Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 29, 2011


QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] Secretary Blake, what is the U.S. response to India’s decision to exclude two U.S. companies -- Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- from its MMRCA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The United States is disappointed with the Indian decision. We believe the Boeing F-18 and the Lockheed Martin F-16 both represent exceptional value and the cutting edge of proven technology.

QUESTION: Have you formally responded to India’s letter that you received earlier this week?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We have been in touch with Indian officials, but we have not yet received a detailed briefing on the decision and the technical factors behind it.

QUESTION: Following the decision some academic and think tanks here who have been very supportive of India, the civil nuclear deal and also India’s place on the Security Council, they have said that India’s decision is short-sighted, and that it will be a setback for Indo-U.S. relations. Do you agree with their assessment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I’d like to say that we are disappointed with the decision, but we remain committed to our defense partnership and to our wider strategic partnership. Even in the defense area, I think we’re still doing quite a lot and I don’t want to have this decision in any way overshadow that.

I think, for example, we continue to have a strong interest in promoting global security and stability. We will continue to pursue defense trade and cooperation. And we’re pleased that India has shown confidence in American products such as the C-130J and the C-17 and the P-8 patrol aircraft and other platforms like that. We obviously see some quite significant future contracts that are coming up as well, and we’re confident that American companies will be competitive in those as well.

Again, we’re disappointed, but we also want to continue to try to expand our cooperation. Not only in the defense area, but more broadly.

QUESTION: After President Obama’s visit in November and from then until now can you give us a sense of the India-U.S. relationship? Especially in view of the [inaudible] taken place in the last one month like the UN Security Council where India abstained from Libya, the [inaudible] Summit on [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would like to tell you, Lalit, there’s still a very wide scope of activity that is occurring between the United States and India. President Obama made clear that we think that our partnership with India is going to be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st Century. Secretary Clinton looks forward to leading the U.S. delegation to our Annual Strategic Dialogue that will take place in Delhi in July. And I think there’s been quite a lot of progress even since the President’s trip. I can just point to a few things.

On the counter-terrorism front, for example, I think there’s been very good cooperation on the post-Mumbai attack investigations including our providing access to David Headley. And we’re continuing our very close collaboration to prevent further terrorist attacks. We look very much forward to the Homeland Security Dialogue that will be occurring later this spring or early summer.

On the business side, of course, I think our business ties are still booming. U.S. exports in 2010 grew by about 17 percent, and our service exports as well are growing very very fast. We had a big Commerce mission that went out in April to Mumbai and Hyderabad and Delhi to look at franchising opportunities which are a huge opportunity in India. On Afghanistan we just had our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Grossman, who is visiting India right now to consult with Mr. Menon and Foreign Secretary Rao and India’s Special Envoy, Ambassador Lambah, on the way forward there. We’ve had very good consultations on Asia and we have agreement to hold a trilateral U.S.-Japan-India dialogue later this year. We’re moving ahead on a lot of our food security projects in Africa.

So again, I think there’s a very wide scope of cooperation that is taking place, and we expect that to continue. The Strategic Dialogue will provide a very good opportunity to not only review those, but to look at the way forward in a number of other areas.

QUESTION: Before I go to the next question, a small follow-up, can you give us the significance of the dialogue that you are launching between India, U.S. and Japan? What’s the need for it and what is this in fact?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, when President Obama came out for his trip to India, one of the underlying themes of that trip was our engagement with some of the most important democracies in Asia. Certainly Japan is one of our most important partnerships, as it is India’s, so we both feel that there’s quite a lot of upside to talking trilaterally about opportunities that we can work together. As that dialogue gets closer I’m sure we’ll have more to say about that.

QUESTION: And when Secretary Clinton goes to India in July, what will be on the agenda this time? And will the Defense Secretary also be traveling with her?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The U.S. delegation hasn’t been set yet. We’re still in fact finalizing the exact date. We expect it to be in the third week in July, but once we do that then we’ll finalize the U.S. delegation as well. So I can’t tell you exactly who’s going to be going, nor do I really want to try to preview the agenda because I want to first discuss that, of course, with our Indian friends before we talk to the press about it.

QUESTION: Coming to India and Pakistan relationship, of late, the last two or three months, there have been quite a series of meetings between Indian and Pakistan officials including the one between the prime ministers at Mohali. Can you [inaudible] the relationship between the two countries the last [inaudible] from the U.S. perspective? How do you see the two countries going along?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think we have welcomed the progress that has taken place between India and Pakistan, particularly over the last several months. We congratulated both of the prime ministers for the very significant cricket diplomacy that took place at Mohali. I think that was a very positive follow-on to the Home Secretary talks that took place. And more recently, of course, the Commerce Secretaries had, I gather, very positive meetings in Islamabad where they have apparently agreed to some important steps that could yield quite significant new trade benefits for the two countries. We’ve always said that we think there are significant opportunities to expand trade between India and Pakistan, and that would benefit both countries.

QUESTION: Today you are leaving for Sri Lanka and Maldives for five days.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: What will be on the agenda in your trips to these two countries? And what would [inaudible] to the Sri Lankan government especially after the release of this UN report on war crimes on this country?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think I’ll keep my message to the Sri Lankan government private until I actually give it to the Sri Lankans, but I’ll be having a press conference afterwards. In general we want to move forward on our relations with Sri Lanka. Although everybody is very focused on the Panel of Experts Report, we have wider relations with Sri Lanka than just that. I want to discuss the full range of issues on our agenda.

I’m looking very much forward to having the opportunity to travel up to the north for the first time ever in my career to Killinochi and to Mullativu which were formerly LTTE-controlled areas when I was there. So I’ve never actually seen either of those cities. We have quite a lot of U.S. Agency for International Development cooperation going on there, and I’m going to have a chance to not only see some of that but also to meet with some of the NGOs that are active there. I’m very much looking forward to that.

My second day will of course feature meetings with senior government officials and civil society and other people. I’ll have a press conference at the end of that.

QUESTION: And on Maldives [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I just haven’t been to the Maldives in quite a long time. I want to first go and just thank the Maldives for a lot of the cooperation that they have provided in the UN and international organization area where they’ve shown quite a lot of leadership. But also again, to talk about our mutual interests and things like counter-piracy and counter-terrorism and again, ways that we can work together. Because Maldives is a small but very important country for the United States.

QUESTION: And finally, the final question is we haven’t seen much of a public statement or even on the cooperation within the two largest democratic countries in the world on the [inaudible] list. How the two countries can work together for strengthening democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I think we are consulting closely on that. We have frequent telephone conversations about this that probably don’t get too much press attention, but we are talking to each other about this. Again, we understand that India, like the United States, has very important interests and equities in places like Libya, but also in the broader Middle East. So we intend to continue to consult closely with India on those.

QUESTION: Thank you, [Assistant] Secretary, thanks a lot.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thanks Lalit, it was a pleasure to talk to you.

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