DCSIMG

Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary Blake on U.S. Policy in South and Central Asia

New York, N.Y.



MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. We’re so glad to have Assistant Secretary Blake from the Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs with us this afternoon. I’m going to turn the briefing over to him, because I know this is a busy week for everyone, including Assistant Secretary Blake. Thank you.

And could you please identify yourself when you ask your questions during the Q&A.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, many thanks, and I am delighted to be back here at the Foreign Press Center here in New York. I want to thank you all for joining us today and also say hello to those in Washington who might be joining us via DVC. My thanks also to all of our friends and colleagues at the Foreign Press Center for organizing this briefing.

This continues to be a very busy week for all of us in the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau. We have a wide range of officials up here, including the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and our Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human rights, Maria Otero. And all of us are engaged in meetings with various counterparts from my region of South and Central Asian Affairs.

I’d like to tell you about some of the current priorities that we’ve been working on recently in the SCA Bureau, and then I’ll be glad to answer any questions that you might have. As many of you know, I just returned from travel to Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka. And I’ve just given several interviews about that trip, including some today, the transcripts of which will be made available in the not-too-distant future. So I won’t talk too much about those particular countries, but of course, I’m glad to answer any questions about them.

I’d like to really try to focus on three of the most important priorities in my region right now: first, regional economic integration; secondly, our strategic partnership with India; and third, Central Asia.

First, with respect to regional integration, yesterday we enjoyed the first ever U.S.-India-Afghanistan trilateral dialogue. And with respect to India, since it’s South Asia’s largest economy, we see it really as a natural partner which is in a unique position to promote economic growth and stability there. All of the parties at that dialogue welcomed the productive and comprehensive nature of our discussions and agreed that the talks helped to advance our shared interests and values.

More broadly speaking, we are continuing to work very closely with Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors in helping Afghanistan to build a sustainable economy while also supporting a successful security transition in Afghanistan. We’ve spoken many times about our regional approach to Afghanistan and how we believe Afghanistan benefits when neighbors are developing regional integration projects, working together to reduce trade barriers, and investing in each other’s markets.

Along those same lines, let me say how encouraged we are by recent steps taken by the governments of India and Pakistan to initiate closer trade and commercial ties. Increased economic linkages between India and Pakistan will strengthen mutual understanding, create a natural foundation for a stronger bilateral relationship, yield dividends for the citizens of both countries, and open up the potential for wider trade in the region.

Moving to the India side, I think all of you recall that Secretary Clinton enjoyed a very successful visit to India earlier this year and that she and External Affairs Minister Krishna shared a very successful session of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington in June. Our two countries continue to make progress to advance what President Obama has called one of the defining partnerships for the United States in the 21st century.

Several senior State Department officials have meetings this week with Foreign Minister Mathai to discuss a very broad range of issues, including our people-to-people exchanges, and we’re looking also to set up a meeting between the Secretary of State and the External Affairs Minister.

I’d like to just highlight in particular some of our recent efforts to try to advance our burgeoning trade and investment relationship. On Monday, Under Secretary Hormats gave remarks at a luncheon of the India Investment Forum here in New York – and those remarks are available on the record – bringing together a wide range of U.S.-Indian and Indian businesses to continue to develop opportunities for cooperation, investment, and connectivity. In our discussions here with Indian officials, we have noted our support for the reform measures that Prime Minister Singh recently announced that we think will benefit Indian consumers and businesses alike.

Lastly, on Central Asia, later this week we are looking forward to the six-month review of our Strategic Partnership with Kazakhstan, and we also have high-level meetings with all of the leaders of the Central Asian delegations here. In general, we think we’re making good progress to expand our partnership and engagement with each of the Central Asian countries. We continue to work on all the important issues on our agenda, such as continuing to enhance the northern distribution network to supply our troops, countering terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and enhancing border security, and of course, helping our companies to expand trade and investment ties in Central Asia.

We also regularly note our strong and ongoing attention to human rights, which is always an important priority for all of us in the Central Asian countries.

With that, I’d like to just open it up for questions, including not only here in New York but also from our friends in Washington, on any of the subjects I’ve just talked about or on anything else you’d like talk about. So thank you very much.

Sir.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Honorable Secretary. In referring to the Partnership Dialogue with Dhaka-Washington, what do you see the relation between Dhaka and Washington, and how do you see? Secondly –

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Let me take that question first. I can never remember more than one question.

On the Partnership Dialogue between the United States and Bangladesh, you recall that Secretary Clinton announced that dialogue during her visit to Bangladesh, and it reflects the widening partnership that the United States and Bangladesh have on everything from our very important security and counterterrorism cooperation, to working together to exploit the opportunities afforded by regional integration, to working together on expanding our trade and investment, which is growing very fast, to working on a lot of very important global priorities like climate change and food security, and last but not least, to working together to work on democracy, governance, and human rights.

So we were very pleased by the very comprehensive and constructive nature of that – of the first dialogue that we had, and we agreed that this is something that we should try to continue.

QUESTION: Thank you. Second question is: Our Prime Minister is visiting UN currently. Do you have any schedule to meet her? Or is there anybody at high-level meeting you are expecting soon?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, as I say, since we just had the partnership dialogue last week, we feel like we’ve had a very, very good exchange with various senior-level Bangladeshi officials. So there are no current plans right now to see Sheikh Hasina, although I must say I’ve run into her already several times. So we were glad to see her.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: My name is Zack Malzowi (ph), I’m from Voice of America. President Karzai yesterday delivering his remarks to the General Assembly requested the lifting of Taliban leaders form the UN sanctions list. The United States is a prominent member of the Security Council. What is the position of the State Department, keeping in mind that Haqqani Network was recently designated as terrorist organization?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: I’m going to refer questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan to my colleagues back in Washington, since I’ve been up here for the last several days and I’m not completely up to speed on all the latest thinking on those things.

So let me go to Washington where I see there’s somebody at the podium there.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Assistant Secretary, for briefing us. Yesterday, again at the UNGA, the President of Pakistan said that Kashmir is a symbol of UN’s failure. Do you agree with his assessment on Kashmir? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, let me just say on – with respect to Kashmir that – first of all, to go back to I said earlier in my remarks, which is that we welcome the progress that India and Pakistan have made in their bilateral relations, particularly on the trade front, where Foreign Minister Krishna announced during his visit with his Pakistani counterpart a new agreement on visas, but also their determination to continue to expand trade opportunities and to normalize trade with India – between India and Pakistan. So that’s a very good step.

On all of these issues, our position is that it is really up to India and Pakistan to determine the pace, the scope, and the character of their dialogue. And obviously Kashmir is one of the most sensitive issues on that agenda, so that’s probably not going to be the first thing that they talk about. But I think there is good progress in the bilateral dialogue, and we welcome that progress, and we – I’m sure that that will continue.

Back in the back row.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), Kazakhstan. Now what do you see Kazakhstan initiative in the United Nations? What do you think about the Kazakh initiative in United Nations?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: I’m not quite sure what the Kazakhstan initiative is that you referred to. But let me just say that we look forward very much to having this six-month review of our partnership with Kazakhstan. I’ll be having a good meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov on Friday. And we very much appreciate the – again, the widening scope of cooperation between the United States not only bilaterally, but also regionally. We value the role that Kazakhstan is playing as the current chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We value the role that Kazakhstan is playing to help promote regional integration in Central Asia and between Central Asia and South Asia. So there’s a great deal for us to talk about and including also this important issue of democracy and governance.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Kirill Belyaninov, with Daily Russia Kommersant. First, thank you for doing that. If I can, can we stay on Central Asia?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Sure.

QUESTION: There were a number of reports indicating that U.S. Administration currently is discussing with the Government of Uzbekistan the possibility of construction a military base in the country, which can become not only the biggest, largest military base in the Central Asia military base, but it can also accomodate military equipment and weapons left by the U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan. Can you update us on the status of these indication?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, as you know, I had very productive consultations in Uzbekistan in the middle of August. At that time, I denied reports that the United States is seeking to build a base, and I will again deny those reports. We have no intention of establishing a base in Uzbekistan. But we very much appreciate the role that Uzbekistan is playing to host the rail line that transits through the north – through Uzbekistan that goes to Afghanistan to help support the Northern Distribution Network. We very much appreciate the role that Uzbekistan is playing to provide electricity to Afghanistan. And we have, again, a very wide series of areas of cooperation now with Uzbekistan. But we also have frank talks about civil society, about human rights, about democracy. And those also will continue to be an important part of our dialogue.

Sorry, let me go to somebody who hasn’t had a question. Go to Washington.

QUESTION: Thank you Mr. Secretary. Hello from Washington. This is Raghubir Goyal.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Hi Goyal. How are you?

QUESTION: I have two questions, Mr. Secretary. One is that last week Indian parliament had a legislation passed on trade bill, which will help the hundreds of U.S. companies opening their doors, including Walmart. This news is welcome in Washington, including by the U.S. companies and also the U.S.-India Business Council. But there’s a cry in India because what they are asking is what will happen to the small traders and small business people, and that may be end of their livelihoods?

And second question, Mr. Secretary: As far as the United Nations is concerned, India is world’s largest democracy and still is not on the UN Security Council. And second, as far as that Hindi language is concerned, it is said at the International India Association conference, that Hindi is that largest spoken language in the world, because of this Hollywood and also understood around the globe. Still, Hindi is not at the United Nations official language. Thank you, sir.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: (Laughter.) I’ve heard a lot of great questions. But that’s the first I’ve heard of that question. Let’s see, let me take each of those in turn.

On the question of the economic reform measures that the Prime Minister recently announced, we welcome those. I think that particularly the decision to open up the multi-brand retail is particularly welcome among our companies here. I’ve seen press reports today that already Walmart has announced its intention to establish a multi-brand retail store, but also to increase the number of single-brand outlets that it has as well. So obviously that is welcome news for Walmart and welcome news for U.S. business.

But the Prime Minister also announced a number of other important things on – in the aviation sector to increase diesel prices. So I think this establishes a positive momentum, not only to help boost foreign investment, but also to help boost economic growth. So both of those, I think, will be very helpful to our businesses, and we certainly welcome those. And we understand that further measures may also be in the offing. So we look forward to hearing about that.

With respect to the UN Security Council candidacy of India, you know what our President said during his visit to India. And of course, we stand by that. But I think that’s really a question for you to direct to your own government, about the progress towards that, because it’s, in fact, their campaign that they are seeking to wage on this.

Thirdly, with respect to Hindi, that’s not really a question for the United States. I suggest you direct that to the United Nations, about whether it should become an official language or not.

Yes, sir. Sorry, behind – yeah.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is (inaudible), and I’m the editor of a Bangladesh community newspaper here in New York. I met you a couple of times before.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: My question is: Day before – yesterday, there was a reception by Bangladesh community here, and Prime Minister was there.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: And she told – she mentioned – she don’t mention the name, but she mentioned that there is a person who trying to be the MD of a bank. He’s the person who destroyed the World Bank finance to Padma Bridge, where the World Bank said there’s a corruption, and she said this.

Number two, the human rights situation in Bangladesh in terms of the disappearance of the politician and others, other opposition.

And number three, the Prime Minister, she already said about the press freedom and all this thing on Thursday. The journalists, they are in the street and they are talking about the two journalists killed in Bangladesh, and still there is no clue who did it.

So, and then three NGOs already has been shut down by government – foreign NGOs, they all are foreign NGOs. I think you have the information. So if you can just briefly tell us, then it will be great help for us. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Sure. With respect to the Padma Bridge, I think you know our position on that, which is that the United States has always been a strong supporter of the Padma Bridge, because we think that it would benefit not only millions of poor people in Bangladesh, but also serve as a very crucial link in helping to develop the regional integration that I referred to in my opening remarks.

We see that Bangladesh has made quite important progress in its trade relations with India, and Bangladeshi exports have increased quite dramatically with India, thanks to market openings by the Indians, but that now there are also opportunities to the east, with the opening in Myanmar. And so we’re talking with all of these countries about ways to take advantage of those new opportunities to increase trade between South Asia and the countries of Southeast Asia, which would benefit tremendously countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar.

With respect to the conditions that you talked about, if you’re referring to Mohammad Yunus and whether he had some impact on this, I’m not aware of that. I think that the World Bank had its own concerns about corruption in this particular case. These are – these were longstanding concerns, and the World Bank worked very hard and very diligently with the Government of Bangladesh to address those concerns. They have now an agreement in principle, but the World Bank put out a statement, today in fact, saying that this agreement must now be implemented for the project to go forward. So we support that agreement, and again, we support the bridge itself as an important project.

With respect to the – to your questions about governance in Bangladesh, as I said in my remarks, this is one part of many things that we talk about with our friends in Bangladesh. Secretary Clinton talked a great deal about this during her visit to Dhaka. She talked about our concerns with respect to disappearances such as the disappearance of Mr. Ilias Ali, the BNP regional leader. She talked about our concerns about labor rights and the need for Bangladesh now to really be a champion of international labor standards, because this will help to promote further exports into the United States market, where Bangladesh is already the second-largest supplier of garments going into the United States.

But it’ll also help with buyers. Buyers are very sensitive to the concerns of consumers here in the United States, who are very interested in labor rights. So it’s very important for buyers and our consumers here to see that the garments are produced in an environment that protects and safeguards the rights of workers. And so we’ve encouraged the government to take every step that it can to work particularly with the International Labor Organization. They have various programs to help improve labor standards, to help ensure that Bangladesh’s labor law can be updated and up to international standards, but also help to ensure the right of freedom of association, which is so important.

So there’s a lot of good work underway, and we support that and encourage that. And again, we are very pleased by the progress that’s been made in our trade. Our own exports have doubled just in the last year to Bangladesh. So labor standards is another governance issue. And then there have been other questions about, as you say, media freedom and so forth.

So these are all things that we talk about very candidly and openly with our friends in Bangladesh, and this is a country that is a very moderate Muslim democracy, so in many ways can serve as quite an important example for other countries. So we hope that Bangladesh will, again, take steps to remedy some of these things that I’ve talked about. And again, we stand ready to cooperate fully with our friends in Bangladesh to help achieve that.

Let’s go to Washington for a question.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Iftikhar Hussain for Voice of America, Deewa Radio Pashto Border region. Thank you very much.

My first question is: You talked about dialogue between the United States, the – India, and Afghanistan. We see a similar dialogue among Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. So the question I’m asking: Is it – what role China is playing in Afghanistan? Or at least what the United States is expecting the role it should play? Normally, it has been seen just digging mines there (inaudible) in some development work. So while the rest of the world is struggling there to bring stability, what efforts it can contribute?

The second question is you might have been following on the violent protest around the world, but at least in your region, you deal with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. So what are the policy lessons learned for the United States?

The question I’m asking because the United States Government has been explaining all the time that the government has nothing to do with this, but the entire anger in the region was directed against Washington and they could not differentiate between the government or an individual. So there was a communication gap.

So with the backdrop, I ask the question. Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Thank you for those questions. First of all, with respect to the role of China in Afghanistan, I myself and many of my colleagues have had a good dialogue with our Chinese friends about what more they might be able to do. We think that the United States and China have many common interests in helping to stabilize Afghanistan and helping to ensure the successful security and economic and political transitions that are going to be taking place there.

As you say, China has already made some very important investments, such as the investment in the Aynak copper mine, so there are many things that China could do similar to what India already is doing to help develop the infrastructure there, to help develop the roads, the rails, and other things to help lend its expertise in many, many others areas of capacity building. So these are all ideas that have been shared. Of course we have common counterterrorism interests as well. So these are all potential areas for very fruitful cooperation, and again, we hope and encourage our Chinese friends to seize those opportunities.

With respect to the – some of the demonstrations that you referred to in South Asia and elsewhere – as you say, in the very beginning, I think there was a misunderstanding that somehow the United States Government was involved with this. And President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been very clear in expressing their disgust with this film. I think both of them have called it reprehensible and have completely disassociated ourselves from this film.

I think it’s also important to say that both the President and the Secretary have also said that whatever that content might be, that there is no excuse for anyone taking violence to express their views, that these kind of – if there are people that do oppose such videos, then they should do so in a peaceful manner, and it is very important for all world leaders to stress that, because in no case is there some kind of speech that justifies the kind of violence that we’ve seen.

I will say that I think our public diplomacy has had an impact because the – at least in the areas that I’m responsible for in South Asia, the protests have died down, and there really hasn’t been much in the way of protests in the last several days, and we hope it stays that way because this is – the focus properly must be on strengthening democracy, on making clear, as the President said yesterday, that we need to continue to promote democracy, to promote freedom of expression, to promote freedom of religion, and that’s really where all of our focus should be.

I think that’s the only – that was the only question.

Yes, sir. Sorry, I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Exactly a year ago, since the –

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Sorry, take the microphone.

QUESTION: Sorry. Okay. Muhammad Salim, Online News Agency from Pakistan. Exactly a year ago, you spelled out what the New Silk Road –

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — to discuss Central Asia, through India and through Pakistan. What progress has been made during the last year?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: I think a lot of progress has been made. I would start by pointing out that in March of this year, all of the countries of the region met in Dushanbe in Tajikistan for the RECCA conference, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, in which all of the countries of the region endorsed an Afghan plan for regional integration that included a series of projects like TAPI and CASA-1000, but also a series of technical measures that could be taken to improve trade and integration. So I think it’s very important that there is now this regional consensus on what needs to be done, and the challenge now is to implement that, and to see that that vision is brought to fruition.

And indeed, I think there already has been progress in that regard as well. I already mentioned what’s going on within Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan has been taking quite a number of steps to build the railway and electricity transmission infrastructure with Afghanistan. Tajikistan, likewise, is taking a number of important measures, and then the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has made progress as well.

There was earlier this year an agreement on gas sales purchases between those countries, and most recently there was a road show that was completed, to begin to identify who might lead a consortium to actually build the pipeline. So I think there’s been really quite significant, concrete progress, and I think what’s most important about it is that the countries of the region are leading these efforts, and themselves financing these efforts, which shows that they believe in this vision and that they see the importance of achieving greater integration not only to help Afghanistan, but also to help the future of their own people.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Mohammad Zaman, I am representing one online news agency, REDTIMESBD.com. Actually, I have a proposal. I don’t have questions. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: You have a what? I didn’t understand.

QUESTION: I have a proposal to you.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: A proposal? Okay.

QUESTION: Like, I had a chance to visit from Seattle to Washington, D.C. by cycle to all different state. It was awareness tour for climate change, and I was thinking if we – I do not discover your – in a country like that way. I really don’t know about the country but what we see in U.S. through the newspaper. So it was a really different experience.

So I talk with my editor and we are thinking about to bringing some journalists from USA through (inaudible) to FPC. Every year, like, couple of journalists to visit Bangladesh for one week to two week, and we will show our country in a different way to – because when you travel and you’re in different states, we have seen like not many people will ever – at Bangladesh or whatever they – “No, it’s not good for us.” So to promote our country, we’d like to bring or welcome some of your journalists to visit Bangladesh.

So, I don’t know how we can do it.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, I encourage you to talk to our colleagues at the Foreign Press Center. I’m not sure that they’re going to be that interested in a bicycle tour of Bangladesh – (laughter) – but I think there might be some interest in seeing Bangladesh, because there’s a lot of very important and creative things are happening in Bangladesh now with respect to the role of women, with respect to the role that young people are playing in Bangladesh. And again, I think it is a very important example of a moderate Muslim country that is doing a great deal to counter violent extremism and to take steps that I think have lessons for the wider region.

So there may be some interest, but of course, I can’t speak for our journalists. They are very independent and they will make their own decisions about these things, but I encourage you to reach out to them.

A question in Washington?

QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador Blake. Another question for you from the Voice of America. I’m Navbahor Imamova from the Uzbek Service.

What specific issues are you going to discuss with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and when are you meeting the officials from these republics? The second question is: Could you talk about the assistance that’s being planned for the region for 2013?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Let me take the second one first, which is to say that, as you know, we’re going through quite substantial budget challenges, but I’m happy that our assistance levels for this region have remained stable. And I think that’s a reflection of the importance that we attach to this region and the growing strategic priority that we place on improving our relations with all of Central Asia. And so this – I think that is one very concrete sign of that commitment.

With respect to our meetings with our Uzbek friends and Kyrgyzstan, I don’t want to go into a long recitation of all the issues that we’re going to talk about. You saw from my press conference that I gave in Uzbekistan in mid-August the huge range of matters that we are now covering. And again, I refer you to those – to that readout. There was a lengthy press conference there.

Kyrgyzstan, the same way. I think Kyrgyzstan now – there is a new prime minister in place, a new foreign minister, so we look forward to an early opportunity to have consultations with them. The speaker of parliament is here now at the UN General Assembly. I had the opportunity to meet with him when he was in Washington last week. And certainly, I welcomed the fact that there has been a peaceful transition to a new government, and I told him that I think that shows the strength and the resiliency of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary democracy, something that we strongly support and will continue to support as Kyrgyzstan effects its democratic transition.

We also are working very hard with our friends in Kyrgyzstan to support the ongoing processes of reconciliation there as well to help build up the Kyrgyz economy, and of course, to work on some of the governance issues as well there.

So again, we have a very broad and deep friendship and partnership with Kyrgyzstan and with Uzbekistan, and we look forward to very good consultations here as well.

Sorry, one more in Washington. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador Blake. Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times. A question about the trilateral dialogue yesterday. The statements issued by the Afghan host of the meeting lack in specifics completely. So what there is specific there to talk about? And two, what next? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: They were specific. We talked a lot about the importance of the transitions in – the three transitions that I talked about earlier. But I think we had some good conversations, particularly on the economic side, about how we can continue our work together to promote regional integration, to help build up the private sector in Afghanistan, to help this transition from an aid-based economy to a more trade and private sector-based economy. And all of our countries have been working very hard already on that, and so we discussed ways that we might be able to double up on those efforts.

We also agreed that this was a useful consultation mechanism and that we’ll look for future opportunities. We don’t have a specific date yet in mind, but we’re often attending many of the same multilateral conferences such as the UN General Assembly. So we agreed that it would be useful to continue to meet on a regular basis.

Sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question regarding this trilateral meeting today between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Britain. Was United States involved in those discussions? Are you aware what was discussed, any specifics on the meeting today?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: I would just refer you to those countries for that. I don’t think it’s my job to start commenting on that.

QUESTION: But no involvement from you?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: It’s certainly a welcome development.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just one more on Central Asia, if it’s possible.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: First, how do you see the situation in the Central Asian countries after the withdrawal of American and coalition troops from Afghanistan? It’s going to change to your opinion or not? And the second, are you planning to increase the military cooperation or cooperation in the areas of the border control of the security in this country, provide military training to the local armed forces, law enforcement, so on and so forth? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Well, it’s a little bit early to begin speculating about what the situation is going to be after 2014. Let me just say that we think that the transition, particularly the security transition but also the economic transition, is on track in Afghanistan, and that Afghan forces are in charge of an increasingly large proportion of Afghanistan. I believe the figure is now 75 percent. So we continue to support the development of the Afghan National Security Forces and also to encourage as much cooperation between them and their Central Asian counterparts, because it’s going to be important for them to work together as well to address some of these challenges that you mentioned.

And we’ll just have to see. It’s hard for me to judge what’s going to be the situation in 2014 and 2015. But I do know that it’s going to be important to, again, make sure that there’s good cooperation between those countries, and that certainly we will be doing all we can to help them to develop their counterterrorism, their counternarcotics, their border security capabilities. And that has been a longstanding priority of ours and we’ll continue to work on that.

Let’s go to Lakshman.

QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador. Narayan Lakshman from The Hindu. Two questions. Firstly, after the national conventions here of both the parties, it emerged that the Republican National Platform refers to the relationship with India as a geopolitical alliance. And the Democratic National Platform refers to it as a strategic partnership. Now – do these two terms mean anything different to you, and if so, would that be a difference in the real relationship? And secondly, could you update on what progress, if any, there’s been on the civil nuclear deal between the two countries since the Early Works Agreement was signed? There have been further protests in this context in India. An update on that?

AMBASSADOR BLAKE: Let me just say that I don’t want to try to parse what the Republicans might have said. It’s important to stress what we’ve said for many, many years, which is that there’s a bipartisan consensus in the United States, and I believe in India as well, to develop our strategic partnership further. And that’s been reflected in so many ways, but particularly in the strong people-to-people ties that we have, but also in the strong bipartisan support that the Civil Nuclear Agreement received when it came up for a vote in the United States. So I expect that whoever is elected in November will continue to support the development of our strategic partnership with India.

Sorry. I’ve already forgotten the second question. Oh, civil nuclear, yes. Yeah. I think that there continues to be good progress. Let me make a slight correction to what you said. There was a signature of a Memorandum of Understanding to conclude a Early Works Agreement between Westinghouse and NPCIL, the Nuclear Power Cooperation of India. So we very much welcome the signing of that MOU, and this is, I think, a very concrete sign, first of all, of our companies’ interest – continued interest in working in India, but also I think a concrete sign on the part of the Government of India as well that they too are interested and that it’s important now to start developing some of these early works, like site preparation, like getting contracts ready, and so forth. So again, I think that was a welcome development.

We continue to talk about the civil nuclear liability legislation in India, that still is under review in the supreme court and in the parliament, but that – there’s still some clauses of that legislation that cause concerns to some of our companies. So that is still something that needs to be addressed. But we also welcome the fact that the Government of India has signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. That’s certainly a welcome step forward, and we urge our Indian friends to consult with the IAEA to make sure that their own legislation is in conformance with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. So in short, I think there’s progress but still work to be done.

I think I’ve exhausted the group, so let me thank you all very much for coming. It’s always very nice to talk to you, and let me also thank our colleagues in Washington, and I look forward to another opportunity in the near future to see you all. Thank you.

 

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