Interview
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
New Delhi,, India
October 19, 2012


DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I am very happy to be back in New Delhi at the end of a trip that has also taken me to Japan, South Korea, China and Burma. I am also proud to have been able to contribute in a small way over the past five years, through two administrations, first as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and now as Deputy Secretary of State, to the development of an historic partnership between India and the United States. That period has spanned the completion of the civilian nuclear agreement in 2008 as well as the landmark visits of Prime Minister Singh to Washington in 2009 and President Obama to New Delhi and Mumbai in 2010. And today, I am very proud to reemphasize that our strategic partnership with India is of abiding importance to the United States and one in which both our governments continue to make broad and enduring investments.

Since Secretary Clinton hosted Minister Krishna in Washington in June for the third U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, the interaction between our two governments has continued to deepen and expand. Strong support across the political spectrum in the United States, as well as in India, gives us reason for continued optimism aboutthe bilateral relationship in the years ahead.

Bilateral trade, as you know, is flourishing, and is expected to surpass $100 billion this year. We have done a considerable amount to remove impediments to further expansion of our trade relationship, including in high technology and defense trade, but there is more that we can do. Concluding a Bilateral Investment Treaty should be a top priority for both our countries, and would send a positive signal to our business communities.

I look forward to exchanging views today on how we can continue to advance our civil nuclear cooperation, to which we remain committed, and to deepening our defense and counterterrorism cooperation.

We are encouraged by the Indian government’s recent bold steps toward economic reforms. As Treasury Secretary Geithner said, these reforms will foster economic growth, with increased investment, and greater prosperity. Once implemented, we are confident that U.S. investors will respond positively to these measures with concrete, job-creating projects and proposals.

I also look forward to exchanging views today on regional economic cooperation, including with Afghanistan and Pakistan. We welcome the progress the Indian government has made with Pakistan on building trade and investment ties and appreciate the leading role India has played in spurring private sector investment in Afghanistan.

India has an important voice in the Asia-Pacific region, and it is fitting that I conclude a trip to a number of leading Asia-Pacific powers with a stop in Delhi. I look forward to discussing our mutual goals for the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Summit, along with our shared interested in promoting maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region and connectivity between India and Southeast Asia.

We appreciate India’s efforts to urge Iran’s compliance with its international obligations and to resume P5+1 talks on its nuclear program. In our judgment, tough sanctions are necessary to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

I look forward to thanking my Indian colleagues for India’s immediate and strong statement of support following the attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya and for steps the government has taken to ensure the safety and security of our personnel throughout India.

India is a model of democratic governance, tolerance and rule of law, and can play a critical role throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as well as East Asia, to support the strengthening of democratic institutions, civil society, education, and many other fields. We look forward to partnering with India on these important challenges in the months and years to come.

QUESTION: Could we start with Iran? What kind of a message do you expect or want India to deliver to Iran? In more specific terms, of course, you’ve said compliance with the NPT, all of that. But far more specific. And what is the level of urgency?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We feel a great sense of urgency, a sense that is widely shared in the international community. There is a great deal that’s at stake here, given Iran’s failure thusfar to comply with its international obligations. Obviously, there is a very real danger of increased tension, the danger of a nuclear arms race, in a region which already has more than its share of instability, and which plays a very important role in the health of the global economy. The United States and India share a very important strategic goal: that is to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon and that it does not create those risks that I described before. We believe that it is absolutely essential that Iran meet its international obligations and engage seriously in the diplomatic process that is embodied in the five plus one mechanism about how it is going to meet those international obligations. India has stressed the importance it attaches to that effort, and we hope and expect that it will continue to reinforce that message. In the meantime, we continue to work with our partners in the international community to step up pressure against Iran: economic pressure, political isolation, not as an end in itself, but as a means to ensure that Iran engages seriously and meets its international obligations. Already I think those measures, those sanctions, have had a considerable impact on the Iranian economy, with the nearly fifty percent drop in the value of Iran’s currency, the nearly fifty percent drop in Iran’s oil exports. Again, we are very serious about our concerns on this issue. America is not alone in those concerns. They are widely shared in the international community, and the sooner Iran engages seriously in a real diplomatic process, the better it will be for all of us: America, India and the rest of the international community.

QUESTION: Do you think India and Iran can play a stabilizing role in post-2014 Afghanistan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Let me address India’s role. I’ll preface that by stressing thatthe U.S. commitment to stability inAfghanistan doesn’t end in 2014. We all learned from the mistakes that followed the Soviet exit from Afghanistan. That’s exactly why the U.S. entered into a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan similar to the Strategic Partnership Agreement which India has entered into with Afghanistan. Both reflect a shared commitment to stability in that country well beyond 2014. We welcome the contributions that India has continued to make: a development assistance program that totals more than two billion dollars, increasing commercial relationships, reflected in a very successful investment conference that took place in India last summer, and training programs, all of which were discussed at the successful trilateral meeting in New York two weeks ago between the United States, Afghanistan, and India. So, we very much look forward to continuing to work with India to contribute to stability in Afghanistan in the run up to 2014 and for many years beyond it.

QUESTION: And in the trilateral format. What do you think are some of the things the three countries could do together in Afghanistan? Something that we could see?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Creating a sense of economic possibility is one of the most obvious. I mentioned to you before the important role that India is playing in investment, in natural resources. I think that it was telling that at the Tokyo Ministerial on economic development in Afghanistan, which took place over the summer, the two biggest delegations at the conference were the United States and India. So I think there is a lot in very practical terms that both of us can contribute to working with Afghanistan and creating a sense of economic possibility because all of us are very well aware that prospects for Afghanistan’s stability depend not just on security cooperation and steps to strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces, but also in creating a sense of economic possibility, and in improving governance.

QUESTION: A large part of Afghanistan is not under the control is NATO troops. And every day, in and out, there are attacks. Yesterday there was a massive attack. So, don’t you think that after the troops leave, Afghanistan will eventually slip into civil war (after 2014)?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t believe that. I’m the last person to dismiss the challenges in Afghanistan, but I don’t believe it will slip into civil war.

QUESTION: But then what happened in Iraq, also?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We’ll come back to Iraq in a second, because I challenge the premise of that question as well. With regard to Afghanistan, there are obviously a number of very significant challenges which exist in the face of a stable future for Afghanistan. We’re making progress, working with Afghanistan, working with a variety of international partners to strengthen Afghanistan’s national security forces, its army, its police force, which is a critical ingredient, I think, in a stable future for Afghanistan. But as I said, it is also very important to make progress on governance, especially as Afghanistan moves ahead toward elections in 2014. And it’s important to make progress in economic development, to create a greater sense of possibility for Afghans. And that’s a place, in particular, where the United States and India, can contribute. So, I have no illusions about the challenges which are continuing to exist in Afghanistan and that will exist after 2014. But I also think the pathway on which we are embarked, you know, with significant contributions from India, and others who have a deep stake in Afghanistan’s stability, is one which can and is producingresults.

With regard to Iraq, I would say, again, there are lots of challenges that Iraqis are more aware of than anyone else right now. But I think you’ve also seen significant progress in recent years: four national elections which the UN has seen to be fair and credible; energy production which now exceeds three million barrels of oil a day; an economy which is growing at a rate of 10 % a year.There are lots of political challenges that have to be sorted out by Iraqis themselves, but I think compared to some of the problems that Iraq faced a few years ago, they are making steady progress.

QUESTION: How do you look at the Afghanistan situation – twelve years – and still we are back at square one. You’ve started negotiating with the Taliban. They’ve opened offices in Qatar and even, openly, on record, there are negotiations between a group of Taliban and America. So don’t you feel that after twelve years we are back at square one?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t. As I said before, there are a lot of challenges which remain in Afghanistan, but I think working with the Afghan national government, with a range of international partners, we’re making progress in security, in terms of governance, in terms of creating a sense of economic opportunity.

PAO: We’ll have to be moving towards a last question.

QUESTION: Civil nuclear talks with India. Where are we on the rules on the liability law … What is your sense? Where are we on that? Is there still work to be done on the liability law to make it compliant with the CSC, or is possible to work with the Indian system or with the law the way it is?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The first point I would stress is that it is deeply in India’s interest as well as in the interest of Indian companies andforeign companies, including American ones, for India to move ahead in the area of civil nuclear cooperation and development in a way that is consistent with international practices. That’s what the Convention on Supplementary Compensation lays out; that’s why it is important that India has signed that and now is moving towards ratification. As India moves ahead towards ratification, we believe it is important to continue to consult with the IAEA, to try to ensure that India’s practices are consistent with international standards. Again, that is not a favor to the United States or anyone else, because it is going to be in the self-interest of India’s development in that field. The truth is that implementation of the Civil Nuclear Agreement has taken longer and has been more frustrating than either of us – Indians or Americans would like. We’re continuing to work through this – through the concerns that do remain about nuclear liability. It is encouraging that there was progress announced in June –the signing of an MOU by Westinghouse towards an Early Works Agreement – and my understanding is that that process is moving ahead. So, what’s going to be important is to work through the challenges that remain and produce tangible results because, obviously, that’s in the interest of both of our countries.

QUESTION: At this point, we’re still not there? In compliance with the CSC. It’s still not in compliance?

As I said, it is important that India continue to work with the IAEA to ensure that India’s practices are consistent with international standards. We still have questions with regard to nuclear liability. When I say we, I mean not just the United States, but a range of other countries too.

QUESTION: On defense relations, the three foundational agreements that the U.S. is negotiating with India. Do you think India is continuing to purchase arms and othersystems? Will those agreements apply in India?

Defense cooperation between the United States and India is one of the most important areas of potential growth in our relationship. We’ve already seen something on the order of eight billion dollars of defense acquisitions and trade over the course of the last five or six years. I think it is entirely possible that together we could double that over the next few years, but our defense relationship is not only about defense trade. It is also about the transfer of technology, it’s about co-production and co-development. We’re committed, the United States is committed, to levels of technology transfer and a defense relationship with India that are on a par with our relationships with our closest partners and allies in the world. I think our military-to-military relationship is expanding considerably, so the kinds of issues that are addressed in those three foundational agreements are ones that we do have to sort through, finding ways to share information in ways that are mutually acceptable. There are a variety of ways of doing that. I still think there is value in the foundational agreements, but we’re also looking at a range of ways in which we can accelerate the growth of this relationship. That’s what my colleague, Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter, is trying to do, and the effort that he’s initiated on our side, working with Indian colleagues, is quite unprecedented. India is the only country in the world right now with whom we’re embarked on that kind of a process. I think that’s a mark of the importance we attach to genuine defense cooperation.

QUESTION: If you could just give a quick readout on where you see the China relationship. Andparticularly with a slight emphasis on Myanmar. Second question, if you could, “AfPak” -the America-Pakistan relationship. And the South China Sea:

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Let me try to do all three, briefly.

On the South China Sea, the United States has had a clear, consistent and unchanged policy for a number of years. We don’t take a position with regard to the ultimate sovereignty of any of the land features that are in question right now. What we do take a position on is the importance of dealing with these kinds of differences, these kinds of questions,through dialogue and diplomacy. That’s why we think there’s great value not only in the Declaration of Conduct that has already been worked on by ASEAN, but in developing a code of conduct with ASEAN and China. It is encouraging that there have been one or two rounds of informal talks between ASEAN and China on these issues. We hope very much that by the East Asia Summit and beyond the East Asia Summit, there will be further progress. We think it is in everybody’s interest to have a broadly acceptable framework within which you can look at some of these questions.

I visited Burma earlier this week. The United States is encouraged by the progress that’s being made on democratic reform. We’re committed to continuing to meet action with action. That’s why the United States recently took decisions to relax its import ban, to relax our approach to the role of international financial institutions in Burma. We recognize there’s a great deal of work that remains unfinished for the people of that country. But we’re determined to continue to encourage that. It’s an interest that we share with India.

With regard to China, which I also visited on this trip: Obviously, the United States attaches a great deal of importance to building a cooperative partnership with China. And I believe that it is broadly in the interest not only of Chinese and Americans but also of people across the Asia-Pacific and around the world to do that given the significance of our relationship for the global economy. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have differences, because from time to time we do. But I think it is obvious that the Asia-Pacific region is big enough for prosperity and security and stability for both of us. And that both of us can make significant contributions to progress across the region and around the world.

QUESTION: Just a question. Is there any chance of India joining the TPP or APEC?

Is there any progress on your observer status at IOR – ARC. The Iranians have stalled.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: On APEC, as you know, the issue of membership is decided by consensus. There isn’t a consensus right now with regard to expanding membership for anyone. There are possibilities for different kinds of observer roles and participation in the CEO forum as well, which might be constructive steps in that direction. With regard to the IOR, we certainly welcomed the joint statement that was released at the time of the Strategic Dialogue about India’s willingness to support Dialogue Partner Status, I think is the proper term, for the United States. We’d certainly welcome that opportunity as well as any other opportunity to contribute to stability, security and prosperity in an increasingly important part of the world. And again, this is an important area of partnership with India.

QUESTION: Now, if you have time, Pakistan:

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: All I will say with regard to Pakistan is that, first, the United States attaches considerable importance to our relationship with Pakistan for all sorts of reasons that we continue to work hard at. Pakistan obviously has an important role with regard to the issue we were talking about before on Afghanistan’s stability. It also obviously has important obligations with regard to the activities of extremist groups and terrorist groups which operate from its soil, which pose a danger not only to India and America, but to Pakistan’s future itself. That’s why we continue to push very hard for the Pakistani leadership to meet its international obligations and cooperate in bringing those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice. After all it’s an attack that killed six Americans, as well ashaving horrendous consequences for India. So, we’ll continue to push that very hard, as a matter not just of America’s interest, or India’s interest, but of Pakistan’s own self-interest given the danger that violent extremist groups can pose to its stability as well.

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