Interview With Asian News International (Television)R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
February 29, 2008
QUESTION: Ambassador, on your last day in office, where are you leaving the U.S.-India nuclear deal? What’s the situation?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, where we are leaving it is that India and the United States of course both want to push this deal forward. It’s indisputably in the best interests of India as well as my country. And I think there’s an international dimension of this that’s important for Indians to – for the Indian public to understand. This deal will have the support of Russia and of France and of Britain and of many other countries in between, and therefore it’s not just a deal with the United States. It’s really, if you will, the deliverance of India from its nuclear isolation over the last 35 years. So I think it has major importance for the future of India and the world, and we hope very much we can go forward as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Do you think it really will go forward?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, that’s not up for us to decide. The United States has completed its end of the agreement with the three agreements we’ve arrived at with the Indian government over the last three years. It’s now up to the Indian government to decide whether or not to move it forward. Our sense is, that has to be done rather rapidly because there isn’t a lot of time left. This has to go to the IAEA Board of Governors and then to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That will be a very complex and I think lengthy process.
And finally the – in the final analysis it will need to come back here to Washington, to the U.S . Congress, for a final vote. And Senator Biden was very clear when he was in Delhi just last week in saying that he thought it had to move quickly in order to meet that timeline.
QUESTION: What kind of support does this have in Congress?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think we still retain bipartisan support. We have a strong Republic and Democratic party support. There’s a great sense in our country that we have an opportunity right now to build a relationship with India across the board, not just in the civil nuclear domain, but in agriculture, in education, in space research. And so we want to get on with that and we want to fulfill the potential that this relationship has on a global basis and that’s certainly in the interest of both countries.
QUESTION: What kind of timeframe do you foresee for the deal? If it does go through, how long will it take for the negotiations play out?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well I think it’s important to note that the United States Congress will go out of session in the summer, in July of 2008. If you back up from there and try to estimate the time it will take the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA to act, we do need the Indian government to act within the next 30 days on the IAEA process in order to move the other pieces forward. I think that’s the point that Senator Biden was trying to make to the Indian press when he was in New Delhi last week.
QUESTION: Now, whether or not this deal goes through will have a pretty large impact on U.S.-Indian relations. Where do they stand at this point?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that the relationship between the two countries is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s been a very significant and positive transformation in the relationship over the last several years. It was begun in the United States by President Clinton in the mid 1990s when he worked with his BJP colleagues in India. And now we have the Congress government and the coalition in India working with the government of George W. Bush. So that’s a strong advantage for the relationship, that we have bipartisan support here, and you seem to have it in India as well.
QUESTION: Now, I have been asked to ask you a few questions about some broader issues in South Asia, is that alright?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Fine.
QUESTION: The peace process between India and Pakistan. Do you see any movement there?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well you know, we hope that when the new government is fully put together in Pakistan and takes off, there will be an opportunity to resume forward movement on the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, which has been so important. The relationship between the two governments over the last several years has been very good. They’ve made a lot of progress on the difficult issues that had previously separated them. And of course it’s in the interest of the entire world that India and Pakistan have a normal, businesslike relationship free of the sense of crisis that appeared in the late 1990s and early in 2001 and 2002.
QUESTION: And what about Kashmir? Do you see any possibility for a solution in the near future?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well that would be up to India and Pakistan and the people of the region to decide. Of course all of us hope that there could be progress on that issue. And I think that India has done very well to have a consistent policy towards Pakistan during these last several months that have been ones of instability within Pakistan itself, given the state of emergency that was imposed, given the assassination of the late Benazir Bhutto, and also the elections that just took place in Pakistan. So India-Pakistan relations are centrally important.
The two Foreign Secretaries – Foreign Secretary Menon and Foreign Secretary Riaz Khan – have done a very fine job of moving this forward. We hope that can continue in the months ahead.
QUESTION: You’re leaving office to focus pretty much exclusively on fostering this deal, is that right? Is that –
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I’m actually retiring from the American diplomatic corps at the State Department and I’ll be going into private life. So my period of being a principal in these negotiations has come to an end. I will obviously continue to support the civil nuclear deal and U.S.-India relations from my private life, but I think it’s – I’m going to hand that baton off to my colleagues who remain in the U.S. government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much.
Released on March 3, 2008