Media Briefing

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Karachi, Pakistan
March 25, 2010

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much for that kind introduction, and thank you all very much for coming today. I am very happy to be here in Karachi during this trip to Pakistan and the region. I started this particular trip in Delhi, and I had the pleasure of visiting our embassy in Kabul, and just yesterday I was in Islamabad for meetings mostly with the Foreign Ministry, but with others as well, and now I’m down here in Karachi and I’ll be going off to Lahore tomorrow.


Many people have asked me if this is my first visit to Pakistan. In fact it’s not my first visit. I was here as a very young man at the age of 20 years old and traveled around in the late 1970s with a backpack on my back, took local Pakistani trains and buses, and spent a great deal of time and really had a great time in your country. I always promised myself that I would come back. I didn’t know I’d come back as Assistant Secretary of State, but it’s really a pleasure to be here.


We’re here now at a very important and indeed historic junction in the Pakistani-American partnership. An important signal of that came yesterday when Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi met in Washington to announce our new Strategic Dialogue.


Some people here are asking what’s different about this new Strategic Dialogue. Secretary Clinton addressed that yesterday by noting that the dialogue marks the first time that we have a Secretary of State and a Pakistani Foreign Minister agreeing to regular ministerial-level consultations.


I think another sign of our serious intention is that we have created working groups and a road map for making consistent progress and achieving our joint goals. Focus areas for these bilateral working groups will include agriculture, defense and security, development and finance, social issues, energy, water, communications, and public diplomacy.


Another sign of our commitment to Pakistan and its prosperity and security will come today in Washington where U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah will announce three major projects with a value totaling $51 million to help rehabilitate Pakistan’s energy plants, including two in Sindh Province, one at the Guddu Thermal Power Station; and another at Jamshoro Thermal Plant.


Karachi is also a very key part of the overall relationship so I’m especially glad to be here. Earlier this afternoon I was very pleased to meet with the American Business Council in Pakistan and I was impressed to learn that the member companies of that council have cumulative investments of $1 billion. They pay $560 million in taxes. And they employ 47,000 Pakistanis directly and more than a million indirectly as their agents, distributors, and others.


So we believe this business link is a major contribution to our improving ties between the United States and Pakistan and that there are in fact good opportunities to do more in that area.


I also encouraged the Business Council members to think creatively about how they might take better advantage of the significant opportunities for Pakistan/India trade. We believe that if Pakistan is going to achieve the six percent levels of growth that it aspires to, then enhanced regional trade will be a very important part of that growth.


Also earlier today I had the opportunity to meet with His Excellency the Governor of Sindh Province, Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ebad; later with the State Bank of Pakistan, Governor Syed Salim Raza; and I also met with senior Balochistan provincial officials. Tonight I have the honor to meet with the Chief Minister of Sindh Province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah.


In all these meetings we have discussed our shared goals. As Secretary Clinton emphasized yesterday, they are to protect our citizens and our countries from the violent extremism that threatens us both, to see Pakistan prosper as a strong democracy in a stable region, and to cooperate on issues that improve the daily lives of Pakistani people.


So again, let me thank you all very much for coming today. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have.


Question: The Strategic Dialogue that’s taking place, [inaudible], market access to Pakistan. [Inaudible].


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as the Secretary said before, I don’t have the details of exactly what was discussed, but as the Secretary said before the meetings took place, all the issues are on the table. She very much looked forward to a very candid discussion of everything. Certainly trade is a very important part of it.


We remain committed to the reconstruction opportunities of this legislation. I think the Secretary reiterated that commitment. So we understand this is a very important part of Pakistan priorities. I’m sure there was a very full discussion on that issue.


Question: There is another important part in negotiations going on between Pakistan and U.S.A. that is about investment and also [inaudible]. What is the latest on these issues?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The latest, our most immediate priority is to work on a Bilateral Investment Treaty, a BIT as you say. Where we are on that is that the administration is working on a so-called Model Bilateral Investment Treaty. That is one that can serve as a model for all bilateral ones. So we are working with, consulting with Members of Congress about that, consulting with the labor and environmental movements, and we hope to have a model ready soon, and after that we would begin negotiations with Pakistan and with other friendly countries.


Question: And what about the FTA?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think we’re going to start with the Bilateral Investment Treaty, and then we’ll see from there where we go.


Question: You just mentioned the improved regional trade with India. [Inaudible]. Do you see any role with U.S. can be playing in getting the leadership in Pakistan and India to [inaudible]. Can you help us get here or facilitate [inaudible]?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: In terms of overall Pakistani relations with India, the United States is strong friends with both countries so certainly we encourage improved relations with them. I think we were very encouraged to see the talks that took place between the foreign secretaries in Delhi on February 25th, and we certainly encourage continued dialogue. But our position remains what it always has been, that the pace and the scope and the character of the dialogue between our two friends must be up to them to decide.


But I do believe that the business communities in both countries have a role to play. That’s why I’ve been stressing that both here and in Pakistan because I think there is a significant under exploitation of the trade opportunities on both sides. Trade, particularly here, could play a very important role in providing employment to a lot of young Pakistanis, and again, could lift economic growth rates here. So I think it’s a major opportunity.


Question: How do you see, is there any possibility of a [inaudible] treaty with the United States? I do remember reading Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State’s, statement that it’s on the card or the likelihood. Because in Pakistan everybody is talking in terms of the deal that was given to India. I know circumstances are very different. But when they’re talking on television and in discussions, obviously it’s a very important point. How far do you think progress can be made on it?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think first of all the United States is very committed to helping Pakistan to address its very urgent power needs and electricity shortages. Standing here in Karachi I think it’s particularly appropriate to be talking about that. So we’re taking a number of steps. As I mentioned, today Dr. Shah is going to be announcing $51 million worth of new assistance to help with some of the power plants here. But we’re also helping to renovate some of the older infrastructure, we’re also providing technical assistance on how to improve the efficiency. We’ve got I think a tube well initiative underway where we’re trying to provide better motors, more efficient motors for 10,000 tube wells. Again, I think it improves power efficiency in the agricultural sector, which is very important.


In terms of civil nuclear cooperation, I know the Pakistanis plan to raise that. Again, I don’t know what was discussed about that so I’ll let our department spokesman raise that.


Question: There have been quite a good cry in Pakistan over Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s case.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Over what case, sorry?


Question: Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s case. So my question is, has there been a formal request for repatriation by the Pakistani government? If not, do you see a possibility of a repatriation for Dr. Afia?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m really not aware of the most recent details on that. I’m not directly responsible for those issues. I’d just refer you to our embassy in Islamabad and they can give you the latest.


Question: But do you think that such repatriation would actually help boost the image of the U.S. amongst the common man?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, these law enforcement questions are very sensitive and it’s better not for me to dive into those. Again, I’m not directly responsible for them so I don’t want to comment on a particular case.


Question: Pakistani Prime Minister has two days ago announced that Pakistan has provided a sufficient [inaudible] evidences about Indian involvement in Balochistan. Are you aware of, and what is the response of the U.S.?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I haven’t seen those reports so I really can’t comment on them, but I know in the past the Indians have denied involvement in that, so I think this is something that the two countries should discuss together. If this is an important concern of Pakistan, then Pakistan should provide evidence to India, and then India should take appropriate action.


Question: One more question. Would Indian authorities be given access to Headley. Is that a possibility [inaudible]?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just say on that, U.S. law enforcement cooperation with India has been extremely close, including on this particular case, but for the moment there will not be direct access. But I think there will be a very healthy information flow because I think the Indians have an important interest in knowing what other sites we may have reconnoitered because obviously they’d like to know that so that they could make adequate investigations of their own. So we are very aware of that and we’ll do everything we can to make such information available.


Question: This weekend [inaudible] in the Pakistani and American media. And how do you --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: In the media? I’m sorry?


Question: Yeah in the Pakistani and American media to because the Washington Post [inaudible] both the [inaudible] and the [list] that the Pakistanis gave for the meeting. There was a negative response to that. And this [inaudible], you can’t deny that. So how is the U.S. State Department deal with that?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would just say that the Pakistani people and the American people should judge us by our actions and not by our words, and that the Secretary and the President have reiterated many times our commitment to a broader and deeper partnership with Pakistan and that not only includes the strategic dialogue that was inaugurated yesterday but also the enhanced assistance program that is embodied by the Kerry/Lugar legislation and also the new ways that we are cooperating on the military front by improving Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capability. All of these are signs, again, of a long term commitment to Pakistan’s prosperity and its development and its security. Again, I think we should be judged by our actions. We intend to follow through on all these. This is a very serious long term effort on our part.


Question: Were there more people to people contact programs like where Pakistanis and Americans can get to know each other better so we can if not alleviate the trust deficit, but at least lessen it?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think that is essential. That is going to be one of our highest priorities. It’s not only things like enhancing educational opportunities for young Pakistanis in the United States, but the full range of exchanges and everything else we can do to enhance people to people contact.


I think one important initiative that I would point to that the Secretary herself was very involved in was to set up a Pakistani/American foundation that would provide a channel for Americans, and particularly Pakistani Americans, to provide tax deductible contributions for assistance to Pakistan. That was inaugurated, as you know, several months ago. I think that will be a very important vehicle to again further these people to people contacts and again we see an important role for the diaspora in that respect. They already are such an important bridge between our two societies, so we’d like to encourage that further.


Question: These people to people contact [Inaudible]. When they are offset against them, these Pakistanis arrive on U.S. soil, on Pakistani passports, they’re taken out of the queue and then they are body patted, body searched, and everything is opened. Is this not going to counter this effort at goodwill?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I hope it doesn’t. First of all, I don’t really think that they were subjected to anything that any of us wouldn’t be subjected to, and this is certainly not an attempt to sort of single out Pakistanis in any particular way. And again, our effort is to develop a long term friendship and partnership with the people of Pakistan, and certainly we’re aware of these sensitivities and we’re going to do everything we can to try to mitigate those while ensuring our security.


Question: These people from NWFP that went on this American visit and then came back, this is a serious issue, and it might appear very normal to you as part of a search, but people in this part of the world are very sensitive to these kind of searches, stripping down and things like that, we take it as a very personal offense.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t think it should be taken personally. All Americans go through these same security measures. I met with that delegation. I also met with another delegation of young parliamentarians who were not from FATA, and that delegation of young parliamentarians continued their trip and I think had some very good meetings around the country and certainly we had set up a very important --


Question: But you [inaudible]? [Laughter].




Question: [Inaudible].


Question: One point that came out very strongly yesterday during all the interaction between the Pakistanis and the U.S. Foreign Secretary, Foreign Ministers, was the body language seemed a bit different. There was a minister that pointed this out that everything there is a difference. There is not so much do more and more, that we are not viewed with as much suspicion. We had a very positive spin on it.


Certainly, looking at the pictures on television, it did seem that it’s much more, it seemed cordial and seemed great. Was this cosmetic, or it is real? What do you attribute this to? What do you see as a reason for this very different kind of body language towards Pakistan?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You will not be surprised to hear that I do not believe it was cosmetic. [Laughter]. I think it is because of, I think the Pakistanis detected a real seriousness of purpose on the part of the Secretary of State to get more personally involved, and she’s already been very involved as she showed on her trip here to Pakistan in October of last year. But I think establishing a strategic partnership like this, a strategic dialogue. And it’s not just about having a meeting, it’s about setting up these working groups and sort of systematically looking at all the key issues on our agenda, setting targets, and then making sure that those targets are met, and meeting either six months or a year later to review what you’ve done and then set new targets. And so I think it’s going to, again, be a much more systematic approach to what we’re doing. To really build confidence and again, set and achieve concrete milestones in our relationship.


So I can’t speak for the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, but I think probably that would account for some of the optimism that you might have seen.


Question: We’ve been listening a lot about these ROZs but there’s no progress, what is the reason, what is hindering this?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I just think this is a very tough issue right now for the United States. We have ten percent unemployment in our country so our Congress is looking very closely at all trade legislation to make sure that it doesn’t have a damaging impact on unemployment in the United States. Don’t forget, this is an election year in the United States. We have our mid-term elections, as we call them, coming up in November of this year. So all Members of Congress will have to appear before their constituents and add what they’ve done to improve employment in the United States. So much of the trade legislation is seen in that context.


President Obama remains committed to a fair and open trading system. He reiterated in his State of the Union Address in February that he remains committed to the Doha Round, the WTO, and he remains committed to the various bilateral trade deals that are already on the table with countries like Colombia. And he also remains committed to the ROZs. So these are all things that we want to move forward on. But again, people in Pakistan and elsewhere should not underestimate the climate in Washington for some of these things. This is going to require a lot of additional work.


Question: A question about the Iran/Pakistan gas pipeline. Do you still have reservations on it? Do you think it should be extended? Previously it was supposed to be extended to India, but I think Americans had some reservations about it. [Inaudible] Pakistan government to stop it?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think India made its own decisions about that pipeline, probably based on the fact that there’s been a lot of talk about the pipeline but not too much progress over the years. I think part of that’s because there hasn’t been really much commercial financing for it. There hasn’t really been, therefore, commercial liability.


I know that recently there was an agreement signed, but I think we still have a long way to go.


With respect to the pipeline itself, I think our concerns about Iran are well known. We’re at a very sensitive juncture now in our relationship with Iran. President Obama has extended the hand of friendship to Iran, but that gesture has not been reciprocated. So now we are looking at tightening sanctions against Iran and working through the UN Security Council with our partners including the Russians and the Chinese. That process is ongoing.


But again, we remain very concerned about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, about Iran’s support for terrorist activities around the world. So these are very important and serious issues for the United States, for our security, and so that’s some of the reasons why we were concerned with projects like this that might provide additional revenues to Iran at this particular time.


Question: How [inaudible] condition with [inaudible]? The reason I ask is because in certain areas [inaudible]. They are [inaudible]. [Inaudible]? USAID rules and regulations perhaps stipulate that [inaudible]. And these are [inaudible]. Therefore the mismatch evident [inaudible]. [Inaudible]?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t know enough about USAID contracting procedures to be able to give you an answer on that, but I’d refer you to our embassy in Islamabad to get you a better answer on that.


Question: And the meeting between General Kayani and Secretary Gates. To the best of our knowledge [inaudible]. [Inaudible]? [Inaudible] this area. My question is, was the onus on the host or the guest [inaudible]?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: To be honest, I don’t have any details at all from that meeting so I can’t really say. You’d have to talk to the folks at the Pentagon to get more details on that.


Let me again thank you so much for coming out tonight. It’s really a pleasure. I’ve always heard a great deal about Pakistan’s vibrant press and I’ve always been impressed to read from Washington much of the news that many of you publish, so it’s really a pleasure to have a chance to meet you all and talk to you all. Thanks again.