Interview With Asahi Shimbun

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
March 10, 2010

QUESTION: First, U.S.-India relations. In my understanding, the U.S.-India relationship is historically in very good condition and very stable. But, at the same time, I have the impression that this administration puts --


QUESTION: This administration puts enormous effort to make it even stronger, and I was also very interested in the words “U.S.-India 3.0.” So, I understand the importance of the relationship, so in order to make it further stronger, what kind of relationship or what do you want to have as a result of that stronger relationship with India?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thank you very much for that important question.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The Secretary, she gave a speech last year where she talked about – I think that’s what you’re referring to – and she talked about three different phases of our relations.


QUESTION: Yes, right.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And one was really up through the nuclear test that India had in 1998, which was a period marked by, frankly, many differences in our relationship, a lot of them over the nuclear issue.


The second phase was marked by the – began with a dialogue that our then-Deputy Secretary, Strobe Talbott, had with his counterpart, who was the Foreign Minister at that time, Jaswant Singh, to begin to study seriously how to repair U.S. relations with India, and then the third was, really, the current phase now, that we’re beginning under President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and Prime Minister Singh and External Affairs Minister Krishna.


And, under that third phase, I think President Obama and Secretary Clinton really see that our relations with India are going to be one of the most consequential of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. So we see it as very much in our interest to try to capitalize on the converging values and interests that we have between the United States and India, and the strong people-to-people ties that we have with India to not only make progress on the wide range of bilateral activities that we have with India, but also, increasingly, to cooperate with India to confront the challenges of the 21st century, be they global proliferation concerns or trying to complete the Doha Round of global trade negotiations, climate change.


And, again, we think that India is going to be an increasingly important factor in the 21st century, but also an increasingly important friend. So, it’s very much in our interest to seize that opportunity now, and that’s why you saw the President make Prime Minister Singh the very first state visitor of the new administration. And that’s why, I think, you’re going to see the United States working very, very closely with India in the course of the Obama administration.


QUESTION: But, anyway, confronting the challenge of the 21st century –




QUESTION:-- I understand the global issues, including proliferation or something like that, and my simple question is, is that something that you have in mind about your relationship with China? I mean, a stronger U.S.-India relationship may be good diplomatic power against China. Or how do you think about that point, relating to China?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would say that we are pursuing our relations with India on their own merits because, again, we feel that this is just a significant opportunity not only to increase our bilateral relations but also to work with India on these big, global challenges that we face.


We don’t put it in the context of our relations with China, which we also greatly value and, of course, China also will be one of the most important powers of the 21st century, and we have our own, separate partnership with China that is extremely important to the United States as well.


So, we try not to hyphenate those two. I mean, we are pursuing them in their own tracks, and we value both. But, we don’t try to put our relations with either one of those countries in the context of our relations with the other.


QUESTION: Well, for specific topics, the nuclear agreement was a very big deal.




QUESTION: Yes, I understand your inclination to implement and to make it, reinforce, the actual situation on the ground.




QUESTION: So, inside India, reprocessing technology --




QUESTION:-- was very much focused on, and they requested the U.S. side to provide such technology or know-how to India.




QUESTION: So, what is your position about this particular issue? I mean, reprocessing technology.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, let me say that the United States, under President Obama, remains very much committed to the nuclear agreement that was signed under President Bush, and Prime Minister Singh. Then-Senator Obama was a supporter of that, as was Senator Clinton, and the Obama administration has reaffirmed its support for that agreement.


So, we’re now in the process of implementing that agreement. You mentioned reprocessing. We have very important talks on reprocessing under way. Those are, I think, making good progress, and the deadline for completing those is August of this year, and we expect to be done well before then.


We also are very much hoping that the Indian government will proceed with very important legislation on nuclear liability, that will be very important protection for American companies who are seeking to do more business in the civil nuclear area, in India. And, we were very gratified to learn that the President of India has announced India’s intention to introduce this bill in the current session of the Indian Parliament.


So, we’re pleased with that and we’ll be following the progress of that legislation very closely.


And, the ultimate goal of ours is, of course, to allow the export of nuclear reactors to India. As you know, the Indians have set aside two nuclear reactor park sites, in the states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

And, up to eight reactors could be located in each of those parks, so that represents quite significant export of not only American technology but also a significant source of jobs for the United States, to help the American recovery.

QUESTION: So, on reprocessing technology, so, the U.S. – what is the U.S. basic position. So, are you agreeing to provide this technology to them?



QUESTION: What is the basic U.S. position about providing these technologies relating to reprocessing, to India? Are you willing to do that or you are not in a position to provide that willingly?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, no, no. We are. We’ll be providing the current generation of nuclear reactors. I’m not a real expert on the kinds of different nuclear technologies. I think I’d have to refer you to our experts on that, because I’m not…

STAFF: And the reprocessing arrangement allows – gives India permission to reprocess the fuel. So, that’s what the arrangement is aiming for.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But, he was talking about the reactors, I think, right?

STAFF: I think the reactors and reprocessing?

QUESTION: Reprocessing.

STAFF: Okay.


STAFF: We have a similar agreement with Japan, and it will be in line with our international agreements that we have with every other country with which we’ve signed a 123 agreement.

QUESTION: So, the agreement which you just mentioned, expect to have by August, includes that reprocessing technology, or it’s just about construction of the nuclear reactor:


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, no, that has nothing to do with their reactors; that’s just on the reprocessing side. That’s right. But, it’s one of the steps that has to be taken, before we can begin to export reactors.

QUESTION: And, about this nuclear agreement, in Japan there is some discussion that – so, the U.S.-India have that agreement.


QUESTION: But Japan-India doesn’t have that agreement.

QUESTION: And, actually, the U.S. contractors have a very strong business relationship with the Japanese company.


QUESTION: And, which may affect the – I mean, is there any effect of Japanese companies to work for that U.S.-India project?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think that’s really a decision for the Japanese government to make, and I know there is a very active debate now in Japan about that. (Laughs.) But, that’s not really something that I should really comment on. I mean, that’s really up to the Japanese government to determine whether they want to participate in these sales and whether they, themselves, want to pursue their own agreement with India.

QUESTION: So, the last question about nuclear. So, India and Pakistan are not members of the NPT yet, and at the same time President Obama is saying that he will pursue a nuclear-free world. So, what is the U.S. position about this NPT on India and Pakistan? Do you try to convince them to join that Treaty, or just leave it as it is?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, let me just answer that this way, by saying that President Obama is going to be hosting a Global Nuclear Security Summit, next month, here in Washington, D.C. He looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Singh, who will be one of the very prominent and welcome attendees at that summit.

And, Prime Minister Singh has already endorsed the President’s vision of working towards a nuclear weapons-free world. As you know, the President outlined that vision in Prague in March of last year.

So, again, we think India can be a very important partner in this whole effort. India, of course, lives in a – (laughs) – a “sensitive region” – where both China and Pakistan also have nuclear capabilities. So, this agreement will have to be pursued with those countries as part of any such effort.

So, I think that’s something that we’re working on right now. But also, I think, it’s important to note that the President has shown great leadership by working with Russia, on a new START agreement that would significantly reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons in both countries.

So, we’re trying to lead by example here, and we hope – and I think that that will be a significant topic of the Global Nuclear Security Summit, in April.

QUESTION: So, in relation to this new START, do you also expect India to reduce their nuclear weapons?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions on this. I mean, let me just leave it at what I already said.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So, next my question is about India and its neighboring countries. So, India and Pakistan have just resumed their bilateral talks.


QUESTION: And, it is reported it will not produce any results, but still I think it’s important for resuming, in itself.


QUESTION: So, how do you evaluate this resuming of the dialogue, and what kind of things do you expect for those two countries to achieve?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think it was quite an important series of talks that Foreign Secretary Bashir had in New Delhi. I think it’s significant that this is the first time that either of those countries have had talks in either Islamabad or New Delhi, since the November, 2008 bombings in Mumbai. So that, in itself, is important, and I think the dialogue between two friends of the United States is something that we very much welcome.

Obviously, the pace and the scope and the timing of the dialogue is really up to the two countries to determine. As a friend of both of those countries, the United States, again, welcomes those dialogues, but we’re not directly involved in the talks in any way.

But, we do believe that one of the most important things to work on is this issue of terrorism, because, I think, it’s something that threatens not only both of these countries but also the United States. And, we think that a group like Lashkar e-Taiba, which is widely believed to have been responsible for the bombings in Mumbai, is a terrorist group based in Pakistan that has increasingly global ambitions and global scope, and so it’s in the interest of Pakistan to rein in the activities of LET.

QUESTION: And, someone has said that it is also critical for the U.S. national interest in order to make sure, I mean concentrate, on the war in Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Yes, so expect Pakistan to concentrate on the border on the Afghanistan side, not on the Indian side.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right. India – Prime Minister Singh has already made clear that Pakistan should not consider India a threat, and I think that we’ve welcomed the decision by Pakistan to redeploy troops away from the Indian border to the principal area of focus, which is, as you say, along the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So, we hope that that will continue to be the focus of the Pakistani military and therefore, as you say, peace between the two countries of India and Pakistan is very essential to that effort in the border areas.

QUESTION: So, you just mentioned India and Pakistan both are your friends. But, countries surrounding India, in the pertinent feelings, it doesn’t seem a kind of friend to the States. So, Sri Lanka, Nepal or something. How do you think about this geography? So, India and Pakistan, you have a good relationship.


QUESTION: But, at the same time, Sri Lanka or Nepal are not very welcoming governments, in terms of democracy or human rights.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Actually, I wouldn’t say that. We’ve had very long friendships with both of those countries, over many, many, many years. In Sri Lanka, for example, the United States has given more than a billion dollars in assistance, and we’ve always had strong relations with that country. We have many Sri Lankans here, in this country, who are a very valuable part of our society and our economy.

And, I think Sri Lanka is going through a very, very important transition now. After 25 years of civil war, they have finally brought the activities of the murderous LTTE terrorist organization that was designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization and a group that we worked with the Sri Lankan government, to stop their activities.

So, that phase is now over, and we think that President Rajapaksa now has a very important opportunity to achieve reconciliation and to resettle all of the internally-displaced people, and to, as part of the reconciliation, to come up with a mechanism to ensure accountability for some of the war crimes that might have occurred at the end of the conflict. So, these are all things that I think are in Sri Lanka’s own interest, and we think that these are things that we hope Sri Lanka will pursue, for its own reasons, not because of any pressure from the United States or any other country. And, we hope that those will provide the basis for, again, a significant improvement in relations between the United States and Sri Lanka.

On the Nepal side, again, we have a long friendship with the people of Nepal and the government of Nepal, and they too have just come through a significant internal conflict between the Maoists in the government, that went on from 1996 to 2006. The fighting came to a halt in 2006, and they entered into talks, as part of a comprehensive peace accord.

And, as you probably know, those talks aim to have all the elements of that accord finished by May of this year. So, the United States has been encouraging all the parties to draft a new constitution, to proceed with the reintegration of the armies, and all the other elements of that very important accord.

And, again, we think that a lot of progress has been made in the last several months, but it’s very, very important for that progress, now, to be sustained, because there’s still a great deal to do between now and May.

QUESTION: So, in order to make sure that this kind of progress will continue, what will the U.S. plan to do about that? So, do you act as kind of a mediator of these cooperative parties, or do something to cut –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I wouldn’t say we’re a mediator, but we most certainly have worked to encourage all of the parties to work together. I think that’s the most important thing.

And, in the past, that’s been the missing element, was the failure of the parties, themselves, to cooperate. And, I think there has been, again, in the last several months, there has been a much greater degree of cooperation between the parties. And I think that’s provided the basis for some of the progress that has been made.

We also welcome the important role that the United Nations has played. The United Nations mission in Nepal was set up to help to implement – to help the government of Nepal to implement – the peace accord. And, again, I think they have played a helpful role.

But, at the same time, I think it’s important for the people and the government of Nepal to understand that the UN is not going to stay there indefinitely, so it’s very, very important that the government show progress and really show a determination to finish the various elements of the accord, before the May deadline.

QUESTION: So, as for Nepal, so the U.S. government has designated the Maoists as terrorists.


QUESTION: So, do you reconsider that, or you don’t have any intention to change that structure?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I think we’ve begun a process of engagement now, with the Maoists. We’ve had meetings with them, and I think that that reflects some of the important steps that they have taken, but we think it’s now important for them to completely renounce violence, to stop the sometimes violent activities of the Young Communist League, the YCL, which is their youth wing, and to take some other steps that we’ve talked to the Maoists about.

In return for which we’d be willing to take them off our list and to regularize our contacts with them. But, again, I’d like to stress that there has been progress, and we’ve begun to have talks with the Maoists, and we’ve welcomed that opportunity.

QUESTION: Well, just to come back, shortly, about U.S.-India –


QUESTION:-- so, what will be the main agenda if Prime Minister Singh comes to the States in April? So, do you have a bilateral and what –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, mostly Prime Minister Singh’s visit in April will really be for the Global Nuclear Security Summit. That will be the primary purpose of the visit.

I’m sure that he and the President will have a chance to discuss some of our bilateral issues. But, again, I think the focus is – he’s already had a state visit in November, in which we had an opportunity to discuss the wide range of activities between our two governments and our two people.

But, I think the focus in April will be on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: So, what will be the next step for the U.S.-India bilateral? I mean, a presidential trip to India sometime this year or next year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Actually, I expect that Secretary Clinton will have a meeting with External Affairs Minister Krishna to hold the next phase of their strategic dialogue, and we expect that to take place sometime in late spring or early summer. And then, as you say, we expect the President will have the opportunity to visit India sometime later this year, but we don’t yet know exactly when that will be.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any additional questions?

QUESTION: May I ask just one?

QUESTION: I just have a question on – last year there was an emphasis on this dehyphenization of India-Pakistan.


QUESTION: And, I just was wondering what the next step in that is. We’ve seen that this recent bout of talks with them, while it did show that in certain ways there was coming together on issues, in other ways some people were saying, “What’s going to happen next?” Where do you think that’s going, in terms of their bilateral and how we can help them achieve the goals that are both in their interests in U.S. interests?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think that, in terms of the talks between India and Pakistan, it will really be up to those two governments to determine the pace and the scope of those talks, and that’s something that we will certainly encourage both of our friends to do. But, the ultimate decision will be theirs.

I think we have successfully dehyphenated our relations, and, again, I don’t want to try to make a comparison between one and the other; they’re both extremely important to us, but very, very different, as well. And, right now, I think you’ve seen the United States not only place an important focus on India, but also on Pakistan. As we look at the whole strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think everybody understands that we are never going to be able to have success in stabilizing Afghanistan without the full participation of Pakistan.

Therefore, a great deal of effort has been made by the President and by the Secretary to, again, expand our cooperation with Pakistan, and to help Pakistan to confront the many challenges that it faces as well. So, you’ve seen a significant increase in U.S. civilian assistance, and also, I think, a significant increase in helping the Pakistani military to reorient itself from its historical focus on India and the threat that might have been posed by India, towards improving its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist capabilities, so that it can really grapple and deal with the challenges in its border areas.

So, we’re really just at the beginning of that right now, but I think, also, the President and the Secretary have repeatedly said that our partnership with Pakistan is extremely important to us. It’s something that you’re really going to – it’s something that’s going to be sustained.

One of the criticisms, and I think a fair criticism, has been that U.S.-Pakistani relations have gone through a lot of “ups and downs” over the years, and I think that one of the key messages that the Secretary and President are trying to convey is that we really do see a long-term partnership with Pakistan, to help build that country and to build that society, to help improve the Pakistani government’s ability to deliver services to its people, to improve governance and, most importantly, to address the terrorist threats that, we should remember, have claimed the lives of more Pakistanis than anyone else. So, this is very much in Pakistan’s own interest, to pursue those various objectives that we talked about.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much. And, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, and I’m so glad that the people of Japan are interested in what we’re doing, so we appreciate your interest as well.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.