Interview With ETV

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
June 21, 2011

QUESTION: Today we have with us U.S. [Assistant] Secretary of State for South Asia Mr. Robert Blake.

Sir, you are here for the preparation of Mrs. Clinton’s visit to New Delhi next month. Could you please elaborate, what are the discussions you had with the Indian officers?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly. I’ve had a very productive two days of talks with my counterparts in the Ministry of External Affairs. As you know, we’ve made tremendous progress in relations with India over the last ten years. President Obama and Secretary Clinton came into office determined to take this to the next level, and established the Strategic Dialogue that is chaired by Secretary Clinton and External Affairs Minister Krishna. This will be the second meeting of the dialogue. The first was in Washington last year.

I think the purpose of this dialogue is to take a strategic look at where we should take our relations next. There’s a particular interest now in looking at how the United States and India can cooperate at the global level with a particular focus on what we can do together in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help stabilize that important part of the world, but also more broadly in Asia and in other regions such as the Middle East. We’re looking forward with great anticipation to her visit.

QUESTION: As this is going to be your first high-level meeting after the post-Usama era. What can we expect in the high level?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m sure there will be a discussion about Afghanistan and the reconciliation process there. I’m sure the Secretary will be interested to hear from her Indian friends about the progress that they are making in the very important talks that are going on now between India and Pakistan. I was very pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary will be going to Islamabad in the very near future. We’ve welcomed the progress that’s been made particularly between the Commerce Secretaries because we believe there’s such an important opportunity to expand trade and investment between India and Pakistan. I think those will be some of the important issues they’ll be discussing on that front.

QUESTION: Sir, India and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretaries are meeting next week. Do you have anything to suggest to them to stable their relations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I don’t have anything to suggest. We’ve always said that the pace and the scope and the character of their bilateral interactions is completely up to them, but the United States is a friend to both countries and we have a strong interest in seeing those relations go forward.

QUESTION: As the U.S. has achieved its aim [inaudible] Afghanistan, now the potentials are for the nuclear weapons being taken away by the elements, especially in Pakistan. In that sense, what do you expect from India to denuclearize this region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As you know, President Obama since the beginning of his administration has talked about the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia have taken some very important steps bilaterally to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. We hope that all states will welcome and indeed endorse that idea. I think Prime Minister Singh himself has talked about this. He’s also made clear that it’s got to be in the context of similar commitments on the part of China and Pakistan in particular.

QUESTION: Sir, in the case of fighting terrorism, global war against terrorism, the U.S. has sidelined India. It is a sort of [inaudible]. Do you think that at least now the U.S. is trying to winnow out of this matter?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I would say on the contrary we have worked very diligently to expand our counter-terrorism cooperation with India. One of the hallmarks of our success over the last two years since the Mumbai attacks has been the expansion of not only counter-terrorism cooperation but intelligence cooperation to try to prevent attacks against India, and most recently we had the visit of our Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano who had a very successful series of talks with her counterpart, Home Minister Chidambaram, in which they agreed to a very far-reaching set of new ideas about ways that we can help expand India’s capacity and ways that we can expand information sharing between our two countries.

QUESTION: One last question. In the post-Usama thing, what change we can expect in U.S. policy, especially in South and Central Asia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think over the next year or so you’re going to see a particular focus on, first of all, helping to ensure the success of these very important transitions that are taking place in Afghanistan. As you know, there’s a very important roadmap that has been laid out for the security transition by our NATO allies at Lisbon which will culminate in Afghanistan taking full responsibility for its own security by the end of 2014. But there’s an equally important priority of helping to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure and hopefully to expand trade between Afghanistan and Central Asia, and also we hope eventually to Pakistan and India as well.

There’s already been agreement on an Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. There’s also agreement to include Central Asia now in that. Over time we hope that India could also be included in that because there’s tremendous scope for increased trade between the countries of Central Asia, between Afghanistan, between Pakistan and India. So that’s a very important priority.

The other very important priority will be to help continue to work with Pakistan, to engage that country, to help them meet a lot of the challenges on the energy front, on the economic front, and of course on the security front. We’ll be working very hard with our Pakistani friends on that as I’m sure will India. We intend to remain in very close touch with our Indian friends on all these matters.

QUESTION: Can you expect announcement of the pull-out from Afghanistan in the near future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I wouldn’t say a pull-out. The President will be making a decision in the very near future about a small withdrawal of forces and that will be the beginning withdrawal of forces, but as I say, we remain very committed to the plan that was laid out by all of our NATO allies that will culminate in this important transition at the end of 2014.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much. It’s nice to be with you.

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