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Indian and U.S. Relations

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Affairs
Remarks to the Press
New Delhi, India
March 5, 2008

Assistant Secretary Boucher: Thank you all for coming today. It’s nice to be here. I’m glad to be here in the presence of our ambassador, David Mulford, who is the one who really works on U.S.-India relations every day. I appreciate the chance to come in and help out to the extent I can.

Ambassador Mulford: I appreciate a day off. [Laughter].

Assistant Secretary Boucher: In some ways my visit is just part of our regular consultations with the Indian government about the entire breadth and depth of what is a very strong relationship. We have continuous back and forth at a high level. You saw Secretary Gates was just here. We’ve seen our Indian colleagues in Washington and New York in the last year or so a couple of times. I’ll be out periodically as well.

On the other hand, we come at a moment of great promise and opportunity in the U.S.-India relationship and I think we’re all looking in 2008 to make this a year where we take a lot of the trends and the things that have been done and finish them up, solidify them, build on them, for new administrations next year in the United States and potentially in India as well.

I think every time I come here I’m struck by the real depth and the solid momentum, the underlying flow of U.S.-Indian relations: the dramatic expansion in ties between people, between academics, between businesses. So I’ve spent some time this visit with people in the business community, I’ll see some more this evening. I’ll spend time with folks in the education community because of the explosion in U.S.-Indian educational ties, but also a real opportunity there, I think, for collaboration by universities and scholars.

I spent time with our consular section at the embassy, the young people who work very very hard to make sure that the Indians going back and forth get their visas. They’ve again this year broken a new record in terms of the number of visas they’ve been able to issue and Indian travelers they’ve been able to take care of.

I’ve also spent time with the Indian government talking about things going on outside of India: places in the region that we’re both concerned about, opportunities in Central Asia, or areas of cooperation in other parts of the world where I think the United States and India have an increasing interest in our cooperation, at least in knowing what each other’s doing and having the advantage of each other’s insights. So I found those discussions very productive as well.

So in all these areas we have, I think, a very strong momentum in the relationship and we’ll continue to move that forward as well as to kind of put the pieces in place that give it a foundation for the future. That’s what this visit is about and I think that’s what my future visits will be as well.

Now we did spend a fair amount of time looking at the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, civil nuclear relationship. India has just had a team in Vienna negotiating for the Safeguards Agreement for the International Atomic Energy Agency. That’s a very important piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place. We still have several other pieces of the puzzle to be put in place before the actual trade can begin. I think both sides are very committed to doing that. We do understand that time is short, that we are under various time pressures, and we do understand that we both have political processes and democratic processes to go through. I think it’s the goal of all of us to work within our democratic systems so that we can go forward in a way that allows this deal to come to fruition, and that show we’re going to work it, that’s how the Indians are going to work it.

At this particular moment India is looking to conclude its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. After that we go forward with other pieces, and we’re ready to go as soon as the Indians are. So we compared notes about how to proceed, how to get the job done in the future.

With that I’d like to stop and be glad to take your questions.

Question: Matt Rosenberg, Associated Press. We’ve heard the last few weeks various deadlines of the nuke deal. Under Secretary Burns said it had to be ready for Congress by May, then somebody else suggested September. Realistically, when does India have to have the IAEA, the NSG agreement set and the final bill to Congress to get passed this year?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: Realistically I think the authoritative voice on this is Senator Biden. He’s chairman of the committee in the Congress that handles foreign affairs and he probably knows better than any what we have to do. What he said is, realistically, in the United States political system you need to get it through Congress by July. In order to do that we need to get it to Congress by June, which means we need to get some of the other steps completed by the end of May. You start walking backwards and you see that it is still possible to do all these things, but they’re each going to require an accelerated timetable and a lot of effort. We’re prepared to make that effort. But I think realistically in the U.S. system what Senator Biden says is probably the best and most authoritative.

Question: Are you optimistic that it can be done?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: I’m optimistic because I think it’s a good deal. It’s a good deal for India. It’s a good deal for the United States. I think both sides understand that and both sides are committed to making it work. But having said that, it ain’t over until it’s over. There's a lot of work to do. We’re really going to have to apply ourselves to make it all happen.

Question: Ranjit Kumar from Navbharat Times. India and IAEA have both reported to have finalized the Safeguards Agreement. Have you seen, have you gone through that draft and are you satisfied with the draft?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: No on the first part. I haven’t gone through the draft, so I can’t answer the second part. That’s an agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has to meet certain standards of the agency. We’ll see when it’s finalized what it looks like, but I’m assuming it will be a good agreement for both India and the Agency and that it will meet the international standard requirements.

Question: Manish Chand from IANS. How much time do you think it will take in the NSG? And do you visualize any problem countries there [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes. I think we need to allow a month or two to work carefully with the countries, at least that much. The Nuclear Suppliers Group is a consensus organization and it’s an organization of people who are very committed to non-proliferation goals, to making sure that we keep the world safe from the dangers of nuclear proliferation. There are people who believe very strongly in this. They’re going to have a lot of questions to raise because we do recognize that while this deal is important to bring India into the non-proliferation mainstream, it doesn’t do it in, you might say, the traditional way. And therefore there are going to be questions about how it applies and how it works.

I think those questions all have good answers, because as I said, I think it’s a good deal. It’s a good deal for India, it’s a good deal for the U.S., it’s a good deal for non-proliferation generally in the world. But I do think because it’s a consensus organization we have to work with the countries involved and help them understand what the implications are and why this is good for everybody. So it will take a little patience and firmness as well.

Question: My name is Sheila Mart, I’m from Rediff.com. I have two questions. One is I just want to double check that is America not concerned that in India, even if this deal is through, in the sense that this government’s commitment is there to operationalize the deal very soon so that it can go to Congress by June/July. But are you overlooking the fact which is that the majority of parliamentarians, it is said that they are against the deal? But technically this government can do it so they may do it. But are you overlooking that fact, and you are not concerned what happens after this government?

And second, my question is that recently Mr. Gates said that the Prime Minister told him that India is happy with what it is doing in Afghanistan. Since you are also handling Afghanistan I would like to know, do you have any more expectations from India to join in any other manner than what they are doing now?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: Do I get to pick which one of those questions to answer? Let me try to remember both.

On the question of the government, we deal with the government that’s in place. That’s true of all of us in democracies. Governments handle their own politics domestically, without us being involved. That’s the way it should be. That’s the way it is for India, that’s the way it is for the United States. We’re in charge of getting U.S. congressional approval. They’re in charge of completing their own domestic procedures. So we deal with the government that is in power, that is duly elected and represents India. Whatever political considerations they have, they’ll take care of. That is the way international relations work between democracies. I don’t find anything unusual about the current situation. If they feel they’re in a position to go forward, then we go forward. It’s pretty simple as far as we’re concerned.

On the issue of India and Afghanistan, I do think we’re good partners there. India is one of the major donors. India has done some very important things, continues to do some important things. And I did have a chance to compare notes with some of the people at the Ministry of External Affairs on Afghanistan, the projects that India is undertaking, the areas of cooperation, the areas of emphasis.

One of the things we’re all emphasizing, I think, is training of officials for Afghanistan. They need people who can go out and undertake projects and provide good governance on behalf of the government. India has ramped up a fairly extensive training program in that regard, and that’s, I think, one of the most welcome things that India has been doing is helping to train public servants in Afghanistan. So we talked about how that could be done more efficiently or expanded. We talked about some of the other projects India has underway in Afghanistan.

We welcome it. We welcome India’s commitment. We look forward to working with India in the future.

Question: [Inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: There are always new things to do. We’re going to look at, in Afghanistan there's a national development strategy that’s going through the World Bank this spring and we’ll all look at it again in June at a donor’s conference where we expect to be in Paris. I’m sure India will participate, and I hope they show up with some new ideas.

Question: [Inaudible].

Assistant Secretary Boucher: NATO has asked for India’s help? I’m not aware of anything specific. Certainly NATO has a big role to play in Afghanistan and so does India, so there's plenty of cooperation. I’m not aware that NATO has asked India for anything particular at this point.

Question: Nick Schifrin, ABC News. I apologize, I do have two questions. The first is about the nuclear agreement. To what extent is the agreement just part of the bilateral relationship and to what extent is it kind of the touchstone of the relationship that speaks to whether the U.S. and the Indian government can work closely?

My other question is about Pakistan. The U.S. has been severely, severely criticized for what a lot of Pakistanis believe is propping up Musharraf, as I’m sure you know. So my question is: do you believe that criticism, and do you think that there is a point at which the U.S. will have to come up with a plan to have a Pakistani government without Musharraf?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: The nuclear deal is very important. It’s big progress. It’s a great new area of cooperation, but it’s frankly one of several areas of big progress and new opportunities for cooperation.

I would say the touchstone of the U.S.-Indian relationship is students and scholars, because those are the people who go back and forth. Those are the people who get educated, who start businesses, who create business opportunities through new technology and across the Pacific, who have led to this explosion of ties between the United States and India. And whatever we do as governments, as long as we keep the students and scholars and business people flowing back and forth I think we’ll have a very strong and almost familial relationship between the United States and India.

Now there [are] things the governments are doing that really do help expand that: I think cooperation in the field of education is one of them -- the Fulbright program that we have and that we are looking to revitalize and expand, I think that’s another area where we’re looking at that kind of dramatic expansion; Defense cooperation, not just in terms of technology sales but just in terms of understanding each other’s security needs and working together. You saw that in the visit of Secretary Gates; an expanded, you might say, foreign policy sort of cooperation is another area that’s really going quickly with India, as well as the nuclear deal. So, you have probably five or six different centers of expansion right now, of real strong flowering in the U.S.-India relationship. I don’t see it as a stem with one flower, it’s sort of a tree with a lot of different fruit. And some of those are ripening faster than others, but we’re really doing a lot of big things in the relationship right now. I think we want to make sure they all succeed, including the nuclear one.

As far as Pakistan, I agree with you that we’ve been severely and I would say unfairly criticized for the relationship we have. We have a very fundamental relationship with Pakistan as a nation, as a society, and trying to help Pakistan achieve success as a stable democracy, as a democracy that’s able to protect itself against extremism. And that’s something we share with the people of Pakistan. We have a lot of our programs and money focused on opening the economy, giving them education, helping them with their governance and social organization, things like that are fundamentally what we’re going to continue to do with the new government. We look forward to working with an elected government with a new Prime Minister, work with whoever emerges from that democratic process. But we’ll also work with all the leaders of Pakistan, all the people in different parts of society and different offices of government because Pakistan needs that kind of stable center in order to succeed. That’s essentially where we are right now with policy.

Question: [Inaudible] Musharraf [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: He’s President of Pakistan. He’s one of those leaders.

Question: Sandeep with the Hindu. You spoke about cooperation in Central Asia. Could you amplify on that? And what are the other major issues that you discussed here?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: I mentioned Central Asia just because it’s probably not something most people associate with the U.S.-India relationship. It’s, shall we say, just at the beginning of starting to look at what we might be able to do together. I think just comparing notes on interests, interests in education and cultural developments in the area, interest in energy developments in the area. Right now we’re just sort of going back and forth and trying to examine what we’re doing and what we’re interested in. Whether we end up working directly together or just having a better understanding of our own interests, each other’s interests, I don’t know yet.

Question: My name is Dinesh, I’m from Star News. I wanted to ask you, going back to Pakistan, the two parties, the People’s party and Nawaz Sharif, should they both work with President Musharraf?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: We’re interested in working with everybody. That’s where I’m going to stop. What the parties decide to do in terms of governments, coalitions, that’s democracy. That’s what we wanted. They’re going to figure it out and decide.

Question: Nidhi Razdan from NDTV. What’s the Indian government tell you about the status of the negotiations with the IAEA?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: That they’ve been having negotiations with the IAEA and that they’ll tell us when they’re ready to move on to the next stage. I can’t speak on their behalf, they’ll have to talk about it themselves.

Question: Just to add to what Nidhi asked. I’m Suhasini from CNN IBN. You call it an important piece of the puzzle, the negotiations with the IAEA. Later this month we’re expecting to see the Foreign Minister come to Washington. Would you expect that by then we will have a draft agreement with the IAEA agreed to? What else are you expecting in that visit?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: That again, is a question for the India government, where they want to be when the Foreign Minister visits. All I’ll say is we’re looking forward to a visit by the Foreign Minister. We’d like to welcome him to Washington. But again, I’ll leave it to the Indian government to announce when he might be able to come visit.

But we have an ongoing pattern of high level consultations. We’ve got a lot of ongoing work to do together. At every stage we need to compare notes, decide how to go to the next stage, decide how to go to the nuclear suppliers, to the IAEA, and things like that. So we’re constantly working these issues and we’ll work them at every opportunity we have to visit with each other.

Question: Manish Chand, IANS. Do you sincerely believe that if the deal were not to go through, this entire spectrum of blossoming U.S.-India ties would not be affected? How would it affect [Indo-U.S. ties], would it marginally affect, would it substantially affect?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: I’m always asked: what are you going to do when everything falls apart? I guess that’s part of the nature of your business and my business, but I certainly am aware that things fall apart. But on the other hand I think my job is to make them work. What I’m focused on right now is how to make this work and how to make it succeed. I think that’s what the Indian government is focused on right now because we both want this to happen.

Time is tight. Time is very tight. But we have to figure out ways to get the work done. We have to understand each other’s needs and political situations. But I think we can make this happen and we’re going to work hard to make it happen.

If for some reason it doesn’t, we still have a relationship. The United States and India still have fundamental interests together. We still have fundamental involvement with each other. We have the people, the scholars, the businesses, the government agreements, the potential for cooperation in many many areas. Economics, education, anything you can name.

So I don’t want to miss the opportunity. I don’t think any of us should miss the opportunity. On the other hand, we have many opportunities, many things going on right now.

Question: So the fundamental interest is common to both India and Pakistan as you have said. I want to ask about your views on Pakistan when it comes to non-proliferation and the nuclear technologies?

Assistant Secretary Boucher: My views on Pakistan and non-proliferation? Everybody needs to uphold the standards of non-proliferation. That’s about all there is to say.

Thank you.

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