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Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O. Blake's Interview with Geeta Mohan, Times Now

New Delhi | October 30, 2012

Q:  I’m joined by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central  Asia, Robert Blake.  Thanks for joining us on Times Now.  I’ll begin with the U.S. elections.  Very difficult choice. By far the most difficult choice, stark choices, and a tough race.  How is President Obama faring?

A:  Well the race is very very close right now and so I think it’s difficult to make a prediction – I’d say that President Obama has probably slightly in the lead in some of these key swing states as we said.  But the election is very very close.  But I think that your viewers should know that regardless of who is elected, that there is very very strong bilateral support in the United States for our strategic partnership with India and that will be sustained, again, under either administration. 

Q:  You talk about the India policy, are you talking about the changing of the guard that has been run in India – our external affairs minister has changed – how is the U.S. viewing that?  And, in case of a change of guard in the United States of America, how will it affect the U.S.’s India policy when it comes to outsourcing ?

A:  Well, we know Minister Khurshid very well.  We worked very productively with him when he was Minister of State and have had many many interactions with him since, so he will make a very strong partner for us and I know Secretary Clinton looks forward to speaking with him and to working with him. 

Q:  And about the outsourcing, how will it change things if there is a change of guard or if President Obama continues in the administration because we’ve heard a lot during the campaign trails.

A: You know obviously right now that’s a very important issue of creating jobs in the United States.  We want to get our economy going again and one of the most important ways to increase consumer spending is to make sure that people have jobs.  So the President has been focused like a laser on this as any politician would be, and he will continue to do so, and indeed, a lot of our economic statecraft as part of our diplomacy is also focused on that.  So we’ll continue to work very closely with India to expand our trade and investment in both directions and I think that’s been one of the important hallmarks of our relations.

Q:  In the recent past we saw United Kingdom warming up to Gujarat and Narendra Modi – will we see that happening with the United States of America as well?

A:  We have very good relations with Gujarat.  It’s obviously a very very important market for our American companies.  And we’ll continue to have those kinds of relations.  We do every thing we can to promote trade, and not just with Gujarat but with all the states in India and in terms of Mr. Modi, I don’t want to speculate.  He’s free to apply for another visa whenever he chooses, and you know, the system will take its course. 

Q:  But is he not considered a force to be reckoned with – an important man, he could be the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party?  Does that mean if not allowing him entry into the United States of America but at least reaching out to Narendra Modi here from Delhi and in Gujarat itself?

A:  Again, I do not want to speculate on, about the future outcomes – even of your state elections or of your prime ministerial  elections – those are internal matters – and of course we will work with whoever is elected and put into office. 

Q:  So you will work with Narendra Modi--?

A:  Again, I do not want to make a speculation about who might be elected.

Q:  But you intend to work with Narendra Modi in the future?

A:  Well, again, I do not want to make any predictions.  So I don’t want to be drawn into that. 

Q:  --The Trilateral Talks between India, U.S, and Japan – what is on the agenda for the United States of America?

A:  Well, for us we focused our talks this time around – this is our third round of talks on several important issues:  first, regional cooperation, particularly the very important opportunities for regional connectivity not only in Afghanistan to support the transition there but also in Burma to support the very positive developments that have been taking place there, and between India and Bangladesh, and in recent years.  So, connectivity was a very important part of our discussions.  We are also looking ahead to the East Asia Summit which will be taking place in Phnom Penh, so we talked a great deal about that.   And lastly, we had a very good conversation about the overall strategic picture in all of Asia and had a very good, wide-ranging and candid and thorough discussion. 

Q:  You are also going to Kabul.  My question to you would be  basically on Pakistan because it’s terrorism that worries the region and the recent spate of attacks and the growing number of terrorist attacks, and the terror groups regrouping in the Swat Valley.  How is the United States looking at what Pakistan is really doing and does the trust deficit in terror cooperation continue to exist between the United States and Pakistan?

A:  Well, we’re working very hard now to try to rebuild cooperation with Pakistan but one of our continued most important focuses will be on counter-terrorism.  As you know, we recently designated the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization and we also have very serious concerns about  the activities of Lashkar e Tayiba – not only in India but against our troops in Afghanistan.  So I think these are shared concerns with our friends in India and will remain at the top of our agenda.

Q:  My final question to you would be on the maritime security.  China is always concerned about the U.S. presence in this part of the world.  How do you really view it and also the U.S.-India cooperation vis-à-vis China, how does that really affect India’s policies towards the United States of America vis-à-vis China?

A:   We’ve always said that our trilateral cooperation with Japan is not something that is aimed at China.  We all are seeking positive, wide-ranging relations with China.  We feel that China has a very important role to play and we feel that China is going to benefit from a cooperative rather than a competitive relationship.  So I think that would characterize the policies of all three of our governments on this subject.  As for the United States, I personally have worked very well and cooperatively with the Chinese.  We have dialogues on South Asia and also on South Central Asia.  Again, we want to work as closely as possible with the Chinese, and particularly in Afghanistan where we think they have a particularly important role to play to help this process of regional integration.  China is also an important market, like India and is an important source of investment that can help create jobs and help create trade and private sector-led economy in Afghanistan.

Q:  And the change of guard in China – will that really change things in the United States of America for India with the younger guard coming? 

A:  I don’t want to speculate on that.  We have our core interests, China has its core interests.  So we will continue to work to try to develop our mutual relations.

Q:  Right, on that note many thanks for speaking with Times Now.