Interview with NewsX

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
September 15, 2011

NewsX: I’m in conversation with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Mr. Robert Blake. Many thanks for speaking with us.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you.

NewsX: I will start with an interesting report that came out of the U.S. on Narendra Modi. U.S. congressional report endorsing Narendra Modi. Is this kind of shift in U.S. policy, given the fact that this is the same man who was denied visa and now U.S. is really looking at the ground reality here in India?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I wouldn’t over-interpret this particular report. It’s done by the independent Congressional Research Service. It has nothing to do with the federal government. So we had no role whatsoever in this particular document.

The Congressional Research Service is there to provide independent information to both Houses of Congress and to both Republicans and Democrats. As I say, I just heard about this report today.

NewsX: There’s an important report that has come out of the U.S. This is on Aiman al Zawahri, chief of al-Qaida, being in Pakistan. How would you see it given the fact that Pakistan talks about cooperating against terror and yet provides a safe haven to terrorists and terror organizations?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’m not familiar with that report that you speak of. But let me just say as a general matter that fighting terrorism in Pakistan is one of our highest priorities and I think one of the highest priorities of the Pakistani government as well. Our relations with Pakistan can sometimes be complicated, but they’re also extremely important. So we’re very much committed to engaging with the Pakistanis on terrorism and on the whole broad range of challenges that they face.

NewsX: A considerable section in India has begun to believe that U.S. is really not committed when it comes to terror and especially terror directed against India given the recent WikiLeaks cables. M.K. Narayanan being forced by Timothy Roemer not to seek extradition of Headley. And Narayanan saying in so many words, and I’m quoting him, “not to be seen making the effort, but the government is not seeking extradition at this time.”

Assistant Secretary Blake: We can never comment on the WikiLeaks cables, but as a general matter I’d like to say that first of all we take our counter-terrorism responsibilities very seriously and whenever we have any kind of information about a possible terrorist attack in India we share that immediately with our friends in India to be sure that those are stopped and prevented. And I would say that our cooperation on counter-terrorism is one of the very strongest aspects of our bilateral cooperation.

NewsX: Home Minister Chidambaram made a statement saying that four out of the five terror groups working within India are based out of Pakistan. What is the U.S. doing to pressure Pakistan to really bring the perpetrators, specifically those behind 26/11 to book?

Assistant Secretary Blake: That’s been an important part of our dialogue as it has been between India and Pakistan, to encourage the Pakistani authorities to bring that trial to a close, to bring those people to justice. I think that’s an extremely important matter not only for your country but for ours because several Americans were killed in those attacks as well. That’s part of a much wider dialogue that we have with Pakistan on terrorism.

NewsX: My final question to you, any intelligence sharing on the Delhi blasts last week? That the United States gave India?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We don’t talk about the specifics of our intelligence cooperation, but I will say as a general matter that we have very good cooperation in sharing information and I think that’s been, again, a very successful part of our cooperation.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Many thanks.