United States - Bangladesh Cooperation

Press Conference
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Dhaka, Bangladesh
February 8, 2009

ASSISTANT SECFRETARY BOUCHER: Hi everybody. I’ve seen many of you before. I think you’ve been chasing me around. It’s good to see you again.

I just wanted to take a few minutes before I leave to first of all to thank everyone for the reception I’ve gotten in Bangladesh and for the generosity and the hospitality we get every day from our friends here.

It’s a very exciting time to visit Bangladesh. You have had a really good election. You have a new government in place. I think the people have very high expectations of the government, as they should, and we are all looking to make progress in ways that serve the needs of the people.

I want to congratulate the people of Bangladesh on the election, on an outcome that everybody can respect, and frankly on the way that you’ve conducted yourselves through the election and into the new period. As I’ve said it has been a very good time. I think it set a new standard for democracy in Bangladesh, but also more broadly in the region and in countries like your own.

I came to explore how we can work with the new government and with the opposition on matters that are important to us and important to the people of Bangladesh; to strengthen democracy and the institutions that can protect democracy: the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and the Judiciary. All of these institutions surround and protect democracy so that next time you can have as good an election as you did this time.

How can we work with Bangladesh to open up development opportunities to people. With the economic troubles throughout the world you’ve hung in there. You have done pretty well in some sectors, but I think there are still opportunities and we want to make sure that we take care of the needs of people by helping with agriculture and health care, while we also look for additional ways of opening opportunities.

And third, we want to protect the people of Bangladesh from terror. Your agencies and organizations are working hard to make sure that terrorists can not use this territory, and we’ll be doing what we can with them to support them with training and advice and expertise -- whatever it takes.

We have a new administration in the United States that’s getting in place and reviewing some of its policies and looking at what they can do. We have a new administration in Bangladesh. I think there we have a lot of new opportunities. For example, we’re starting to talk about areas of climate change where perhaps there are new opportunities for the United States and Bangladesh to cooperate.

So if I leave this trip with anything in my mind it is the really new potential for the United States and Bangladesh to cooperate, and the new potential for us to work in ways that are meaningful to the people of the country.

So with that I’d be glad to take some questions if we have time.

Question:Whatdo you think about the South Asian task force on terror? Under the backdrop of the current relations between India and Pakistan, do you think that real cooperation is possible in South Asia to fight the terrorists? Because with any bomb blast in India, India first blames Pakistan and often Bangladesh. Do you think that the blame game can disrupt the real investigation and cooperation on terror?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: I think you’ve seen in our reaction to the Mumbai bombings that we believe that it needs to be turned into an opportunity for cooperation. This was a horrible event. The people who did it, the groups behind it, anyone who was involved needs to be investigated, found out, and punished. But we also need the countries of the region to cooperate to make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen again. It’s the only way all of us can feel safe. That means seeing resolute action in Pakistan. I think we’ve started to see that kind of action. But it also means trying to engender cooperation between countries in the region.

The United States has worked with a number of governments in this region to try to deal with the Mumbai bombings, to try and help with the investigation, and to try to make sure that the people who do these things are put out of business, arrested and stopped.

It’s always difficult to get over some of these political hurdles, but it’s very important that we base our cooperation on the need to benefit all of us in eliminating these terrorist groups. And that we build bases of trust by taking action, each of us in our own territory, to make sure that this can’t happen again.

I do think this is a good idea to see if we can create a South Asia task force against terrorism. I said the countries in the region need to think about how to move forward on this and we’ll think about how we can support it if it comes to pass.

Question:My name is Shamin and I am with United News of Bangladesh. Recently, a few days back, two senior generals, one from the U.S. Special Operations Command and other from the U.S. Pacific Command visited Bangladesh and talked to Bangladesh military leaders. Your embassy in Dhaka said that the talks focused on U.S. security presence and readiness in the region to combat terrorism. My question is whether you are contemplating any base, military base in Bangladesh or in the region or what would be the modality of your presence and readiness to assist any countries in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The answer to your first question is no. We’re not looking at bases or anything like that here. We have a lot of cooperation with different countries, different governments, different agencies, and we’re looking to have broad cooperation with Bangladesh. We have a number of different agencies involved in providing security for the people here. Some of those are civilian agencies like the police. Some of those are military agencies. We’ll have cooperation with them on things like maritime security and in areas where we find opportunities. We’ve also had a visit here of the head of the unit in our Justice Department that does international training. So we can look at more opportunities to work with the police and any of these different organizations we will try to work with, but not in any permanent way or with any permanent presence.

Question:Mr. Boucher, I have two small questions. You have just said that you want cooperation with police as well as with military. What type of cooperation do you want? Actually, the can you specify any modalities of this? The second is that there are some political parties in Bangladesh who are opposing and criticizing the TIFA. What is your suggestion to them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think that is three questions, so I get to pick the one I want, right? I’ll pick number two, the TIFA question.

I think that I did answer to the military question. The modalities can be worked out. We’re here to offer our assistance. I think there’s some interest in maritime patrols so that you can protect your sea areas better. We’ll see if there are activities we can do to help with that. But the modalities will depend on what Bangladesh can use, what we can do.

On the idea of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, I’ve tried to say that let’s not get too excited about this right now. It’s a framework. If we do one, these agreements provide a basis for discussion. A basis for us and people on the Bangladesh side to sit down and talk about what further steps one might take to improve trade and improve investment. So it’s a very simple standardized basis that puts kind of a floor that we can all stand on so that we can talk.

But even that right now, we are not moving forward on it from our side because we have a new government. We have decided to postpone further trade negotiations until our new Trade Representative gets a chance to review these models, these standard agreements, and make sure that’s the way they want to proceed. So it’s not an issue right now. It’s really not an issue for us in Bangladesh or with anybody at this moment.

When we come back to talking about it, it’s a very simple arrangement that lets us discuss further things in more detail. That’s when you can start to open up new opportunities.

Question:Ambassador Boucher, is it true that the United States’ new administration will double the overseas development assistance for least developed countries for the next four or five years? Number one. And next, how does the new Obama administration view the fate of the New Partnership for Development Act of 2007 which was introduced by Jim McDermott and what will you do for this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The simple answer to your question is number one, I don’t know, and number two, I don’t know either. I don’t think the new administration has taken a position yet. The new administration does have to project its budgets and present our budgets to Congress. That hasn’t quite happened yet. That should happen in the next few months. That’s where we’ll start to hear exactly what their plans are with regard to development funding.

Certainly President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made very clear that they see development as a very important aspect of our foreign policy. They want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can. But where the numbers come out, we’ll have to see when the budget request goes forward.

As far as the McDermott bill, I don’t think this administration has taken a position on it so I don’t have anything to say at this point.

Question:I work for the News Today. You have talked about the South Asian task force to combat terrorism. How is the U.S. involved with this task force? Would the U.S. take any special diplomatic mission to convince South Asian nations to join the task force?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think how the U.S. gets involved will depend on what kind task force is created. That first and foremost falls on the countries of the region. And again, the countries in the region, if they want us to provide some kind of support we’d be glad to consider it. But I think at this point it’s being proposed here. It is being discussed with other countries in the region and we’ll have to see what kind of thing they create and what kind of assistance they want from us and we will consider it.

Question:This is Raheed from the New Age? In your opening statement you have mentioned that the new U.S. administration is willing to work with the newly elected government in Bangladesh. What is the impression you have got? You discussed with our Prime Minister that the areas to focus on in future cooperation with the U.S. Secondly, do you apprehend that the global meltdown will in any way impact the U.S. aid to Bangladesh in the coming years?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the general attitude is to maintain or even possibly increase the amount development assistance that we are giving. We are facing economic difficulties right now. We have to do a lot just to get our economy started again. So perhaps development assistance won’t develop as rapidly as one might have hoped. We will have to see.

I think there is a general attitude on the part of this administration to try to increase development assistance and do more with foreign countries.

As far as specifically the areas where we can cooperate with Bangladesh, I think that to some extent this is an extension of areas where we’re working already. We’re working in agriculture. We’re working in health care and education, in economic opportunity. I think we’re looking for ways to keep doing that and perhaps event expand. Then there are some new areas coming along like climate change, as one I cited, that are important to this government and also important to our government where perhaps we can identify some new things we can do.

Question:I have a question on TIFA. My question is if Bangladesh signs a TIFA agreement, how will Bangladesh be benefited by this?

ASSISTANT SECFRETARY BOUCHER: Again, we’re not at a point now of negotiating the TIFA or being in a position to say how we can proceed on that one, so I don’t think the question is quite there yet. But the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement is just that. It’s a framework that says there are some basic things that we are going to do, that everybody does. But we are going to also going to start getting together. Looking for more opportunities, looking for more things we can do. So even if we sign a TIFA that is not the end of it. That is just the beginning of more discussions.

Question:I work for AFP. You talked about maritime cooperation patrol between Bangladesh and the USA. How will it be done? Will it be a permanent arrangement? We know that Myanmar has objected to some.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t want to go too far down this road because we were asked for examples of things that military people might want to do together. And that was an example of an area that they started to discuss, we will see if there’s something useful and we’ll do it, but I do not have any specifics at this point.

Question:After the successful election, how do you look at the antitheses of the opposition in the parliament?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think we all believe it’s important to have a healthy debate and discussion in parliament. We need to have a situation where everybody is free to express themselves and where a variety of views are heard. What I heard from the leader of the opposition and from the Prime Minister is they would like to have that situation. There would like to have a parliament where there is discussion or debate. I realize they’re trying to get through some particularities of how to arrange that, and I just kind of encouraged them and said that it is important so see if you can do it. But I don’t have an answer to the seating arrangements, but I think we all understand that it is important to have open discussion and to have everyone present to be able to have that discussion.

Question:I work for Reuters. We have reports that hundreds of Rohingyas, Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma fled the country due to persecution. More than 200 were rescued in the Andaman Islands. Many were stranded in Thailand. Has the United States any policy to interfere or to impress upon the Myanmar government so they stop the persecution to stop fleeing of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think we have been concerned all along about the situation of the Rohingya, and our view is that persecution to should stop. We all need to see what we can do to take care of these folks. I don’t have anything in particular on those reports, but we have been concerned about the situation and encouraged people to try to make sure they are properly treated.

Question:Is there any chance to get funds from the MCC for Bangladesh?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think there’s always a chance. There is certainly the election, having a new democratic government is an important criteria, a big step forward in terms of qualifying for Millennium Challenge. There are a series of very carefully chosen but objective indicators, measurable indicators. You can actually find those on the website. We want to see the countries that are making progress and dedicated to achieving progress in all those steps. Very important ones include action against corruption and actions to strengthen the judiciary. Things like that.

So the election was a big step forward, but it’s going to take some action in these other areas as well to see Bangladesh qualified for Millennium Challenge. We’d love to see you achieve those things. Some of our other aid programs can raise standards to get there.

We have time for one more question.

Question:Are there plans for Hillary Clinton to visit Bangladesh?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know of any particular plans that she might to have come out this way. I can tell you that I was talking to her last just week, and she very fondly remembers her visit here. She was talking about the people she met and the things she saw. I think that Secretary Clinton would like to come when she can but I can’t predict when that will be.

Thank you very much.

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