Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Philadelphia, PA
April 22, 2011


QUESTION: Viewers, welcome to the program. I’m Rohit Vyas. You’re watching us coast to coast throughout North Americas, as usual. Our special guest is Ambassador Robert Blake. He’s the Assistant Secretary of State of the United States for South and Central Asia, and we’re here at the Wharton India Forum in Philadelphia. Ambassador Blake, thank you so much for joining us.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s a pleasure.

QUESTION: One of the things you spoke about today in your speech, the keynote address that you made here, you used a pretty important sentence and I’m going to quote it because I want to go a bit deeper into this.

“We see India as an indispensable strategic partner in the 21st Century.”

Let’s talk about the security perspective for that region. The United States plans to pull out of Afghanistan. We’ve got Pakistan in the neighborhood. Many thought Pakistan would be almost a failed state. Of course you’ve got India as a strategic partner. You’ve got China playing into some of this. How do you see India and the United States together in terms of security for that entire area?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all I’d like to just correct one thing. We’re not pulling out of Afghanistan. We are committed to a transition plan in Afghanistan that was approved during the NATO Summit in Lisbon last fall. And under that transition plan the United States and other coalition forces will be training Afghan forces through 2015. We hope at that point they’ll be able to assume full responsibility for security, at which point then probably many of our troops but not all of our troops will withdraw. We think there will still be a residual training role and perhaps a counter-terrorism role.

But as to your larger question, I think military to military ties between the United States have been very strong really since the beginning of the transformation of our relations ten years ago. And they continue to be strong. We think that, for example, in the Indian Ocean there’s a tremendous amount of work that we can do together in that vital part of the world. A huge percentage of the trade in the world goes through that area. A lot of the oil and gas supplies go through that area. There’s a lot of work we can do there. There’s a lot of work we can do on things like search and rescue, working against piracy as we’re already doing off the coast of Somalia.

QUESTION: Which is now a big problem for the international --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly. So there is already a great deal of coordination that’s being done. Future possibilities include things like disaster management, as we did off the coast of Sri Lanka after the terrible tsunami that hit there.

There’s already quite a lot of contact and I think that there’s a great deal more that can be done.

A big new element of our cooperation is in the military sales area where I think as our own controls on various kinds of licensing have come off, India’s more interested in acquiring equipment. One of the biggest sales that was announced during President Obama’s trip was the C-17 sale, a big heavy-lift transport aircraft which themselves show how India really has great ambition to begin to project its influence outward and to expand its strategic horizons. Because once those sales are complete India will have one of the largest lift capabilities in the world and will be able to respond to disasters around the world as the United States does now. It shows that there’s tremendous scope still for greater cooperation between our countries.

QUESTION: Specifically militarily, though, Pakistan for instance just last week lost yet another nuclear capable missile. Hattaf, of course, is Chinese. I don’t know if you’d like to comment a bit about this. But the Indians see those missiles, that development, that part of their program, as [inaudible] sometimes, and that’s being aided by China.

Now in the strategic partnership do you think India will soon be able to play out this scenario and sort of assuage feelings all around in the area by itself? Or does it need the United States to help in making sure that there isn’t any offensive intent?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me answer that in two ways.

First I’d say that we’re very pleased with the recent progress that has been made between India and Pakistan to put their relations on a better footing. First with the meetings that took place in Thimpu in February; more recently with the very positive cricket diplomacy in Mohali between the two prime ministers. The commerce secretaries are scheduled to meet next week, as you know, in Islamabad. There’s a whole series of very important meetings that are taking place and I think the atmosphere is quite good. That is a full credit to those two countries and something that we very much welcome.

As to your specific question about is there anything we can do, from time to time the Indians express concern about some of the weapons that we are selling to the Pakistanis, and we explain to our Indian friends that the weapons that we sell are for the purpose of the counter-insurgency strategy on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, and it’s specifically to deal with a lot of the groups that threaten not only our soldiers, but increasingly India as well. That’s a very important new capability of counter-insurgency that it’s very important that the Pakistani military be able to acquire, and that includes not only the training but also the equipment that is necessary to go with it.

We assure our friends in India that all of that equipment has end use monitoring and end use provisions to ensure that it in fact is going to be used for that purpose and not --

QUESTION: And not redirected against --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: -- redirected against India.

QUESTION: Okay. Now talking about the business partnership. Besides defense, what are the areas you think are going to be really strong for India and the United States? Where is there going to be potential to increase that business partnership?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think there’s a tremendous upside in virtually all areas of economic cooperation. We talked earlier about infrastructure. India is going to be spending a trillion dollars over the next 20 years on infrastructure -- on railroads, ports, airports, fiberoptic lines, and a huge array of other areas. There are tremendous opportunities for American companies in that area.

Then of course trade. Trade continues to be very dynamic between our countries. It’s doubled over the last five years and we can expect it to continue to double if the current economic growth projections continue, both in our country and in India. So there are tremendous upsides still, and the potential that was shown during the President’s visit when very substantial sales, about $15 billion worth of sales were announced, including about $10 billion in export content for the United States.

I shouldn’t neglect services. Obviously the IT business that goes back and forth between our two countries is tremendous. It’s a really important part of what we’re doing. But also things like tourism. Six hundred and fifty thousand Indians visited the United States last year. That represents an 18 percent increase over the year before. India is now the 10th largest country providing visitors to the United States. Obviously that’s something we welcome and --

QUESTION: -- visas --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Of course.

QUESTION: Are they getting --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Of course.

QUESTION: -- to the United States for that purpose?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s another very good sign of the strong people to people ties between our countries.

QUESTION: A final question I have is, you talked about in your keynote speech also about an Education Summit. That’s a very important piece of news for a lot of our viewers here. What’s this Education Summit which you think might happen in July? What’s it going to discuss? Is it going to discuss more education, higher education for Indians? Is it going to discuss bringing in some expertise here to the United States? What is going to happen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Education has always been a very promising part of our cooperation. As you know, 100,000 Indian students are now studying here in the United States. Many of them are now going back to India, which is a very encouraging sign of the prosperity and opportunity in India. Everybody has talked about how there’s this demographic dividend in India and that India is one of the few countries in the world that has a very young population. All of these young Indians will be entering the workforce over the next 25 or 30 years.

That’s only going to be a real strategic advantage if they receive the proper training and education. Kapil Sibal, the Minister of Human Resources Development, has spoken frequently about the significant gaps right now in India’s ability to provide education and training to all those people. He sees that American universities can help to fill that gap. Of course our American universities are very interested to help fill that gap.

The purpose of the Education Summit is to figure out how to engender those partnerships; what the two governments need to do and what the universities themselves need to do. We will bring together in a number of different panels government experts and private universities of all kinds because it’s not just the Yale’s and Harvard’s. It’s going to be the community colleges, it’s going to be the vocational training. All of those will play a role in this. All of them see quite significant opportunities in India. Once this Education Bill passes in India there will be some opportunities. But even before then at the state level there’s quite a lot of things that can be done. One of the things that we talked about today was that Wharton has a partnership with the India School of Business in Hyderabad and also the Max Health Care Institute, so already Wharton is showing the way. There are in fact a lot of opportunities to be exploited at the state level as well. That already can take place.

QUESTION: One final question. I know you’ve got to go for another conference. What do you think about India’s permanent membership on an expanded UN Security Council? The President said he has supported it.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: How soon would you like to see this happen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, that’s a longer-term question. The expansion of the Security Council is something we feel needs to take place. We think the Security Council needs to reflect the changed world of the 21st Century, particularly India’s role in that changed world. But at the same time we want to preserve the effectiveness of the Security Council. So we need to think through very carefully how the Council can be expanded without reducing its effectiveness. So there’s a very complicated and quiet effort underway to talk with all the various aspirants who would like to also be members of the Council and to figure out a process whereby a way forward can be found. Again, I don’t want to make any speculation about how quickly that’s going to happen because it’s something that concerns far more than the United States. We’re one small player in a very large puzzle.

QUESTION: I thank you, sir, for joining us on TV Asia. We look forward to meeting you again a few months down the line to see how things have progressed between our two countries.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you. You always are welcome in Washington.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

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