Press Conference in Kathmandu, NepalRichard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
May 3, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, let me apologize for getting you all up so early this morning. Because of my travel arrangements, this was the only time I could have the chance to see the press and I didn't want to leave Nepal without a chance to meet with you and talk to you and answer your questions, if I can.
I also wanted to say congratulations on "World Press Freedom Day," which we take note of every year.
And finally, I just wanted to say I think Iíve had a very good visit here -- a chance to meet with political leaders, people from society, look at the situation right now and make sure that we understand it. More important than that, we will do everything we can to support the people of Nepal and the political leaders as they move forward. Weíre here at a very hopeful moment, a moment of promise but, as with all moments of promise, thereís a lot of work to be done and the United States wants to make sure that we are here with you and that weíre here to support you as you go forward. Political leaders have pledged themselves to stay unified and to stay together to do what it was that the people wanted them to do. We look forward to supporting them in that task. So with that, and I think Iíve given you a written statement as well, so Iíd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: My name is Mr. Josse. I represent Peopleís Review. Itís a weekly. Sir, Iíve a very short question to ask. And it is this: Does the United States support or oppose a Maoist takeover in Nepal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We oppose it. We oppose it because we oppose any kind of "takeover" of Nepal. Thatís not what this is about; this is about getting everybody involved in the political process, about getting the people of Nepal involved, a choice of what happens to their government. So nobody is going to take over. So anyone who wants to give up violence, anyone who wants to lay down their arms and become part of the political process, should be able to participate. But ultimately, who gets responsibility in Nepalís government has to be a choice of the people of Nepal.
QUESTION: Madhav Acharya, Kyodo news service, Japan. From what happened in Nepal last month the Maoists have emerged as peacemakers. I was wondering if you were contemplating removing them from your watch list.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I donít think we can forget the history of Maoists as a group. What theyíve done in the villages, what they had continued to do in the villages even when there was a ceasefire in Kathmandu. Theyíve killed people, theyíve extorted money from people, and theyíve forced people on to service. So our removing them from any terrorist list and other things is not going to happen until they stop that behavior. Itís not a question of what they say in the press or what theyíre doing temporarily. Itís whether theyíve really stopped terrorist behavior and the only way to be sure of that is for them to lay down their arms, join in a political process, and present themselves to the people of Nepal the way other people do. Other candidates do. See if they can get votes. So itís really the change of behavior weíre looking for.
QUESTION: Good morning, Sam Taylor with the AFP. Just in terms of the American position with the Maoists, there was lots of talk before about the danger of the Maoists using the political process to gain legitimacy and then ultimately taking control of the country. Is that still a possibility or are you being assured by what you see in terms of the work between the parties and the Maoists?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I guess what I have to say is first of all one canít estimate how they would fare in the political process. I have to think that after what theyíve done to a lot of villagers in this country that they wouldnít really get that many votes. But itís not for me to decide; thatís for the people of Nepal to decide when they get a chance for fair election.
I think it is important for the parties to stay unified, for the political leadership to carry out the pledges. Thereís a lot of work, lot of things that they have to do right now. They have to deal with the institutions of the government, the constitution, how theyíre going to amend it, change it, constituent assembly. Itís the whole process. Ceasefire, disarmament, immobilization. So if the parties can stay unified, bring the country through that process, then I donít have much fear of what would happen in an election. An election where the people of Nepal are given the chance to vote. But nobody should think that they can stand for election and if it does not work out the way they want, that they have the option of going back to the fighting. You have to take that option away. Thatís why people have to give up weapons before the vote.
QUESTION: My name is Binod Bhattarai and Ö
QUESTION: Could you be a little louder please?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Ok, Iíll try. Iíll lift my head up.
QUESTION: My name is Binod Bhattarai and I write for the Financial Times. A statement of your department on April 25 had said the US would like to have a ceremonial monarchy which is missing from the one that we have with us right now. Does that also reflect a shift in what you would have liked?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I donít think it is so much a shift as it is a recognition that at this point in time the decision is with the people of Nepal. We have expressed ourselves in favor of a ceremonial monarchy. We see some virtue in that. I think people here, many of them, see some virtue in that. Many others might not. But at this point the decision is in the hands of the people of Nepal and their political leaders, and how that works out is no longer dependent on statements from the outside, but rather decisions made inside Nepal by the people themselves.
We should go further back
QUESTION: I am Shirish Pradhan from PTI, Press Trust of India. How soon are you going to resume arms supply to Nepal? And do you think that it is necessary to involve international community in disarming the Maoists? And lastly, how can US government help with its expertise as Nepal is going to draft a new constitution through a constituent assembly?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sorry, I have to write it down. On the possibility of US military supplies, or arms supply, thatíll be a decision for the government. We want to support Nepal in political areas and economic areas and in security areas. And in each of these things we will be led by the political leaders of the government of Nepal. So, we will talk to them about how we can support the political process, we will talk to them about how we can support the economic needs of Nepal, we will talk to them about how we can support the security needs of Nepal including assistance to the army. As you know weíve given assistance to the army in the past, and weíre quite prepared to do so in the future. But in all these areas the civilian leadership, the political leadership of Nepal will tell us what they need and when they need it.
On the third one in terms of expertise in writing the constitution, again, if somebody asks for it we can find something. But thatís up to the people involved in writing the constitution.
Should we go way in the back.
QUESTION: I am Tilak Pokhrel with The Kathmandu Post. One of the first is, does the U.S. think the king is a unifying force? Thatís first. And second Ambassador Moriarty once said that the partiesí Maoist understanding was wrongheaded and now the king in a way has also endorsed this understanding, so in this case if the U.S. still thinks so on what basis do you say that the recent developments in Nepal are most exciting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Exactly what was it that you called wrongheaded? Iím sure it was very wrongheaded. But I donít quite understand that portion of the question. As far as whether the monarchy has unifying role, again that is something for the people of Nepal to decide. What the virtues are of having it that way or the virtues are of changing it are things that the people of Nepal will balance and decide on their own.
QUESTION: The United States consistently said that palace and the political parties should work together. But what happened in the end was that political parties and Maoists worked together. How do you see that happening? How do you react to that situation?
At the same time, I think if the Maoists are going to lay down their arms and join the political process, one has to make sure that they canít interfere again in the political process by using violence and arms. And thatís why giving up their arms and demobilization is such an important part of the way forward. So I think you know these people have a time to work together to achieve certain goals. Ultimately theyíll compete in front of the voters and the voters will decide. But itís important that everyone adopt this course of political reconciliation and political decision making and that those involved would not be able to go back and change their minds at some point depending on how they fare.
QUESTION: Keshav Poudel. I work for Spotlight weekly newsmagazine. After meeting with political leaders and civil society members, how do you assess the situation in Nepal right now? Do you think that this transition will go peacefully or Ö?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it can. I think it, the whole transition, can go peacefully. I found a lot, a number of things. I found there was lot of unity. Thereís a very strong commitment to the political parties to do what the people had asked for, to make the changes necessary in the constitution, to carry out a ceasefire, get the Maoists to carry out a ceasefire, to go forward with the constituent assembly that would let the people of Nepal elect those who will decide what the shape of the future constitution would be, and to start with, I think, a political program and an economic program that really gets this country back on track.
So I think itís a hopeful moment, as I said, that I did find a lot of determination among the parties to stay together. Thatís a very, very important part of the process and we will always encourage them to stay together and to act swiftly on the things that people demanded in the demonstrations. Can it all go peacefully? Yes. But it can only go peacefully if the Maoists decide itís time to give up violence and come into political process. They have an opportunity; they have a door open to them. If they are sincere, they can come through it. And it can go well.
QUESTION: This is Sushil Sharma. I work for the BBC. Iíve two questions. I believe that Ė well, talking about the king again -- I believe that you didnít meet the king this time around. Was it because you didnít want to meet him or it was him who didnít want to meet you? Thatís my first question. And the second question is about your future policy towards Nepal. During this direct rule of the king you had been coordinating with India like in pressing the king to restore democracy. Now that democracy has been restored, do you still plan to coordinate with India in helping Nepal in rebuilding Nepal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The answer is: no, itís not one and itís not the other, as far as why I didnít meet with the king this time. As you know I had a limited amount of time that I was going to be here in Nepal. And I arrived yesterday and Iíll be leaving in about an hour. So the question before us was how I should best spend my time. And I wanted to see the political parties; I wanted to see the political leaders. I wanted to see the people in whose hands the decisions about the future of this country rest. Thatís where I spent my time rather than anywhere else. So Iíd say I concentrated on the dynamic of the moment, I concentrated on where things were moving, and thatís how I spent my limited amount of time. So I decided that Iíd spend more time with political parties and not do other things.
On the question of coordinating with India, yes we will coordinate with quite a few other countries. We find thereís a lot of interest overseas in the situation Nepal, particularly in India, and Iíll actually be in India this afternoon with my colleague from the National Security Council and weíll be talking with the Indians about Nepal as well as a number of other things. So, we will continue to talk with India. As you know, weíve got our own policy, but itís very important that outside countries work together and thatís what we intend to do.
QUESTION: I am Kumar Lamichhane. I represent Nepal 1 Television. Two questions to ask to you. My first question is that, if you said that Maoists should give up the arms and violence to join the mainstream politics for the purpose of constituent assembly if their arms and the arms of the national security forces are kept beyond use, would that be riskier thing or not? My second question is, youíve been in good coordination with India regarding Nepal. For the confidence building measure can you ask India to release detained Maoist leaders in India? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: On the first one, putting weapons beyond use at the time of the constituent assembly, thatíll be part of the process, somewhere along the way, whether thatís what the political parties and the leadership decides, is necessary at this point at that particular stage in the evolution. I really leave for them to decide. But, I think, again, it comes down to that basic point. Itís not a particular definition of this mechanism or that mechanism. Itís the basic point: Have the Maoists, will the Maoists give up their arms, give up the violence, join the political parties, join the political process in a way that everybody knows, that people here could be confident, that they are not going to go back to violence if they happen to be disappointed with the results? It has to be an irrevocable choice and thatís by whatever method is used for making sure that theyíre not going to go back to the jungles; that it will be an effective one.
On the question of India, and releasing the people that they detained, Iíll see this afternoon what they have to say about Maoists. I havenít seen any particular reports of people detained, so I donít know that thereís anything to do on that score.
QUESTION: My nameís Charles Haviland, Iím also with the BBC. Got two questions. One is, is the US more neutral on whether Nepal should be a kingdom or a republic in the future? And the second question is slightly long one. You mentioned in one of your previous answers, the parties acting swiftly on demands of those who were demonstrating. Of course, demonstrations which or because of which 15 plus people lost their lives. But there are signs that the parties are not acting swiftly and are slipping back in I think what you can call their bad old ways. What kind of pressure would the United States put, or to put it more positively, support will the United States put on perhaps forwarding, trying to promote some of those aims that were and are still being voiced by the people in the street?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As far as whether weíre neutral on kingdom or republic, I donít know how to answer the question at this juncture because itís really out of our hands. Itís going to be decided as a part of this process that goes forward. Weíre happy to see it decided that way. So I guess weíll just let the process take place and the people -- either the political leadership through the parliament right now or the people in the constituent assembly -- decide how itís going turn out and weíll see how it turns out. I think weíre like many others at this point; the process has started, weíre just interested in seeing how it turns out.
On the question of making progress and how we can support or push for more progress if we donít think itís fast enough, I think thereís a lot of things we can do to support political progress, whether itís to provide experts as needed or just provide our ongoing rhetorical support, with an emphasis on the importance of results. We can also help institutions in Nepal like the CIAA, the commission that deals with corruption, or help the election commission, or help the other institutions of the government that need to work this process forward. We can support the political parties in their efforts to get information and education. So thereís probably a lot of things that we can do, and weíll look to, as I said, support the political process, support the economic recovery, and support the security situation as the civilian leadership decides we should.
I think thatís enough. OK, last question.
QUESTION: Sudeshna, Indo-Asian News Service.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes maíam.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher you said you had a very short time here and you made the best use of it by meeting the decision makers. You met Pyar Jung Thapa yesterday. Do you think the Royal Nepalese Army is going to be one of the decision makers in future instead of parliament?
So, I think it was a good visit; they made certainly very clear to me as they have in public and elsewhere that the army is going to support the political process, that the army is going to respond to civilian authority, and that the army is going to defend the nation in the days ahead. And that I think is a very important commitment that I wanted to hear for myself. So I just felt it was important part of the process, one of the players as we go forward is going be the army and it was important for me to meet with them.
QUESTION: Can I ask a supplementary question to that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: OK.
QUESTION: How would the army implement the ceasefire?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: In whatever way is appropriate. Thatís as far as I can go. I think itís up to the civilian leaders to come out with the kind of ceasefire that they want and the kind of rules that need to be respected during this period. And the army, I would expect, would want to support that process, would want to follow those rules and as this period goes forward. I donít know what those rules are going to be, what the code of conductís going be for both the parties during the elections, but I would certainly expect both government and the Maoists to respect the ceasefire, and itíll be very important to monitor that. Weíll be reading the press very avidly to see if people indeed are respecting the ceasefire.
OK. Thank you very much.
Released on May 3, 2006