Patna Media Roundtable

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Patna, India
June 18, 2011

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you all so much for coming. I’ll just make a few opening remarks about the purpose of my visit to Bihar, and then more broadly to India. I’ll talk a little bit about Indo-U.S. relations and then I’m glad to take any questions that you have.

First of all with respect to my visit, I’m very happy to be here in Patna. It’s my very first visit to Bihar. As many of you know I served as the Deputy Chief of Mission, as the Deputy Ambassador in New Delhi from 2003 to 2006, but I never had the chance to come to Bihar at that time, so it’s great to be here now.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet today with the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Modi, as well as with the opposition leader, Mr. Siddiqui. I also had the chance to go down to your Center of Excellence which is a private Center of Excellence which is doing quite a lot of interesting training, to hear about some of those efforts as well.

My visit underscores our hope that we can have more cooperation and collaboration here in Bihar. I’m impressed with the progress that is being made here in this state. Bihar and its Chief Minister have done much to invest in new infrastructure and try to reduce crime and corruption and to develop a more efficient and responsive administration.

My visit to Patna is part of a wider visit where I’ll be going to Delhi tomorrow, then on Monday and Tuesday I’ll be meeting mostly with the Ministry of External Affairs to help plan for the future visit of Secretary Clinton for the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue that will occur in mid to late July.

As all of you know, there’s been a transformation in relations between the United States and India over the last ten years beginning first with the visit of President Clinton in the year 2000 and then continuing with the very important civil nuclear deal that was signed during the Bush administration. President Obama and Secretary Clinton came into office and wanted to take relations to the next level. They did so first by establishing a Strategic Dialogue that is led by Secretary Clinton and External Affairs Minister Krishna. President Obama also made Prime Minister Singh the very first state visitor of the Obama administration that many of you remember back in [November] 2009. And then last year, of course, President Obama had a highly successful state visit here to India which was also the longest state visit of his presidency overseas.

President Obama has said that our relations with India are an indispensable partnership for the 21st Century and he has noted that we are working across virtually every field of human endeavor. Indeed our two governments are trying to do everything we can to not only promote government to government relations but also to help improve the ties between our businesses, between our scientists, and between all of the other very important people to people contacts that are taking place.

I think the other notable new development over the last several years in our relations has been our growing cooperation at the global level. This has been seen not only in multilateral issues such as our working together on things like non-proliferation and global climate change but also more recently as a result of President Obama’s and Prime Minister Singh’s meetings last November, we are engaging in trilateral cooperation in Afghanistan and in Africa. And once again, that is a very positive sign of how the United States and India, two of the world’s most important democracies, two of the world’s most important market economies, and two of the countries that really want to help to shape a freer and more prosperous future for the world, how we can really make a difference in the lives of not only our own people but in the lives of others around the world.

The President really did put it well, that this is going to be one of our indispensible partnerships for the 21st century.

I wanted to talk a little bit more about some of the things that we are doing here at Bihar. We have a program under the U.S. Agency for International Development where we are working to promote agricultural development through providing better information on agricultural practices and innovations that are taking place, by improving access to markets, and by helping to adapt current agricultural practices to climate change. We also have projects underway to support the Ministry of Health, Family Welfare, to improve health and water and sanitation services for the urban poor. We are supporting surveillance to prevent polio, the outbreak of polio. Finally, we’re developing high quality interactive radio, video and computer products and other technologies to help educate disadvantaged children in schools here in Bihar.

I also just want to mention some of the private sector efforts. I was very happy to learn about a very innovative project that’s underway by Husk Power Systems which is an Indian company, but one of the co-owners received his education in the United States and he received funding from an American Foundation called the Acumen Fund, as well as Cisco, a very well known American corporation, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation which is a U.S. government-owned corporation that provides financing and various kinds of risk insurance. So all of them have helped this company, Husk Power Systems, to electrify rural villages here in Bihar using rice husk, which is a bio-waste. That rice husk powers now 80 small power plants that are providing electricity to 25,000 rural households here in Bihar.

That’s a very good example of the kind of innovative, clean energy cooperation that both of our governments are seeking to try to support. Indeed, we will go back to Delhi and I will go back to Washington to see how we might try to encourage the American private sector to take a look at some of the opportunities that are here in Bihar. This is a time of greater hope and greater optimism here in Bihar, and therefore one of greater opportunity.

Let me stop there and I’d be glad to take whatever questions you might have about either Bihar or about any wider issues. Again, thank you very much for coming.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I think the technology would come mostly from investment. So we have a group called the U.S.-India Business Council which is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I understand the U.S.-India Business Council plans to send a business and trade delegation here either later this year or early next year. I had the opportunity to discuss with the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Modi, some of the opportunities that might exist here. He mentioned food processing, energy, education, as potentially very good opportunities, but there may be others as well. These are all ideas that we’ll take back and that I’ll discuss with the U.S.-India Business Council. Through them I think that will be the best way to create new investment and new technology transfer and new job creation here in Bihar.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] concerns [inaudible]?


QUESTION: Will the U.S. [inaudible] education cheaper in India [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right now we’re focusing more at the national level where we’ve been in a very constructive dialogue with Minister Sibal and we plan to host a U.S.-India Higher Education Summit in Washington this fall in which we will bring together education providers of all kinds in the United States from the leading universities like Harvard and Carnegie Mellon and those kind of --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We don’t have an exact date yet. As well as community colleges and other kinds of universities, all of whom are interested in expanding their profile in India. So that will be a very good opportunity for the Minister and for other Indian educational institutions to make known the opportunities that are here in India. But in the meantime we encourage state level institutions here in India to make their own contacts with higher education providers in the United States.

I would point out there are organizations like the ISB, the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad that has been able to garner a great deal of American support and partnerships with American universities. There are already very good examples not only there but in many other parts of India where Indian institutions have gone and gotten American partners. So there’s already quite a good track record and there’s no obstacles to that.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]? ISB is [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Same thing. Here you have some institutions already. They should reach out to potential partners in whatever fields they think are really their comparative advantage. Maybe it’s agricultural research or maybe it’s developing more IT, whatever it might be. Then find those niches that they think there might be some interest, and then go out and look for partners. Again, the purpose of this summit in October or whenever it is, October or in the fall, will be to try to figure out how to develop those kinds of partnerships and to see where the interest here is in India and then where the interest is on the part of American institutions and match those up.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] delegation [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. They’ll have to announce that themselves.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It won’t be the consulate. It will be the U.S.-India Business Council. But it will be organized in very close cooperation with our embassy in New Delhi.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As I said, our Agency for International Development, the USAID, has already got several projects underway. One is on polio surveillance. This has been a very high priority for many many years, and India for many years has been very close to eliminating polio, and then it comes back up. It’s very very important to be able to keep track of polio and when it does arise again to very quickly deal with it before it spreads. Polio surveillance is a very very high priority. But as I said, we’re also engaged on urban health programs, working with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to improve water, to improve sanitation, all of which have a tremendous impact on particularly child mortality. But also more general health of the population. There are all extremely important areas of cooperation.

QUESTION: Are you focusing [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I went to Kolkata yesterday and I’m just going to Bihar and then I’m going to Delhi. I’m actually in charge of this region back in Washington, so I have a day job where I have to go back and work on Central Asia and these other important things that we’re doing. But it’s been a pleasure to at least have two days to get outside of Delhi and see some of the important things that are happening in other parts of the country.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].


QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t know. I can’t say. [Laughter].

QUESTION: [Inaudible]? [Asking about Secretary Clinton’s visit].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think she’s coming to Bihar. She’s coming to Delhi, as I say, sometime in mid to late July. We haven’t yet announced the dates.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?


QUESTION: [Inaudible].


QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Maybe. It’s hard for me to predict what her schedule is right now.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] Obama [inaudible]. [Laughter].


If there’s nothing else, again, thank you so much and again, --

QUESTION: I have one question. [Inaudible] relations with India [inaudible] Afghanistan. [Inaudible] and you have been noted [inaudible]. How [inaudible] on this [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, did you say we’d ignored 26/11?

QUESTION: [Inaudible]. [Inaudible] and in other cases [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just respond to that by saying that the United States very much values the counter-terrorism cooperation that we have had and that has expanded a great deal since 26/11. We just had the visit of Janet Napolitano who is our Secretary of Homeland Security. She and Home Minister Chidambaram had a very good dialogue along with Minister Chidambaram, to look at ways that we can expand our homeland security cooperation on things like mega-city policing and transit security and a whole range of things that she announced.

We’re also working very closely to prevent future attacks against India, particularly from Pakistan-based groups. That remains a very high priority. We also continue to encourage Pakistan to not only reign in groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, but also to take action in the judicial system to prosecute those who were responsible for 26/11 here. We’re very pleased with the progress that India has made and that India and Pakistan have made in their own dialogue. I understand that the Foreign Secretaries will be meeting later this month again, so that is a very constructive and important process that is underway. The pace and the scope of that process is completely up to India and Pakistan, but America of course is following it very closely because both are friends of ours and we would very much like to see closer relations, especially closer economic relations. I think there’s tremendous opportunity and tremendous scope for greater trade which would help both of your countries a great deal.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: If you mean do we value human life more than the rest, no. We value human life equally everywhere.

QUESTION: But when it comes to American [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Of course we’re going to promote our interests just as India promotes its interests, but I don’t think that’s going to grab any headlines.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].


QUESTION: Now we are generally speculating [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I think we’ve made tremendous progress over the last several years, and particularly in the last two years since President Obama and Prime Minister Singh have been working together. So the trajectory of American relations with India is very much on the upswing, and I think we can anticipate continued progress because of the very strong common values between us and because of our growing convergence of interests. Of course we’re not going to always agree on everything, but very rarely do we agree on everything even with our very closest allies. So that’s to be expected.

But again, the trajectory is a very positive one and we are very confident that India is going to be an important friend for us and an important partner not only in developing our own bilateral relations but in developing a global partnership. That’s what this Strategic Dialogue that Secretary Clinton and External Affairs Minister Krishna chair is all about, charting the future of how we can work more closely together. I know she looks forward to that and looks forward to her next visit to India.

Again, I want to thank all of you for coming tonight. I will see you again soon. Thank you.

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