Interview With Sheetal Rajput, Zee News Senior CorrespondentRichard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
April 7, 2006
SHEETAL RAJPUT: Welcome to Zee News, Ambassador Boucher.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: How were the talks with the Indian side today? You said more coordination and more talk needed as regards the nuclear deal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Always. Diplomats have meetings, move things forward, go off and study them, come back for more meetings to move things forward. That’s just the nature of our business. We had very good discussions today. We talked about a whole range of regional issues, local issues, bilateral issues, global issues. It was a very good discussion, and I think we did move forward in terms of U.S.-India cooperation.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: Ambassador Boucher, with some encouraging signals coming from the United States Congress, which is witness to hot debate and discussion these days on this very crucial issue, and some favorable words from key Democrat Senators, like Senator Kerry, and the recent testimony by Secretary Rice, which was quite strong and convincing, I think, in the same spirit here in India, how do you see this issue evolving in the United States Congress today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It’ll continue to be a subject of debate. We’ve had some people stand up early against it, now we’ve had some people stand up for the agreement, and I think there’ll be a debate, there’ll be a discussion. There are serious issues here, we recognize that – we’re answering questions, we’re testifying, making the case – and Congress will have its due deliberations. But I think in the end, that people understand why this is important, and why this is a good deal for both the United States and India.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: How does the Administration plan to cope with any fresh conditions that the Congress inserts or tries inserting in?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’ve talked to the Congress. We’ve made clear, I think, publicly and with Congress that we’re happy to talk about the legislation, and how it’s structured, and the elements in the legislation, but we can’t accept things that are non-negotiable, that are deal breakers. We just can’t do that. It doesn’t do us any good to have a deal and then have legislation that makes it impossible to have the agreement work. So we’ll look at anything that is proposed, but we’ll be very frank with them and tell them which ones would work and which ones wouldn’t.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: Are you optimistic, or are you still apprehensive as regards approval of this particular issue by the Congress?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I’ve always been fairly optimistic. I understand the depth of the issues here. I expect people to ask questions. I expect there to be debate. That’s democracy. But I also have always expected this to pass, and I still do.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: There has been some criticism, though, on the Indian side. Very recently former Prime Minister Atul Bihari Vajpayee strongly came out against this condition, which has been set in the India-specific civil nuclear cooperation bill, which says that the United States will terminate all cooperation with India if tomorrow India decides to detonate a nuclear device.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I don’t think any of us want to see that happen. That’s not Indian policy – to detonate a nuclear device – nor frankly, all the major powers have refrained from testing for quite a while. So, I think that provision really does reflect what we know to be the sentiment of Congress. But it also reflects a reality of the world we live in, and present day.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: What about the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the NSG, there hasn’t been much of a breakthrough ever, as far as talks last month are concerned, are you concerned, what do you have to say about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: When you are trying to reach a consensus of several dozen countries in an international group, it’s hard even to say you get a breakthrough. Again, it’s patient work, it’s explaining, it’s providing facts…
SHEETAL RAJPUT: What are the primary objections? Who are the primary objectors?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Nobody said no. There were a lot of countries that raised a lot of questions. How does this relate to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? How does this agreement help or hinder the Non-Proliferation Treaty? What does it do for the military side? What’s the sequence we want to have? There were a lot of questions asked when I went out to Vienna with one of my colleagues. Those are questions we can answer. And we are – patiently and carefully, with a lot of facts – going to answer those. But they also want to see progress between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency. They want to know what’s the nature of this safeguards agreement going to be. The U.S. Congress wants to know that. So some of them might withhold judgment until they see more of the negotiation that India will have with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: So when do you take this issue up with the NSG again?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’ll be talking continuously with NSG countries. I think they have the next kind of big meeting at the end of May. But in the meantime, we’re always in touch with other countries talking about this arrangement, and why we think it’s good.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: You were in Islamabad recently, yesterday, in fact, and you said that General Musharraf simultaneously holding of two posts, that of the Army chief and that of the President, it negates the spirit of democracy. How does the Bush Administration plan or intend to address this particular issue?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Frankly, I didn’t say that. What I said was, Pakistan needs to move towards a more modern and moderate society. That’s the goal that President Musharraf’s set, that’s a goal that we support. We support democracy in Pakistan. We want to see the elections next year to be free and fair. The issue of his status in the military or as a civilian arises, certainly, in the context of those elections, and needs to be solved within that context. What’s important to the United States is to see that overall movement back towards free and fair elections and democracy in Pakistan. We want to see that movement prosper; we want to see it continue.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: One final question. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while President Bush visited Afghanistan last month, he had expressed grave concern on a resurgence of Taliban, and the deteriorating situation on Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Was there a follow-up, did you do follow-up on this particular issue while you were in Islamabad yesterday?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes, I followed up on the President’s follow-up. The President talked to both leaders about the threat of terrorism the Taliban and other terrorists cause to both countries. They’re a threat to Pakistan, and to Pakistan’s ability to govern its territory; they’re a threat to Afghanistan, and to Afghanistan’s ability to govern its territory; as well as a threat to American troops, Pakistani troops, and Afghan troops. We all need to deal with this problem, and we all need to deal with it together. So we’ve tried to encourage cooperation. We’ve tried to talk to both sides about their policies and how we can actually work together to conquer this threat. And I think that cooperation actually is pretty good.
SHEETAL RAJPUT: Thank you so much for talking to Zee News.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you very much. It’s good to see you.