Interview With Outlook Magazine (India)Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
March 12, 2008
QUESTION: [Referring to a recent Outlook interview with Foreign Minister Mukherjee…] He talked about the nuclear deal and about problems he foresees. And I just wanted to follow up with you and how you felt (inaudible). To follow up, in the interview Mukherjee said that – told them that they would not accept a nuclear deal signed by a minority government. Did you convey this sentiment to the minister?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I didn’t see the minister during my trip and I haven’t seen his interview. So I really can’t address his words or things that he said. Our basic government position is, we can sign an agreement with a duly constituted government whatever its political status, whatever its, you know – if it’s the duly constituted government of the country at the time, we can sign a deal.
QUESTION: Do you – does the administration have any problem signing a deal with a minority government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As I said, as long as it’s a duly constituted government, you know – constitutional government of the country, then we can sign a deal with them.
QUESTION: But do you make a distinction between a minority government and a caretaker one?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: There is not (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: So, do you (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I find it very hard to hear you. I don’t know, I think it’s your cell phone, but – try that question again.
QUESTION: Okay. In your meetings with Indian officials, did the question of a minority oriented government come up and whether the U.S. would be willing to sign this deal? Was this issue discussed at all?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t think it actually – I don’t remember it actually coming up with Indian officials. I think it came up in one of my press conferences and I gave you – I gave more or less the same answer I gave you.
QUESTION: Now, also in the same interview Mukherjee says that a minority government should not sign such a major agreement. Was this the sentiment that was conveyed to you when you were in India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, that’s a different thing and that’s a political judgment and obviously the Foreign Minister in his political role is the one to make those judgments. I – no, that’s not a matter for us and I – we understand that there is a, you know, political process in India. There’s a – we’re two democracies working with each other and we have to understand and accept each others’ political process. So – but we’re not involved in that and we leave that completely to the Indian side to work on.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that attempts by the Left to stall on this deal could eventually end up killing it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, as I said, we have to understand each others’ democratic process. So one of the things that we’ve tried to do is not to set deadlines but to make people aware of our timeline, to make people aware that we also have a political process here going on. Everybody knows we have an election coming up. What that means for the deal is we have to be able to get this arrangement to our Congress before the summer, as Senator Biden said when he was there. And if you start working back from there, we’ve got a lot of things to do and not a lot of time.
So I do think that this is a very good deal for India. It’s a very good deal for the United States. It provides clean, nuclear power for India’s economic development, and we want to support that. So as both of us look at doing this very important deal, as making this very important progress in our relationship and for nuclear power, I think we need to keep in mind each others’ democratic processes and timelines.
QUESTION: But do you find it frustrating that the Bush administration bent over backwards to try and get this deal done as soon as possible, (inaudible) of Congress, who were an obvious obstacle to this deal? Do you find it frustrating that these obstacles have come up despite the fact that India has worked through its democratic process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t think we should find either one’s democratic process frustrating, because in the end it’s a source of great strength for us. And within those, you know – understanding the process, we need to try to work within that process to achieve our goals.
QUESTION: Have delays in India made it more difficult for the U.S. administration to try and get support for this deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know if it’s made it more difficult to get support, it just gives us less time to work it. And each of these groups – the International Atomic Energy Agency people, the Nuclear Suppliers, our Congress – all have established procedures, and you try to fit within those procedures and meeting schedules because that eliminates a few more objections or questions that can be raised. It’s not – we can still go ahead. We can still make this happen if we work together and if other people in these organizations work with us. But it’s easier the more time you have, the more you can meet the schedules that these groups normally have, then the easier it is to ensure success.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the deal was now being played in overtime. What is the final deadline for this deal to be done within the Bush administration?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well again, I’m not into giving deadlines on this. The timeline that we got from the Congress that you heard from Senator Biden is it has to get to the Congress so that Congress can act in July. That would mean it has to get to the Congress in June.
QUESTION: Now, Ambassador Burns recently talked about Chinese support for this deal. He said the Chinese were willing to support the deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Have you received any such guarantees from the Chinese that they would actually support about this deal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think we’re hopeful. I don’t want to try to speak for the Chinese, who are – I don’t think I could say it’s locked in. But I think we’re hopeful that all countries will support it because it’s essentially a way of providing nuclear power for economic growth. And that’s a good thing for all of us.
QUESTION: Do you believe the Chinese have been more hopeful, perhaps, in their support? And would this help win the force of the Left in India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Again, I’m not – I do diplomacy, not politics. So, I want Chinese support in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and that’s something we will work on. But I don’t want to talk – I’m not looking for it in political terms, I’m looking for it in diplomatic terms.
But as far as how vocal the Chinese want to be, that’s up to them. We’ll be talking to them about these issues, and they have great concern – or great interest in it. But as I said, I think it’s a good arrangement for nuclear power and I think we can work with countries like China.
QUESTION: Have you been asking them to publicly support India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Again, I don’t – I generally don’t go after countries for public support. I need support in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. So we’ve talked to the Chinese and I’ll talk to the Chinese again about it.
QUESTION: Now you talked about timelines. Do you believe that it’s realistic, given that we’re now midway through March – do you think it’s realistic that the Indian government will meet these timelines? Is that the sense you’ve got of your meetings in New Delhi? And do you believe it can be done?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, you know, we’re going to have to see. That’s about all I can tell you is we’re going to have to see how the process works in India and then take it from there. Our job, I think, together with the Indian diplomats is, as the Indian government is ready to go forward is to try to make it happen in these various groupings. But at the same time we need to make people aware that time is very, very tight. And that we have to get it through these groupings – we’re going to have to work hard. We’re going to have to try to be – give ourselves the right amount of time to really succeed.
QUESTION: Is that the sense you got after your meetings in Delhi, that there was an appreciation that time was of the essence?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I tried to give people the sense that time is of the essence, that we’re on very, very tight – there’s very, very tight timelines here and a lot of things to do. And so we’re going to try to see if we can’t have the agreement to work in those parameters.
QUESTION: Some critics of the deal in the U.S. have talked about – they want answers from members of Congress made public about some key questions about the nuclear deal and how it would operate. Is this something that the Bush administration will consider, if (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We will be, I’m sure, answering a lot of questions for our Congress as we finish up the work and get these – get all these pieces together for our Congress to look at. I’m sure we’ll have public hearings; we’ll have a lot of public answers at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: If this deal is not wrapped up by the end of the Bush administration, what do you foresee will happen to it? Does it die? Does it – is there any chance of it being resurrected?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, it – I think the answer is, I don’t know. And I don’t think any of us really want to throw it into that unknown limbo. Our goal should be to get it done because it’ll be fixed, it’ll be done, because anything beyond this administration is speculative.
As for what the next administration might do, as to how – what its status might be, certainly I don’t think anybody would throw away everything we’ve done, but they might also try to take a different approach to finishing it. And that would be – that could work or not work we just don’t know.
So I don’t think any of us want that uncertainty. If this is a good deal, if it’s a good agreement for the Americans and for the Indians, if it’s a good agreement for the Indian people, in terms of, you know, turning on the lights for kids to do homework, then I think we ought to go ahead with it.
QUESTION: Can you tell me a bit about how much time and energy has been spent by the Bush administration on this deal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well I think the first thing to remember is that this administration has devoted an enormous time and energy to the relationship with India. And to working with India across the board on economic development on – you know, look at the amount of time we’ve put in issuing visas to Indians to cut out the waiting times at our embassies. Look at the about of time we’ve invested in getting Indian students to the United States or promoting business between the United States and India.
So we’ve devoted an enormous amount of the time to the U.S.-India relationship and this nuclear deal is part of that. You’re all aware of the negotiations and the back and forth and the trips and the time that Under Secretary Burns and Shyam Saran, the special envoy, or the Foreign Secretaries have spent on this, as well as Cabinet members. So I do think it’s a healthy investment, it’s a good investment, but its part of a really enormous investment, from the President on down, in developing our relations with India.
QUESTION: Some members – some people see the nuclear deal as being the centerpiece of this agreement. Do you see the relationship in that way? Do you see the civ-nuclear agreement being the centerpiece of this relationship?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it’s a very important piece, but the relationship doesn’t live or die with the nuclear deal. As I’ve said, it’s an enormous opportunity to provide clean power for India’s growth. It’s an enormous opportunity to turn the lights on in places in India that need power for kids in India that need the power – the lights to do their homework. So that’s what we want to do. We want to do that and bring India alongside and into a compatible position with the international nonproliferation effort.
And so those are really opportunities that need to be taken advantage of. And the more swiftly we can do that, the better it is for all of us. So I’m very much a fan of this. I think it’s a good thing to do and an important part of the relationship. But I have to say that the – there’s a very strong relationship with India, and we’re going to pursue that relationship across the board.
QUESTION: And finally, Ambassador Boucher, if this deal is not concluded by the time you leave office, what repercussions do you see in the U.S.-India relationship?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know. Frankly, that’s purely speculative. Again, my job is kind of not to focus on what happens if it doesn’t work but how do I make it happen. And we’ll really focus on that and try to keep trying to make it happen.
If it doesn’t happen obviously that raises a lot of questions about what’s going to happen to this agreement and how we deal – how the new administration would be in a position to deal with India. But you can speculate any way you want on that.
The one thing I think that is good is that we’ve found very strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and in the United States for having a strong relationship with India. And one way or the other I think everybody’s going to want to develop that relationship. But how they will go about that, I don’t know. And frankly I’d rather get this thing pinned down and done now than to say who knows what’ll happen in a year?
QUESTION: But will there be a frustration for the amount of time and effort that’s being put in that even if you go ahead and sign a deal with the Indians, they can’t get their act together in New Delhi? They still have problems dealing with their coalition partners and it’s not a given that the deal is going to go through.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know what conclusions might be drawn, but we’ll just have to see. That’s part of the uncertainty.
QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, thank you so much for your time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay, thank you very much.
Released on March 17, 2008