Press Roundtable

Pat Moon
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Kathmandu, Nepal
January 21, 2010

MODERATOR: Just quickly, I want to thank all of you for coming. Sorry to keep you waiting. I know it’s a little tight around the table but we wanted to make it a bit more informal. It’s my honor to introduce Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Patrick Moon. He’s going to start out with some remarks about his visit here and then we will open up the floor to questions. During the question and answer session, when you ask a question if you could give your name and your affiliation, that’d be great. Thank you.

Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Moon: Thanks very much for coming in this morning. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about my visit here. I came here to emphasize the U.S. foreign policy objectives in Nepal and to consult with senior members of the government and the political parties on the peace process. The U.S. objectives in Nepal are really pretty simple and straightforward. We want to see a

stable, peaceful, and democratic Nepal where the government has respect for human rights, protects the human rights of the Nepali people, and where there are conditions for prosperity for Nepali people.

In my meetings here, I was very consistent in my message. The U.S. is urging timely progress in the peace process. We believe that all parties need to be flexible. There will be a need for compromises to successfully reach agreement on all the issues by the deadline of May 28. I also urged action on human rights issues. There are a number of human rights cases from the insurgency period. There are allegations both against the Nepali Army and the Maoists regarding human rights abuses. We believe those abuses should be investigated. There should be no climate of impunity for those guilty of human rights abuses. The proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Disappearances Commission, we believe, are good proposals that could be very useful in pursuing the facts in these cases.

In my discussions, I was very impressed by the commitment of the government officials and party leaders to the peace process and to reach agreement on the issues before the May 28 deadline. There seems to be considerable energy being devoted to this by all parties and I know that the High Level Political Mechanism could be a very useful tool in bringing all the parties together and reaching agreement on some of the very difficult issues that yet must be decided.

I, of course, met with chairman Prachanda and had for him the same message I gave to the other leaders. We want to see a commitment to the peace process in reaching agreements on the issues before the deadline and that the Maoists, like the other parties, need to show flexibility and a willingness to compromise on the issues. I also told him that we did not think that strikes were useful, certainly not helpful for the process here. I also noted the importance of the release of disqualified combatants. This is a positive step. As noted in the press, we did talk about the removal of the Maoists from the U.S. terrorist lists, and we talked about the steps that we would like to see the Maoists take, including renouncing the use of violence and terrorism, and holding accountable those who committed gross human rights violations. We want to see them work actively with the other parties to support the peace process. We want to see the Young Communist League, like other youth organizations, abandon violence and criminal activities, and there are other issues which we discussed in regard to this issue. We hope to continue the dialogue. Chairman Prachanda did indicate his intention to engage seriously in the peace process, in fact, he had been at a meeting of the High Level Political Mechanism just before our meeting. And he did indicate his party’s interest in engaging with us on these issues regarding removal of the Maoists from the terrorist lists.

What’s important is that we need to see action and not just words, not just from the Maoists but from all the parties in order for Nepal to reach an end-point to this peace process and successfully resolve the issues which yet are before you. As I indicated earlier, the United States is not a party to these negotiations, we don’t have views on the issues that are being addressed; these are for the Nepali people to decide. But we do want to see the process move forward constructively, positively, and that there is a serious effort to reach a solution to the problems that must be addressed.

I just wanted to add, seeing these AID calendars, that the USAID programs here in Nepal are having a positive effect in addressing issues such as poverty, health issues, democracy building, and climate change. And we will continue to support these programs and to support the people of Nepal.

So with that I am willing to take your questions.

Questions and answers:

QUESTION: Yubaraj Ghimire, I am the editor of Rajdhani Daily. The condition that you put forward when you met chairman Prachanda about the party being taken off the terrorist list, it’s a kind of consistent suggestion from the U.S. side. When you go back after your three-day visit, are you more hopeful that they would comply with this and that you would be able to remove them from the terrorist list?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: They’ve said that they are addressing the issues that we raised with them and that they want to engage with us. So that’s a positive sign.


Kiran Chapagain (Republica): I am Kiran Chapagain, I am the political affairs editor of Republica, English newspaper. During your three-day visit here you also met the Defense minister and the Chief of Army Staff as well.


QUESTION: Did you also raise the human rights issues with the Nepal Army, including the promotion of Toran [Singh] and the case of Major Niranjan Basnet, and what was their response to your concern?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: I raised the human rights issue, in all of my meetings including these two. And when I raised these issues, as I just did for you, I indicated these are issues that concern both the Nepali Army and the Maoists and that we want to see the government of Nepal and the Maoists seriously address these human rights issues. I think the Nepali people need that and we hope that that process can move forward.

QUESTION: This is Binaj Gurubacharya with the Associated Press. During your meetings with the political leaders you said that they gave you a lot of commitments. How convinced are you that they would live up to those commitments? I am sure that they’ve given this in the past and that they have made these commitments several times, each time. Are you convinced that they will live up to their commitments?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, I must say that I was impressed by the commitments in these meetings and indeed there was optimism among many of the people I met with about engaging. They are now focused on the May 28 deadline and certainly we will take at face value their commitments to do so. We want this process to move forward as much as anyone else, and we hope that this High Level Political Mechanism can be a tool to address some serious issues that remain.

QUESTION: I am Akhilesh, I am with the Kathmandu Post. Would you like to comment on what would be the U.S. position should the human rights violations, the cases of impunity that you just mentioned, not just on the Nepal Army side but also on the Maoist side. What would be the next step for the U.S.?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: We made clear that we think these human rights abuses need to be addressed as part of the overall peace process, as part of the healing process for the people of Nepal. How this is done is up to the people of Nepal. But I think that everyone is interested in seeing this happen. I didn’t hear anyone say that it should not happen. And we will wait and see how events develop on these issues. But it remains at the top of the U.S. agenda. I want to make clear that this was the main theme in all of my meetings.

QUESTION: So you are essentially saying that that remains the U.S.’s number one foreign policy concern in Nepal.

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: I didn’t say number one. I am not going to put a priority order, but it is a major theme, a major issue for the United States. And we think it’s important. We think it’s important for the Nepali people as well.

QUESTION: This is Gopal Sharma with Reuters. In the latest report on Nepal, the UN Secretary General has said the peace process is on the verge of collapse. Do you agree with that? What were your impressions when you met the Nepalese people here, Nepalese officials?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, I repeat again. There is a very serious attitude among all the government officials and party leaders to making progress. Deadlines help focus everyone's attention on the business that must be addressed. And the deadline is fast approaching. The one hundred and twelve days set a very short period for progress. And I was impressed by the attitude of the people with whom I met here. They are serious about making progress.

QUESTION: I am Mahesh Acharya with Kantipur Radio. Last September I had an opportunity to meet with you in Washington D.C. At that time you told us that the political parties are running out of time to move forward, to make progress. And as you mentioned about the tight deadline, we have nearly four months to promulgate a new constitution as well as integrate the Maoist combatants into the security forces. So, what do you think – is it feasible to achieve those objectives, those aims in that deadline?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: I can't say myself, but I will say that it is an ambitious time schedule; there is not much time to do this. But every single official with whom I spoke was committed to reaching an agreement within the time frame on the issues and taking the actions necessary. So I will, we all must take them at their word at this point and certainly it would be what we want to happen to meet the deadline.

QUESTION: How impatient is the international community because there is not so much good progress in the peace progress here in Nepal… as Assistant Secretary Robert O. Blake in his previous visit to Nepal said, that the international community didn't have unlimited patience. So does the international community still have unlimited patience?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: The United States, like I think most other members of the international community, very much wants to see a resolution to the issues in accordance with the 2006 comprehensive peace accord, and we have this deadline May 28. And as I said, I urged every official with whom I met to be flexible and to seriously engage on the issues that they face.

QUESTION: This is Yekraj Pathak from the National News Agency. You have met various political leaders, including Maoist chairman Prachanda. What did you get, what did you find from Mr. Prachanda regarding the new constitution making in the stipulated time and the ongoing peace process, because he is preparing for the ultimate movement against the government?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: As I said, he indicated to me that that he was committed to engaging on the issues. He, as I said, just came from the High-Level Political Mechanism meeting -- he and his party members are participating in the process -- he admitted that there are some serious issues yet to be addressed -- yet to be resolved -- but they are engaged and they have taken a number of steps in the past few months to indicate that they are interested in pursuing the peace process, such as re-engaging in the parliament and also the release of the disqualified combatants. So I urged him, like the others, to do exactly that -- that the Maoists had to participate in the process, they have to be serious members alongside the other parties in Nepal.

QUESTION: So are you going back convinced that the constitution will be promulgated in time? In case the deadline is not met, what would be the U.S. response to that situation?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: It is difficult to say. It is truly a hypothetical situation. I would just say that we hope the other issues can be resolved by the May 28 deadline.

QUESTION: This is Liladhar Upadhyay from The Rising Nepal. There are so many differences in Constituent Assembly to sort out by the political parties with the political consensus. Their activities seem that they are more entangled with war politics. So what could be the solution?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, I don't have any solutions to propose to the issues. And I think the major issues are pretty well known to everyone on what needs to be done, what needs to be addressed. The U.S. will continue to consult on the process, and if we can provide support to the process, we will do so. I am impressed by the progress which has been made for instance on drafting of the constitution, and as I said I am impressed by the commitment by the party leaders to the High-Level Political Mechanism. Certainly we hope that it could be a mechanism by which progress can be registered by the parties coming together and addressing the issues – the serious issues which remain.

QUESTION: This is Gunaraj Luitel, I'm with Nagarik daily. You have mentioned about this high-level political mechanism. But in our system, mainly, this particular organization is kind of extra-constitutional. In fact, it is not included in our present constitution. Would it be able to give any proper guidance or fruitful impact on our system, because there are already political leaders who are raising voices against this mechanism?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: I think that any time that the parties come together to discuss the issues in an organized way, that has to be a positive development. And that seems to be what is happening so far anyway. Time will tell, but if the party leaders can come together, ready to address the major issues and ready to be flexible on the outcomes, then it would be seen as a successful mechanism.

QUESTION: This is Badri Tiwari, I represent the national daily newspaper Nepal Samacharpatra national daily. I just want to request you to say your latest evaluation of our principal problems during your visit to the leaders and government officials in Nepal in connection to peace process. Have you noticed those problems – would you point to the problems?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: I think the issue is pretty well known to everyone. And they related to what was agreed on under the peace accord, that there are some major issues out there that have to be addressed, such as the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants. And there are, I'm sure, a multitude of other issues which have to be addressed. I am not the expert on the process on what has to be done but I have a very clear understanding from my discussions here that the political leaders do understand the major issues and they seem to have a common understanding of what must be addressed very quickly -- the major issues that must be addressed.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up question to my previous question. During your meeting, you also raised the killing of businessman Ramhari Shrestha, Madi bombing, and the killing of U.S. staff during the conflict time.


QUESTION: At least this is the condition to remove the Maoists from the terrorist list. How long will it take [for] the Maoists -- for instance if the terms and conditions set by the U.S. is addressed by the Maoists to get removed from the terror list -- how long it will it take if the Maoists fulfill those conditions?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: That's difficult to say. We have bureaucracies as well as everyone else. But the important thing is the Maoists have indicated their desire to engage on the issues we raised with them, including the human rights issues that we raised with them -- and we look forward to continuing dialogue with them and we'll go from there.

QUESTION: This is Naresh Phuyal from Radio Nepal. Ambassador Moon, actually Defense Minister Bidhya Bhandari yesterday -- you might have noted about her assertion about the army integration and rehabilitation process would not be completed without the active participation of Nepal Army. And she in a very clear manner denied that the [Maoist] army combatants would be given any chance in a collective manner -- no matter the committee -- the special committee whatsoever it decides. In this context, as a well-wisher of the Nepalese peace process -- and also the United States has long been in association in terms of the cooperation with the Nepalese army, too -- what might be a good solution for that, and what might be some of other precedents we might have in the insurgencies around the world?

Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Moon: The Defense Minister did not make similar points in her discussion with me. I think there is a common understanding among officials whom I did meet that the issues with the Maoist combatants, the major issues which must be addressed in accordance with the terms of the comprehensive peace accord --

Naresh: But actually, later on, yesterday, she held a press conference --

Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Moon: Yes, I know what she said. But I am not going to interpret what she said. I will say that the political leaders whom I met said that they do understand this is an important issue which must be addressed. And there is a lot of thinking going on in terms of what solutions they may want to pursue. We don't have a solution except that the political leaders do decide how to do this and there has to be a consensus among them on how to proceed.

QUESTION: I am Sudheer Sharma from Kantipur daily. The general impression, perception, is that the United States oversees Nepal mainly through an Indian prism. Is there any coordination between Delhi and Washington on Nepal issues?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, the United States, like other countries -- we discuss international issues, we consult on international issues with other countries on a frequent basis. We have a broad agenda with India, but… I think you used the word ‘coordinate’ policy on Nepal with India, and I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. We consult with countries, with many countries.

QUESTION: Just to add with Sudheer, this, a lot say, actually it’s like outsourcing a business from the US to India. Same in the diplomatic field also?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: The U.S. has its own policies, and India has its policies. And I’m here to represent U.S. policies and what I told you our objectives are. I’ll let the Indians speak for themselves -- the Foreign Minister was just here.

QUESTION: Would you like to discuss a bit, just comment on what has been UNMIN’s role, and how do you view it, and how do you see it going forward? The peace process literally stands on a slippery slope.

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: We certainly view the UNMIN mission here, its role, as a positive one. They, like others, have been a little frustrated at the slow progress on a number of the issues with which they are charged with facilitating. But they are helping now with the discharge of the disqualified combatants, and the Security Council will be acting – I think it is tomorrow – on extending the mandate for UNMIN. And the U.S. will have a positive vote for the extension.

QUESTION: A slightly out of track question… The U.S. Embassy has expressed concerns on buying planes of Airbus by Nepal government, and there are also reports of the U.S. Embassy lobbying to sell Boeing instead, the planes from an American company. Would you like to comment on that?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, let me clarify. We have not suggested to the Nepali government that they should not be buying Airbuses. What we have said is we want to see a fair and transparent process in the evaluation of the bids from Airbus and from Boeing. That’s important. And then the Nepali government can make an appropriate decision based upon the facts provided by both the companies. We just want it to be fair and transparent.

QUESTION: Just in case others do not have the question... The U.S. is one of the major suppliers of military aid to Nepal Army. Given the promotion of Toran Bahadur Singh, and given the army denial to hand over Major Niranjan Basnet to the civilian court… Will these two incidents in Nepal Army will affect, or how these incidents will affect the U.S. assistance, military assistance to Nepal Army?


QUESTION: The promotion of Toran, Toran Jung Bahadur—


QUESTION: And the case of Niranjan. How these two cases will affect the future assistance, US assistance to Nepal Army? And its relation to Nepal Army, as well?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Today, the U.S. provides the Nepal Army with assistance related to humanitarian support and to disaster preparedness. These are very important aspects of the mission of the Nepali army. Our assistance is limited only to these two areas. And we do want to see a full investigation, an airing of the charges of human rights abuses in all cases, the cases you mentioned and others. That will be important to the U.S. government in terms of our policy toward Nepal.

QUESTION: Would you please want to share the latest development pertaining to Bhutanese refugees settled in the U.S.?

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, the U.S. has provided assistance to the Bhutanese refugees here in Nepal and we appreciate the support from the Nepali government in this effort. We have resettled… I think it’s something like 25,000 Bhutanese to the United States from Nepal. And we have, and will continue to urge, the Bhutanese government to take back at least some of these refugees. And, as I say, we appreciate the support of the Nepali government.

MODERATOR: We’ll take just a few more questions. Are there any other questions?


MODERATOR: You have one? Okay.


MODERATOR: One more.

QUESTION: The U.S. is majorly focused in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, South Asia has been a major concern for the U.S. these days. In this context, where does Nepal lie in U.S. priority? Asia’s rising powers like India and China are our neighbors, too.

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, we don’t have a priority list of what countries are more important or not. We address each country separately, and we address the issues separately. Nepal is an important part of U.S. policies for South Asia. We want to see Nepal recover from the years of insurgency. We want to see Nepal reach a political agreement — it’s important to the future of your country, to your people. We want to be supportive, and that’s part of my visit here. And we’ll continue that policy. We provide also, as I suggested humanitarian assistance here through USAID. Those are important programs, we believe. We work with other donors as well. Our policy is one which we believe is based upon the right principles in serving the people of Nepal.

QUESTION: Just with, agreeing with Mahesh also. I think, with the United States/Nepalese foreign policy actually, for the last 30 or 40 years we have been at par. Just take the case of declaration of the state of Israel, at the time in 1960, early 1960s. At that time, most south Asian countries never recognized Israel; we were the first. And in the case of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan we were the first to denounce it, calling for the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. Take the case of the Vietnamese occupation in Cambodia, at that time. So, we were in, very much similar to following, at so many international levels also. But, talking to the previous questions also, a large perception is there that, that the U.S. foreign policy is, rather, you know… What, I used that term ‘outsourcing;’ it may not be appropriate. But we are in a least priority or something else, right now, in this phase, you know, with the continuation of the Indo-US alliance and so many, you know, strategic affairs, and others, too. This is a lot of our perception here in Nepalese community, rather.

PRINCIPLE DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY MOON: Well, I certainly believe that the United States has been a good friend of Nepal for a long time. We’ve had a very warm and friendly relationship with the government of Nepal and with the Nepalese people for many, many years. And our policies today are based on that foundation. We will continue to support what the government is doing in terms of the peace process. We’ll support efforts to help the Nepali people to address issues like health, and hunger, and poverty. And climate change, too, another important issue for Nepal today. We had some interesting discussions on that as well. The U.S. has a very good relationship with the government of Nepal today; we consult with them on many issues outside of the peace process. We have consulted, for instance, on climate change, a very topical issue right now. And we’ll continue to do so, as partners in South Asia, and in the world.

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. And I look forward to my next visit to Nepal — I hope to see you then.