U.S.-Nepal Relations

Press Conference
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Kathmandu, Nepal
February 12, 2009

MODERATOR: (Greetings in Nepali.) And now I’ll switch to English. (Laughter.) I’d like --


MODERATOR: I don’t want to speak for everybody here. I’d like to ask all of you, please, to switch off your mobile phones. It actually interferes with our sound system here, so we want you to get the – as best sound that you can. So if you could please switch off your mobiles right now, I’d appreciate it.

It is my great pleasure to introduce Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher. He has a wealth of experience in the region, and especially working with the press, details of which are in the biography that we provided to you. He’ll begin with some brief remarks about his trip here and then he will take your questions. Because his time is limited, I ask that you keep your questions brief.

Ladies and gentlemen, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s good to see everybody. It’s good to be back in Nepal. I’m excited to be here. I’m always happy to come here. I was very disappointed that I had to postpone my trip in December because of the Secretary of State’s travel. And so I’m glad I was able to reschedule to come now and see you all.

I want to thank the people of Nepal, the people in the government and elsewhere who hosted me and received me during this visit, the people who made all of the time available for me to ask questions and talk to them. And I think everybody was exceedingly helpful and treated me well, as I’ve come to respect Nepal hospitality as people have always been kind to me here. So thank you once again.

And I also want to congratulate the people of Nepal and all the people who are working so hard on the issues in front of Nepal. You’ve really – since the election, you have come through in support for democracy, looking for a better future, looking for a peaceful future for all the people of Nepal. And I think maybe my first mission on this trip was just to offer my congratulations to the people and to encourage them along, to encourage the government to use the support of the people of Nepal to achieve what the people expect – that’s peace and security.

The United States looks at Nepal, I’d say, from a position of principle. And the first principle is the principle of democracy. We’re here to support democracy. We e supported the reestablishment of democracy here. We supported the election process. And we support working with all the parties to try to achieve the new constitution and the other pieces of democracy that have yet to be finished.

We expect all the parties to act democratically. That means to approach things from a point of view of politics, not of violence. There can be activities of violent groups, and we have been concerned about increase in violence in a lot of the reports of attacks against the press or other violent activities in recent months. One of the things I did during my visit was to encourage people to deal with the violent groups and to make sure that they were disarmed or unable to carry out the violence anymore.

But we’ve also urged forward progress on issues of the constitution, issues of integration, and some of the other big issues that are before you. We recognize that a lot of the things that are being discussed now are very fundamental. Federalism is a – it’s an easy word to say, but it has a lot of aspects. It’s a very detailed concept. And each country has to figure out how it’s going to work in their own country. And so as you do this, there’s going to be a lot of debate, there’s going to be a lot of discussion, and there needs to be a lot of discussion.

But there also needs to be a coming together in the end so that there’s a broad democratic consensus on how things should work. As I have met with the political party leaders and I’ve talked about their attitudes and their positions, but also said in the end, it’s good if you can all come together and establish a clear constitutional basis, long-term basis for democracy in Nepal.

The other principle that we come at this from is to support the people of Nepal, looking for opportunities to help people throughout the country, especially the poor, the underprivileged, the people who haven’t been able to take advantage of some of the changes in the economy that have occurred in the last few years. And so we continue our aid programs. We will continue our aid programs. We want to be out there working on health, as we do, working on education, working on agriculture, working on developing economic opportunity, including private sector economic opportunity. And so I’ve discussed with the government how to coordinate that assistance, how to make sure it’s effective, and how to encourage the private sector.

This morning, the Minister of Finance gathered together leaders of many of the private sector organizations in Nepal, and we had a brief time to chat. And I found that very useful, too, to find the government encouraging the private sector and to pledge to them that we would work with them to try to help the private sector develop here. And we all know there are also big opportunities for Nepal in hydropower and other areas where private sector involvement can be the key in getting organized to attract investment and using that investment effectively for the nation.

So I think we come at – we come to Nepal at the beginning of a new Administration in Washington; we look at it as a place that’s still important to us. Many of the issues you’re dealing with are very important, I think, to everybody, but especially to a democracy, especially to a democracy like ours where we’re embarking in a new Administration, looking again at how we can best help people develop their democracy, develop their nation, and deal with some of these big issues.

The one thing I would add is I think the new Administration also has an emphasis on global warming. And some of the things that you’re going to face here in the mountains – glacial lakes, other climate change issues – I think that too is going to bring the new Administration into Nepal in a new way, and perhaps we can continue to develop our relations in some other areas apart from the ones where we’re working now.

So that’s why I am here. I had, I think, very productive talks. I had good discussions. We certainly look to see action on a lot of these issues. We realize there’s been a lot of organization getting committees together, but it’s time to move forward. It’s time to move forward on the constitution, time to move forward on the demobilization, more integration of people in the Maoist army. It’s time to move forward with the people in the cantonments. It’s time to move forward on some of the economic opportunities and projects that are being discussed.

So the United States will be here and try to keep encouraging that and work with you on that. So thank you very much. I’m glad to take questions.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. I’m --


QUESTION: I’m (Inaudible) from (inaudible) television. During your meeting with Girija Prasad Koirala, the president of the Nepali congress, you said that the democracy is in danger in Nepal; and do you think the Maoist are really committed to a multiparty democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think that, in the end, it is a question the Nepali people are going to have to address, and address it through elections and through their own political activity. The commitment of the parties, what I heard from all the parties, was a commitment to democracy, a commitment to finishing the constitution, a commitment to ensuring basic human rights for all Nepalese, a commitment to opening up economic opportunity for all Nepalese. And I think that’s what the people are going to insist upon. My encouragement is just to talk about how to get there, how to achieve those things, and how maybe we can help achieve those things in writing the new constitution. But in the end, I think that’s something that’s going to have to emerge from the Nepalese.

You can question the political motives of anybody. In the end, what matters is what they do. And if the government moves forward on this process, I think that will please the people of Nepal. And if they don’t, I think they’re going to hear it from the people.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) During your meeting with the prime minister yesterday, the prime minister has (inaudible). Is U.S. is ready to invest in the hydropower in Nepal in this current moment? And U.S. is annually providing $70 billion – million U.S. dollars per annually? Sorry, it’s million.


QUESTION: And Prime Minister (inaudible) during that meeting, our finance minister was also there and he has proposed something 20 billion U.S. dollar (inaudible) that costs us on the average now (inaudible). So what are you – are you seeking some option? Are you going to (inaudible) and are you going to invest in the hydropower in Nepal, particularly for (inaudible) project?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay. I don’t think we talked about any particular projects in the meeting. We talked about the general issue of hydropower, and that’s something where the United States has been trying assist in terms of energy, the energy market, the energy environment. It costs a lot of money to build a big hydropower project, to build a dam. But luckily, there’s a lot of money in the world. Governments don’t need to come up with all the money. And I’m afraid I can’t tell you that the United States is going to come up with $20 billion or even $ billion for one project.

But what we can do, and we can do this with other donors and private companies, is help Nepal create an environment where you’re going to be able to attract and use private capital. And between us and the World Bank, or the Asian Development Bank and a lot of other private companies, you can put together investors, you can put together a consortia, because you have an opportunity here. You have an opportunity because of your mountains. You have an opportunity because you’ve got two big neighbors who need electricity, and you have an opportunity to develop your own resources for the benefit of the people of Nepal.

And so to the extent we can help with creating the right investment environment or the right energy environment, we’ll do that. But I think a lot of what I talked about with people in government was how to create the investment environment and how to get the right consortium together so that the money could be put into some of these big projects.

There are also some projects that are already underway or under discussion. And I think that would be a good sign to see some of those projects concluded, to see some of those projects develop, because that would just encourage other private sector investors to come here.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. (Inaudible) from Newsfront. Since you met with the prime minister, the defense minister – I don’t know whether you met with the army chief or not.


QUESTION: I think, you know, what is the biggest problem facing the peace process right now is the integration of the PLA [People Liberation Army] back into the army. Is there any possibility of U.S., you know, trying to – there is already a very big difference between the defense ministry and the army right now. How have you – how do you see this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think, you know, the general ideas that I heard from people about the Maoist army is that people that are – that have been fighting for the Maoists who are no longer fighting, they need to be given other opportunities. Some of them may want to go back to villages and work in agriculture, some of them may want to get jobs overseas, some of them may want to join other sorts of security services protecting the forests or the borders, and some of them may want to join the army. So that’s a process that’s being worked out.

I think the third meeting of the integration committee was yesterday. It sounds like they’re getting down to business. They’re addressing some of the serious issues. There is international support. We’re talking to the UN, and I’m sure we’ll be there, too, to support this process once it’s decided how it will work. I have to say, I heard the same general description from everybody. Obviously, they’re going to have to work the details. But I do think there’ll be international support for moving these people into new lines of work.

QUESTION: Hello, sir. What fundamental differences do you see in Maoists before the election and after the election? What do you think – it has been the right time now to lift the terrorist tag on Maoists? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I have to say those are two different questions, and I’ll tell you why. The fundamental difference is that they were out of government and now they’re in government, all right? So we’re dealing with them in a government as responsible government authorities. And we have tried to make sure that we work with this government in a very normal fashion. We continue our meetings. We continue our discussions. We continue our assistance programs, so that we don’t interrupt healthcare for the people of Nepal just because there’s a minister from the Maoist party.

But at the same time, we don’t yet have a normal relationship with the Maoist party. They’ve been on our terrorist exclusion list. We’re looking at the process -- now, we started a review to take them off the list. But I don’t have a timetable yet. I haven’t set an end date to that. When we think they have done the necessary things to distance themselves, to reject terrorism in word and deed, and to take some of the actions against violence generally, then we’ll be able to take them off the list and have a more normal relationship with them as a party.

But I do want to emphasize that we’re not letting their status on the terrorist list stand between us and working with the government; in other words, stand between us and working with the people of Nepal.

QUESTION: I am (inaudible). I just wanted to ask what specific help U.S. Government is providing for adopting the constitution in Nepal. And secondly, is the U.S. – I mean, does the U.S. Government encourage investment in Nepal under the Maoists (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: In terms of help for the drafting of the constitution, I guess we would provide what we were asked for. I think we have a couple – or one, more than one – a couple constitutional experts already here who can help answer questions, provide examples, do comparisons, listen to people talk, often turn it into legal language. And – but if there’s other assistance that we could provide, I’m sure we’d be glad to try to help out.

In terms of increasing U.S. assistance, I’ll go back to where I was. It’s not so much a Maoist government/not a Maoist government; it’s what can we do best for the people of Nepal. And we’ll try to help as much as we can. We’ve had a fairly, I’d say, robust aid program already. We’re going to make sure we continue that, and we’ll look for areas where we can expand.

But I wouldn’t go for the megaprojects. I’d go for where there are populations of poor people who are underprivileged orif we can help with the – with the police, for example, in areas where the police are having problems maintaining order, that’s the kind of thing we can do.

In terms of the big projects and big investments, you’re going to have to get that from the private sector, so we can help you provide the kind of environment that will attract the private sector where your business people and foreign business people can get together to do things to develop the country.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: We heard (inaudible). We heard that the finance minister (inaudible) asked for some U.S. assistance on rehabilitating disqualified Maoist combatants into society. So what – is the U.S. going to do anything on that, or providing – in terms of providing (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think there is assistance available for that. The UN has expertise and capabilities in those areas. So, first, we’d like to support the UN effort to do that. And I think that will be – that may be the primary avenue for doing these things, for helping these Maoist fighters go on to other things. But again, if there’s something specific identified for the United States, we’ll see if we can help.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. I’m from Radio Nepal. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden in the Munich conference spoke of the new approach in terms of the new Administration’s foreign policy on engagement – more broader engagement with the European counterparts. And it has been (inaudible) from Russia to Iran also. And in Afghanistan also, recently just two days ago, Taliban attacking the core city also. Why not the U.S. and the European – I think just bring the (inaudible) from the regional power also, like, China and India also to Afghanistan, and just keep their effort in solving the Afghan (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We do work with the regional powers, and I think that’s an important part of what we’re doing. We obviously coordinate very closely with Europeans and others – Australians, and people who have troops there, as well as countries that give significant amounts of assistance, including Japan and including India. India is one of the top ten donors to Afghanistan. They have about $1.2 billion worth of assistance, and they do a lot of good work. They’ve built roads. They’ve done a lot of training for people, and they’ve done some useful things with the parliament, for example.

We work with them as we work with other donors. And I think if you look now at Special Representative Richard Holbrooke’s trip, that he’s been appointed by the new Administration to be Special Representative to work on Pakistan and Afghanistan issues. He’ll coordinate the U.S. Government effort, but he’ll also coordinate with countries in the region. And so on this trip, he’s gone to Europe. He visited countries there. He’ll be in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and I think other places. One of his jobs will be to coordinate with a whole lot of countries.

We do think everybody has an interest in stabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorists have come out of there and gone everywhere in the world. And we really need to work with those governments, with the people in those countries, to get rid of that from their societies so that they don’t have to feel it, so that neighbors don’t have to fear it, so we all don’t have to fear it.

Okay. Who gets the final question? The gentleman back here, I guess.

QUESTION: You said that you have started the review to take the Maoists off the terrorist exclusion list. What exactly does that review entail?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It means looking very carefully at the reasons why we’ve put them on, some of the events that lead to that. It means looking carefully at our law and what we have to do to take them off. It means looking at how they have acted as a party.

In the end, you could say this is about their going from being a fighting organization to being a political organization. And just as I said in the beginning, we expect all the democratic parties to act democratically. The more that they act within the political system to – you know, to promote their interests and help with their people, and whatever political parties do, but the more they act within the political system and abandon past practices of terrorism or violence, then the easier it’ll be for us to finish this review.

And that’s what we’re doing. We’re sort of trying to gather all the information, keep abreast of what they’re doing and what’s going on, look at their actions, look at their statements, and we’ll make the decision when we feel like it’s time to pull them off. But we’ve got groups in Washington that are meeting on the subject and gathering data, and we’ll just have to see how long that takes.

QUESTION: One follow-up question.


QUESTION: What is that list called, exactly? Some say terrorist list, some say terrorist watch list.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah, exactly. Does somebody have my piece of my paper where we wrote down exactly what we call it? It’s the terrorist exclusion list? The Terrorist Exclusion List and the Specially Designated Global Terrorist List. Okay. My assessment would be it’s best to look them up on the internet and get the exact words and the exact clauses of law and descriptions. They focus on different things, on travel and financing and issues like that.