Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New York Foreign Press Center
New York City
September 26, 2012


Q: We are here with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake to chat about U.S.-India foreign policy issues. Thank you so much for speaking with CNN-IBN.

A: Thank you for having me.

Q: We’ve heard some of the statements coming from the U.S. about the reform process we are seeing in India, and the very positive feedback we are seeing from you. Can you please take us through the U.S. position on this?

A: Under Secretary Hormats, our Under Secretary for Economic and Business affairs, gave a speech earlier this week where he very much welcomed the recent steps that have been taken by the India government, particularly the opening of the retail sector, which I think is of great interest to our companies, but also some of the other steps as well, such as aviation. We think this is a welcome step forward on this. We have seen the market already react in India and overseas, more institutional investments coming in, so I think there are going to be quite interesting developments that come out of this. I saw earlier press reports that Wal-Mart has announced its intention to increase its investment in India. So again, I think this is a very positive step, and I think also the Prime Minister’s speech was well-received here, defending all these things.

Q: The political situation at home being what it is, that is good to hear. I do want to ask you, when it comes to the U.S. and India, usually the countries see themselves as natural allies and friends. As the regional stakes seem to be as complicated as ever, is there any statement you can cast light on, for the regional stability and significance when it comes to India?

A: One of the most important developments in our recent relations has been the growing strategic convergence between our two countries. Just in the last year we’ve been working very, very closely in areas that used to be something of a point of division, and I’ll give you a few examples. One of the most important, of course, is Afghanistan, where I think we have a very, very strong convergence of views both in our assessment of the situation but also about the way forward. We both of course recently had our first trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan yesterday, which was a very successful, productive dialogue. Also, we’re working together on helping to ensure the success of the transition in Afghanistan in 2014, particularly the economic transition that is going to be so important to providing jobs to young Afghans. And India’s role has been so important in terms of its $2 billion assistance program, but also the steps it has taken to promote investment. It hosted a big investment conference. It also has its own big investments in the Hajigak iron ore facility. So there is quite a lot going on and again, a very important convergence. Another area I would point to is Burma, where we see very much eye to eye, and we also see there’s quite an important strategic opportunity for us to work together to promote greater regional integration to the East, now that Burma is opening up. So I think that is also an area for future cooperation but also working together with these other friends of ours.

Q: When you talk about Afghanistan, there has been a policy to balance out some of Pakistan’s issues on that front. How does the U.S. actually intend to balance that out, or has the position been two independent relationships?

A: Of course we continue to attach great importance to our relations with Pakistan. I think you saw that Foreign Minister Khar met recently with Secretary Clinton earlier this week. We are looking for ways we can cooperate with Pakistan, particularly on these important security and counterterrorism issues, but also on Afghanistan. And of course we welcome all dialogue between India and Pakistan, particularly the recent progress that has been made on the economic front. I think the External Affairs Minister’s visit to Pakistan, and the visa agreement that resulted from that, are very important steps. And of course we would like to see greater dialogue between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan, as well, and I know your government will welcome that.

Q: We’ve seen the wave of unrest after this video was uploaded. Yesterday Pakistani President Zardari called for the criminalization of blasphemy, saying this is something that the UN and member states need to take seriously. What is the U.S. position on that?

A: President Obama gave a very eloquent speech talking about this yesterday, and talking about the need to continue our work to promote democracy in the Middle East, to ensure that media and religious freedom are all protected around the world. So that is certainly something we will be continuing to pursue everywhere. And the President made clear how reprehensible and disgusting we thought this particular film was, and we will continue to say that publicly. But we also continue to say that no group should use violence to try to express their opposition to this. And so we welcome the statements by many world leaders abhorring the use of violence.

Q: Thank you so much.

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