Readout of Indian and Tajik Bilateral Meetings
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll go right into our next briefing. Our timing is good, but the Secretary this afternoon has had a number of bilaterals. One of them was with the foreign minister of India, so we thought that Assistant Secretary Bob Blake could come down --
QUESTION: Did you say India?
MR. CROWLEY: India.
MR. CROWLEY: And give you kind of a quick sense. Obviously, this is one of the emerging strategic relationships that we have around the world. The Secretary has been to India in the recent past. Many of you went with her. And this is obviously a follow-up on that trip.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thanks a lot, P.J. I’m going to have to apologize; I’m going to have to leave around 6:15 because I’ve got another bilat down at the UN. So I’m going to do both a readout on the Krishna meeting but also a very quick one on the Secretary’s meeting with the president of Tajikistan yesterday, President Rahmon, so we can briefly touch on that.
Most of the meeting today with Foreign Minister Krishna was – concerned bilateral relations. The Secretary opened by recalling her very positive visit in July and the launch of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue with External Affairs Minister Krishna at that time. She told him today that the United States views India as one of our most important partners going forward in the 21st century. She said that our side is hard at work on preparing for Prime Minister Singh’s very important state visit that will occur on November 24th, the first state visit of the Obama Administration, and still a lot of work to be done there.
They touched on some of the things that are already underway. As many of you know, the Indian Home Minister Chidambaram paid a visit earlier this month to Washington, D.C., had a wide range of cabinet-level appointments with his various counterparts to discuss how we can further enhance the already strong counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and India.
The Secretary said that we hope to move forward on civil nuclear cooperation with India. As many of you know, there are still some steps that have to be taken there, particularly with respect to signing liability legislation, getting the Indian parliament to approve liability legislation for our companies, but also to announce formally the reactor parks that will be – the two reactor parks that will be set aside for U.S. companies.
The two ministers also talked about education as another major focus. As many of you know, the Indian Lok Sabha will probably consider later this fall a new bill that will enable more foreign participation in the education sector, particularly the higher education sector. And there are a number of American universities who are very eager to do more. So we’re very excited about that as well.
The two also touched on India and Pakistan relations. The Secretary welcomed the fact that External Affairs Minister Krishna will be meeting with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Qureshi, I think in two days, and she expressed her hope that the two sides can agree on the steps that they believe are necessary to get their relations back on a more positive footing.
They touched on the situation in Sri Lanka, where I think we have very similar views. The U.S., particularly I think both of us agree on the importance of Sri Lanka resettling the almost 300,000 internally displaced people who remain in the camps, and resettling them as quickly as possible.
The Secretary also briefed External Affairs Minister Krishna on President Obama’s announcement this morning with President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown about the – about our concerns regarding the new Iranian nuclear facility. She also welcomed the very strong statement that Russia made in this regard.
And lastly, the Secretary reaffirmed the importance of the United States and India working together to achieve a successful outcome at Copenhagen on climate change.
So that was basically the subject of the Krishna meeting. Let me briefly tell you about the meeting with President Rahmon, which was yesterday – President Rahmon of Tajikistan.
There, the primary focus was on our cooperation in Afghanistan. We – the Secretary thanked President Rahmon for Tajikistan’s very helpful support in Afghanistan, particularly with respect to the northern distribution network and the overflight clearances that they provide. As many of you know, Tajikistan has a 1,400-kilometer border with Afghanistan, so there’s a lot of cooperation that goes on in terms of border security, counternarcotics cooperation, and so forth. And we welcome that.
The two also discussed at some detail the economic situation in Tajikistan. There are about a million Tajik men who are now working outside of Tajikistan, mostly in Russia, and so the Secretary urged the Tajiks to promote economic development efforts as much as possible so as many of those as possible could come back to Tajikistan and work in the country. She also noted the importance of trying to grow more food, so again, that that could provide more employment for Tajik men.
And the Tajiks expressed – interested in doing more to develop their hydropower resources. There are quite significant electricity shortages in the winter in Tajikistan, while in the summer they have a little bit of a surplus, some of which they are beginning to now plan to export to Afghanistan, which would be a very welcome step to help meet some of the electricity shortages in Afghanistan.
Lastly, the Secretary noted that Tajikistan has very important parliamentary elections coming up in February of 2010, and urged that the Government of Tajikistan work very closely with the OSCE to ensure that those elections are free and fair.
So that’s essentially the readout of the two meetings, and I’d be glad to take a few questions before I have to rush off.
QUESTION: Can you take a quick one on the India-Pakistan stuff that the Secretary raised in her meeting? Did she get any sense from the Indian foreign minister that – that longstanding demands that the Pakistanis do far more for those involved or allegedly involved in the Mumbai attacks – did that come up, and did you get any sense that that continues to be a hindrance on improving relations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as I said earlier, they – I think both sides agree on the importance of trying to get things back to normal. I don’t want to get into the position of characterizing what Pakistan – I’m sorry, what India said about its relations with Pakistan. I’ll let the Indians do it. This is a very sensitive topic for them. And our position has always been that this is something that needs to be worked out between our two friends, India and Pakistan, so I’d prefer to just leave it at what I already said.
QUESTION: Can you give any more detail about the discussion over the Iranian nuclear facility? Did the Secretary try to get any pledges or expressions of support in terms of putting pressure on Iran down the road?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, not really. It was more just her briefing the foreign – the external affairs minister on what we’ve been doing, and that was really the focus.
QUESTION: So --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, this was sort of right at the end when they were just preparing to leave, so she just touched on that, climate change, and a few other things.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, he wasn’t asking India to not do trade or cut back on their trade with Iran?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There were no requests at this meeting, but I think we’ve had very good dialogue in the past with India on nuclear issues and specifically with reference to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, where I think Prime Minister Mammohan Singh has repeatedly made clear that they don’t believe it is in India’s interest to have another nuclear weapons state in the region.
QUESTION: Did the Indian minister, do you know, protest against the increase in American aid to Pakistan especially since he’s been talking of late (inaudible) President Musharraf when he said that in the past (inaudible) to be used against India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I’d rather not get into trying to talk about what the Indians said. I mean, I’d prefer you just ask them directly about their positions, because particularly on this subject, it’s quite a sensitive issue, and I don’t want to mischaracterize their views.
QUESTION: And I just have one more question. Did the U.S. side have a response to yesterday when the Indian (inaudible) mission to the UN sent a letter saying that India was not in a position to sign the NPT? Did the U.S. have a position on that? Did that come up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That didn’t come up in the meeting. We have – we’ve said before that the resolution that was passed yesterday unanimously by the Security Council does not have any bearing on our bilateral civil nuclear cooperation, and that really shouldn’t have any effect whatsoever. So we’ve provided reassurances to that effect to our friends in the Indian Government.
QUESTION: Has the White House actually announced that Singh is going to be the first state dinner?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They have.
QUESTION: They have?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t know if the White House has, but the Secretary announced it during her visit to India.
QUESTION: Oh, she did? Okay.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s public knowledge.
QUESTION: Never mind, never mind.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s public knowledge.
QUESTION: Forgive my lack of knowledge of India; doesn’t India have a president?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They do.
QUESTION: Well, so isn’t --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But --
QUESTION: Isn’t a state dinner for a head of state?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, no, this is – there’s ample precedent for this. President Bush hosted Prime Minister Mammohan Singh, Prime Minister Singh hosted President Bush, so there have been numerous – but they will – you’re correct that during--
QUESTION: (Inaudible) country? Because I mean, when you have – when Netanyahu or whoever was prime minister of Israel doesn’t get a state dinner; it’s only the president of Israel who gets a state dinner.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, the dinner – when we were in India, when President Bush --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: -- visited, you’re correct that the Indian president hosted a dinner for the American president. But here in the United States, America’s president will host a dinner for Prime Minister Singh.
QUESTION: Okay. I will take my questions to protocol on this. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. I’m just a diplomat. What do I know? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Okay. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.