Interview With CNBC TV18

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Philadelphia, PA
April 22, 2011

QUESTION: Welcome, Mr. Blake, to CNBC TV18. How are things progressing with [inaudible] civil nuclear cooperation deal with India? In view of the recent disasters in Japan, have things slowed down?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think they’ve slowed down; we’ll just have to see. Our two governments are close to completing the government-to-government pieces of the civil nuclear deal. The main thing that needs to be done still is for India now to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. Then it really will be up to the companies to negotiate contracts. Obviously they’ll have to make their own judgments about risks and to what extent the terrible accident in Japan has affected their calculations of the risk, and that will be their decision. I do know that American companies still see very significant opportunities in India, and that while what’s happened in Japan may pose something of a setback, that there still are significant opportunities.

QUESTION: The U.S. law-makers and policy-makers, though they say that it’s a good thing to cooperate with India and it’s good for the U.S. to make friends with India, but they often caution saying that the interests of the two countries are different. In fact I was going to one of the reports in the media and it said that you actually went in regard to say that India will have to choose between making friends with Iran -- utilizing Iranian resources to fulfill its energy needs, or actually making friends with the U.S..

With that perspective, do you think that the USA’s friendship with India is very conditional?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There are several loaded questions there.

First of all, I don’t think I ever said that India would have to choose between the United States and Iran. What I said was that India and the United States have in fact several common interests with respect to Iran. We both would like a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue there. We both feel that it is important to avoid having another nuclear weapons state in the region. So I think on the nuclear issue there’s been quite good cooperation.

I would also say that India’s adherence to the UN sanctions has been very good. There’s absolutely no issue there as well.

On the whole, our dialogue on Iran has been quite good. Indian companies also are looking at the situation very closely. We’ve been very pleased that companies like Reliance have decided to scale back some of their activities in Iran because they too, recognize the risks and the importance of encouraging a diplomatic solution to this and --

QUESTION: If we should focus, I am actually very keen to get your comments on this recent WikiLeaks leak. They have come after this conversation between you and the [BJP] leader [Arun Jaitley]. Did he actually dub his party’s ideology as being politics of opportunity?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, we don’t comment on any of the WikiLeaks stories because we’re very opposed to this having happened. The person who was responsible for this is now being prosecuted in the United States.

Again, our position on Iran is what I’ve just outlined to you.

QUESTION: Not on Iran, but did at any time Mr. [Arun Jaitley] actually tell you that his party’s ideology is sort of only opportunistic?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I really cannot remember the details of conversations like that that took place more than seven or eight years ago, so I really can’t --

QUESTION: With strong resistance from Russia, China, India, Brazil and Germany towards any move which might benefit the rebels, do you see sort of a possibility like Iraq, like Oil for Food program in Libya?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I hesitate to make comparisons between the two very different situations.

I would say that the United States remains very much committed to helping to ensure the safety of civilians on the ground and to the provision of humanitarian assistance, and that we are also working very closely with the Libyan opposition. We’ve had several contacts. Senator McCain was there earlier today as well. So those will continue to be the focus of our policy there.

QUESTION: But would you support a program of that nature where food or any other kind of support may be provided or relief may be given in exchange for oil?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t want to speculate on something like that. I’m not aware that that’s even been proposed at this stage and I’m not really responsible for that part of the world. But again, our greatest interest right now is protecting civilians from the armed forces of Qadhafi and to hopefully lay the ground for what we hope can be a political solution that does not include Qadhafi as part of Libya’s future.

QUESTION: In India terrorism is a big challenge, and it’s actually true for the neighboring countries that we have as well. Do you see practically speaking that David Headley will actually be handed over to the Indian government or maybe some kind of direct communication could possibly be established between them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, it’s hard for me to speculate. That’s still an ongoing process. So --

QUESTION: What do you think is delaying the process? It’s been quite a while now. Is it political pressure? Or what is it that is happening? Or Mr. Headley doesn’t want to actually --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think there’s any delay, as far as I know. This is proceeding with all due speed. Again, I’m not aware of any delay.

QUESTION: And just to wrap this discussion, if I were to ask you one of your key concerns and the biggest opportunity that you see in the following countries -- China, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

QUESTION: One opportunity for each one of them, all four of them. So China, opportunity?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: In China the greatest opportunity is for us to work together as much as possible and I think also tremendous economic opportunities for American companies in China.

QUESTION: And one challenge?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The challenge is the rise of the Chinese military and what will be the implications for global security, how China will use that military.

QUESTION: And Pakistan, one strength?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Pakistan’s strength I think is that it is a democracy and that it has a number of highly educated people that are a great resource for the country.

QUESTION: And a weakness of the nation? Something that it needs to overcome?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think the greatest weakness now - it’s a combination of things. It’s the economic, the security challenges, and the need for all of the international community to help Pakistan so that it can overcome the many challenges it faces.

QUESTION: And if we talk about India, what is the biggest strength of this country?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, the greatest strength of India is its people and your democratic system which is such a strength, and really sets you apart from all of the rest of the region.

The greatest constraints, I’d say that probably is still the large number of people who live in poverty and the importance of raising their standards of living and making them productive members of society. Again, I think great progress is being made on that, but still much needs to be done.

QUESTION: And what about Sri Lanka? It is a nation which is still developing in certain ways. So one key strength of that nation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sri Lanka has many many different strengths. It has some of the highest education and health indicators in the region; it also has an abundance of natural resources; and it has the great fortune of being at the southern tip of India so they have a free trade agreement so they can benefit very much from the economic dynamism of India.

The greatest challenge for Sri Lanka I think is to reunite its country and to achieve real reconciliation so the Tamils and Muslims and everyone else enjoy all of the same political rights and the same freedoms and can live in harmony with each other.

QUESTION: Wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Blake. It was a pleasure talking to you.


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