and again I think I just go back to the words of my president, in which he said it’s incumbent upon the government of Pakistan to bring all those who are responsible for the terrible attacks in Mumbai to justice as soon as possible. Many of those are already in custody. If there are others like Sajid Mir, then they also should be brought to justice.

QUESTION: Finally, you were in India recently with the president. What was your impression [about the trip?]

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Well, I just think it was a highly successful visit, both in terms of the substantive outcomes, in terms of moving forward our global strategic partnership between the United States and India. But I also think it was a home run, as we say here in the United States, in terms of the personal impression that the President and the First Lady made in India. There was 24/7 coverage on all channels about all of the activities they undertook. And I think President Obama and the First Lady were deeply touched by the very warm reception they received in India, and I think, it is, again, a very important signal of this growing and very important strategic partnership the United States now has with India. So we're very excited about the results, and looking forward now to the next strategic dialogue that we hope to hold some time next year, middle of the year, in India that will be hosted by External Affairs Minister Krishna and his … Secretary Clinton is very much looking forward to that important milestone.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your time.

ASSISTANT SECRETARI BLAKE: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be with you.

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With TIMES NOW TV]