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Interview with Sidharth Bhatia of Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs
Mumbai, India
April 6, 2007

QUESTION: What's with the deal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The deal? The nuclear deal? Yes, we are working it. We have a number of things that have to be done to get this deal through. We had to get legislation in the United States and we got that with a very, very strong majority. We have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with India. India has to negotiate an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have to get approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and because of our Congress we have to go back to them and get final approval once more. So there is a lot to do and we are trying to do this as quickly as possible.

We knew it would take time, but we still want to do it quickly. Right now we are on that second stage, trying to negotiate the bilateral agreement with India. We've presented drafts - we presented a draft last July, a counter-draft in February.  We've had a couple of rounds of talks, including one last week, on the 123.   Frankly, I don't know what is happening between India and the IAEA right now. We can't do much with Nuclear Suppliers until we get these other pieces together, so that's kind of slow. Concentration right now is on the 123. We have presented elements and proposals that we think are very consistent, in fact drawn directly from what the Prime Minister and the President discussed. We are looking to engage with India on that basis.

Right now the ball is sort of in the Indian court. We have replied to their draft and have told them where we think we have to make progress and we are looking to hear from India with that soon. I had some discussions in Delhi, Under Secretary Burns has had some discussion with Foreign Secretary Menon, and we'll keep in touch and see what we hear from the Indian side and see if we can move forward quickly.

QUESTION: What we have seen so far, where the deal is concerned, is that at every stage there have been apprehensions on both sides. On the Indian side, at least, there is always the feeling that we are being pushed into a situation where we won't be able to test any more, and then somehow that next stage gets crossed. There was once almost fear that it wouldn't get bipartisan support and it did. At this stage everyone is saying that what America is proposing will really effectively stop us from testing ever again.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You know, we've climbed a lot of mountains already; we have negotiated a lot of these issues already. We knew each others' background and we knew each others' laws before we even started. We knew that both sides had certain constraints. India wasn't going to join the Nonproliferation Treaty, the U.S. had a whole body of economic, (inaudible) and Atomic Energy Act kind of constraints on how we cooperate with other countries.  So with those two situations, how do we find an area of cooperation? We did a lot of big things -- both countries did, both leaders did -- to get to the point where we had an understanding. And then we negotiated for another nine months or so to get to the point where we had a more specific agreement on the Indian separation plan, on how to do this.

So we've climbed a lot of really tough mountains already. We have done a lot of the basic negotiation already. We knew where we came from - that hasn't changed. Neither of us has changed, our law hasn't changed, India's refusal to join the Nonproliferation Treaty hasn't changed. But we keep finding how to sort of (inaudible) the center and come together. So I think if we continue on that basis, if we take all that we've done and all that we knew and then keep working the different pieces together, we'll get there.

Detonation is not a new issue.  It's been with us ever since the beginning.  It's been in U.S. law since before we started. So it's not a surprise.  It's an issue that we'll have to talk about and figure out how to deal with the question. But it's not something that we've inserted at the last minute. It's something that has been around from the beginning.

QUESTION: So you're banking on the ingenuity of both sides to eventually find a [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I am banking on the fact that the President and the Prime Minister told us to do this. They want to do it. We have to figure out how.

QUESTION: You're sitting there in your office, you are looking at this part of the world, etc. You talk about the problems and the hopes and everything. You also see a lot of strife with this region, strife which is actually quite old, when you come to think about it.  Sri Lanka…Nepal, there is some hope, with the Maoists joining the government…and the intractable India-Pakistan issue.  Now how are you seeing that changing with the peace initiative?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I guess we don't believe in intractable. We believe that, somehow or other, we have to work on these problems and, somehow or other, we have to look for ways forward. Some problems take a long time to solve. Particularly on India-Pakistan, they've made more progress recently than they ever have before. It's been largely due, very largely due to the efforts of statesmen on both sides, the positions that Pakistani leaders and Indian leaders have taken with each other and their desire to move forward.

So part of our role is to stand and applaud and continue to encourage them to do what they're doing. And I think that's a sign to people in the region, that yes, there are a lot of really difficult problems.  The problem of terrorism, it's a horrible problem for everybody, and one can't come to Mumbai without thinking about it. But even that problem is something we have to deal with, because we can't let people die just for getting on a train and going home at night, and we can't let people die in New York just for going to work, and we can't let people die in any other city in the world, because we're all vulnerable, because we have this kind of terrorism.  So it is difficult, but if we address it and work together we can get somewhere.

QUESTION: But now India is talking to Pakistan, a Pakistan that is led by President Musharraf. The way things are going in Pakistan, is it worth investing in Musharraf?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think we are investing in Musharraf; I think we're investing in Pakistan. I think we all want Pakistan to succeed as a nation, as a society, as an economy.  We want Pakistan to succeed as a democratic nation, as an open economy, as a moderate society. And that's the direction that President Musharraf has given his country, that's what he has pledged to do -- he's pledged to have democratic elections. That's the direction we support.  So we'll work with them. We'll work with him, we'll work with them. 

You know, we invest a lot in Pakistan and it's not just military -- it's probably a hundred million dollars a year on education. It's money on healthcare; it's money on roads. I've been to the border areas in Pakistan, and I've gone on roads that we built and met with villagers who say, "My old mother can get to the hospital in an hour now instead of two days." I've gone to schools that we built and seen children in those schools. That's not working with the General, that's working with the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Yes, but if the General goes, wouldn't there be turmoil? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We work with governments. We work with the government that's there.  We cooperate with governments. We work better with people that we can work better with, and that's what we're doing now.

QUESTION: Where do you see this talk of rising of the Taliban and that kind of thing?  Do you think that's going to lead to more problems in the region? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think certainly the Taliban has become more active and more dangerous in the last couple of years. But I think there is also more effort being put into controlling them and stopping them.

Certainly in Afghanistan, if you compare this year to last year -- this year, if you look at Southern Afghanistan, the problem areas, there are more police, more Afghan army, there's more NATO, there are more roads, more government officials, there's more effective government, more economic opportunity than last year.

If you look in Pakistan, there is more pressure on the Taliban from Pakistan than last year. So I think the simple story right now is the government is expanding and the Taliban are under pressure from all sides. That's the way it has to be and we have to continue that and push it, we have to push it from all sides. But the fact that they are reacting, that they have set off more suicide bombs and killed more people is not the big tendency.  The big tendency is, maybe the reason they are reacting, is because they are under pressure from all sides.

QUESTION: One of the things that you have mentioned - I don't know how much you are ready to talk on this, but if you could touch on the subject, is that you're [inaudible] uncomfortable with the way India is dealing with Iran.  Why is that making you uncomfortable, because it's, after all, in this neighborhood that we have to work out our own issues? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: [inaudible] But you wanted to know what our attitude is with Iran and what India is doing with Iran? I guess what I would say is that we have a lot of problems with what Iran is doing. Iran developing nuclear weapons is not good for any of us. Iran's interference in Iraq, Iran's interference in Lebanon, Iran's violent opposition to peace between Arabs and between Israelis and Palestinians is not good for any of us. Iran's involvement in Afghanistan at times has been positive but has had some negative aspects in its attempts to play politics in Afghanistan more and more frequently. So I think we have to be careful about Iran. And I think we understand that countries in the region are going to have some kind of relationship with their neighbor, and that's appropriate. We also all need to be a little more careful in terms of how we see Iran, and we don't look to Iran…well, we have to be realistic about what Iran's behavior really means for all of us. I don't think some of these things that they doing -- the way they interfere, the way they're developing nuclear weapons, these are certainly not good for anybody in the world and particularly for people in the region.

QUESTION: Okay, a couple of last questions.  We talked about a lot of things.  Do you think that, apart from the deal, India's relationship with the United States is growing on every other front?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The deal is important.  It's important for India's energy needs; it's important for our relationship, because I think it's an example of how the United States and India can cooperate.  The deal also has a symbolic aspect, because it is nuclear policy, and nuclear proliferation is one of the most sensitive areas for any country and has been a big problem for the U.S. and India in the past.  And so if we can cooperate on that, we ought to be able to do lots of things, anything. And that's another reason why it's important to get it through.

But if you look at the things we are doing with India -- the business relationships, the 80,000 Indian students in the United States, the academic relationships, the personal relationships, the government relationships -- it's booming. We're doing all kinds of things. I just sat down with my Indian counterpart to review all the different projects that we've announced with India and where each one stands, and it was a 14-page memo. I like one page memos, but it doesn't fit on one page -- it takes 14 to do it shortly!

Every one of these things has a technology thread and a people thread going through it. Agriculture cooperation, agricultural knowledge initiatives, supplying agriculture to benefit people in the farming sector, the way we did actually in the '60's between the U.S. and India; the science and technology commissions; educational exchanges; and nuclear ties and business ties and defense ties -- they all have this people aspect and technology aspect. And those things -- that angle -- people and technology, are going to continue to drive the U.S. and India forward together.

QUESTION: So you find the old prickliness in India about the US is gone?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure.  It's a democracy. We're a democracy. You hear all kind of things in the U.S. about India. We say all kinds of things. Some of my best friends are against the nuclear deal. Some of your best friends are against the nuclear deal.  We're a democracy.  You hear all kinds of things.  But in the end we all have to work it out in our political system, and we all have to move forward because it's good for us together and it's good for each of us as a nation.

QUESTION: But you'd be surprised how much it has changed.  I'm sure you've been following it.  But as someone who's seen the general perception of what Indians thought of the United States, it has changed demonstrably. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think there has been a change in the United States as well. Fifteen years ago we saw India as a difficult ally of the Soviet Union. And now India is, I gotta say, the most popular country in the world that I can think of.  Everybody wants to talk to me about India. Everybody's coming out here to try to do business, everybody's talking about travel and exchanges and ties and friends and people. We're in a new day.

QUESTION: Last question, my question about your difficulty reflecting this sense of American values at a time when American values are seen to be not being followed by the U.S. itself?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think, you know, people make a lot of arguments about our policy and that's going to happen any time. We recognize that not everything we do in the world is popular. The United States has a particular role in the world right now where people ask us to get involved to help them with their problems. But in addition to that, we often find that we are the ones who have to point to the difficult problems, who have to point to Iran's developing nuclear weapons. I've seen us pointing to that issue for fifteen years now.  I remember meetings between Secretary Eagleburger and the Russian Foreign Minister in 1992, (inaudible) about Iran's nuclear program. And so, yeah, we point to uncomfortable things and we say we have to deal with them. And I frankly think that since 9/11 one of the lessons we learned was you have to deal with problems sooner rather than later. And if you ignore Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and you ignore the Taliban, and you ignore bin Laden -- or are ineffectual against him -- some day that problem is going to hit you and hit you hard.

So I think there is a tendency in the U.S. to think that we have to deal with problems sooner rather than later now. We've always felt that we have to deal with difficult problems; now we feel we have to deal with the problems sooner, but we always feel like we have to deal with them diplomatically, like we're doing with the Iranian problem.  Or deal with them in a positive way -- like trying to develop the border areas of Pakistan so that the people there don't engage in radicalism and terrorism, try to provide economic assistance.

I think in the end, situations change, policies change. Values are pretty much abiding. The values that we have with India, the values that we have with many people in the world -- the values of freedom, personal opportunity, values of education, access to information, access to technology, freedom to travel, get a job, get a job without regard to your social background -- those are things we share with a lot of people in the world. I think in the end that's what's important and that's where many people in the world will find common ground.

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