Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
June 21, 2011

QUESTION: Today I have with me Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake who is here to prepare the grounds for big ticket Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue. Let’s talk to him.

Welcome, sir. My first question to you is, you’ve been interacting with Indian officials. What is now going into the Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we’ve had a very productive two days of meetings with our counterparts at the MEA [Ministry of External Affairs]. We’re now thinking about taking the Strategic Dialogue to the next level, and how do we work more closely with India. Not just in the region, but more broadly. We want to talk about, of course, our mutual interests in Afghanistan, supporting the reconciliation process there, but also how are we going to work more closely in places like Asia, in the Middle East, and elsewhere. That’s what the Strategic Dialogue is all about.

QUESTION: Talking Pakistan, it’s interesting you don’t mention that. Here in India, the clean chit given by Secretary Clinton to Pakistan administration, the government, on Usama bin Ladin. Here in India people are saying that probably the U.S. has deliberately ignored ground realities like Usama being bang in the middle of the military cantonment in Pakistan. How did this happen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m a little bit surprised to hear you say that the Secretary has given Pakistan a clean chit. She’s been very clear about some of the challenges that we face in Pakistan, but also clear that while we have at times a challenging relationship, we have very important strategic interests in Pakistan as well. I think those are interests that are broadly shared by India as well. So we’re very pleased to see that the Foreign Secretary will be making this important trip to Islamabad. We wish her well. As always the pace and the scope and character of talks between India and Pakistan are completely up to them, but these are two important friends of the United States and we certainly hope to see progress on this.

QUESTION: Mr. Blake, aren’t you worried? Usama bin Ladin in Abbottabad and the attack on the Pakistani nuclear base, are you really concerned or are you totally convinced about the security of nuclear weapons in Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. I don’t think we have serious concerns about the security of the nuclear arsenal, but I think these attacks underscore that Pakistan itself has been the principal victim of the terrorism inside its borders and therefore underscore the importance of Pakistan taking action to stop those terrorists including not only groups like the IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] that was responsible for the attack against the Karachi Naval Base, but also groups like LET [Laskar-e-Tayyiba] and the Haqqani Network and others that are threatening not only the United States but also India and Pakistan.

QUESTION: The concern is that most of the nuclear installations are at Pakistan’s western front. These are strongholds of groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban. So that’s why it makes it more vulnerable.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I understand your concerns, but again, I think where we feel the nuclear arsenal is safe, that there is much more heightened security around those installations than there were, for example, at the Karachi Naval Base.

QUESTION: Would it be correct to say that U.S.-Pakistan relations are suffering what we know as a trust deficit and the worst in the history of the two countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would say what I said earlier. It’s a complicated relationship at times. It’s not always easy. But we have an important interest in helping Pakistan to confront the many challenges that it faces. Economic challenges, energy challenges, and of course the counter-terrorist challenges. Again, India also has a very important role to play. We’ve been particularly interested to see the progress in the economic relationship. We believe that Pakistan has a great stake in attaching itself to the India success story and that could benefit a great deal from the opportunity for more trade and investment with India.

QUESTION: Why do the U.S. administrators, the senators, the policy-makers, sound as if Pakistan is like a necessary evil for you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I can’t speak for all the senators and congressmen. They don’t speak with one voice. But again, I think we’ve made a real effort to reach out to our own Congress and to explain what we’re trying to do. And we will continue to do so.

QUESTION: But things aren’t going to be the same, Mr. Blake, between Pakistan and the U.S.?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, in a way maybe not, but in a way, this is also an opportunity to sort of take another look at what more we can do together, and that’s what has been behind some of these very important visits that Mr. Mullen and Ambassador Grossman and others have taken, is to try to again chart a way forward in our relations with Pakistan, and I think they’ve been able to do that.

QUESTION: My last question. Are you in touch with the Afghan Taliban?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There have been a wide range of contacts, as we’ve said in the past, but this is going to be an Afghan-led process and we support that very strongly. As you know, President Karzai has created this High Peace Council. The High Peace Council has had a wide range of contacts already. We very much support that effort. You’re familiar with the redlines that we’ve established from the reconciliation process of renunciation of ties with al-Qaida, renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan Constitution. Those are redlines that the Indian government supports. And indeed, we are very pleased to see that Prime Minister Singh expressed public support for the reconciliation.

QUESTION: You still haven’t answered my question. Are you in touch with the Afghan Taliban?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’ve said all I need to say about that.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for sparing your time.


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[This is a mobile copy of Interview With AAJ TAK]