Robert O Blake, charges de affairs at the US embassy in New Delhi and one of his country's brightest diplomats, discussed strategic issues with Tarun Vijay, at the US ambassador's office in New Delhi.
Part I: 'India has a very important advantage'How do you look at the peace process in this region?
We are very encouraged with the progress India and Pakistan, and India and China have made. During the recent Pervez Musharraf visit both leaders (General Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh) said the peace process is irreversible and we were very pleased to hear that.
This is something India and Pakistan can do together. We can only encourage and offer to help them in any way we can. On the Chinese side we welcome the progress India and China have made. We don't see this as a zero sum game and (that) progress between India and China would come expensively to the US. The expansion of trade between India and China is a very positive development. It reduces tensions and frictions between both countries and benefits everybody.
We are meeting on the eve of the May 11, 1998 nuclear tests. Why is the US still shy of according nuclear weapons state status to India? Why is the US not ready to change the architecture of the five nuclear weapons states? They have not been ordained by God to be so and India to remain out of it. India has shown it is a responsible nuclear weapon state.
I don't want to say India is a nuclear weapons state yet, but I think our policy has evolved post Pokhran and we are now engaged in a serious dialogue to see what kind of things we might be able to do on the nuclear side. On the civilian nuclear side. At the recent meeting between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Natwar Singh it was decided to take the strategic partnership to a much higher level.
One of the areas where we think we will be able to do more is specifically on the nuclear side. As part of the energy dialogue we are going to set up a special working group which focuses specifically on the civilian nuclear area.
India has shown itself as a more responsible nuclear power than any other country. And you know what I mean -- Pakistan -- nuclear laundering through A Q Khan -- North Korea -- Iran and all that.
I think India has been a responsible nuclear state and that is why we want to have this dialogue. We want to look what we can do within the constraints of our international obligations.
And you think it will be a good idea if this kind of cooperation is enhanced in the nuclear region?
Yes. Yes, within the constraints of our international obligations. One of the important efforts that India is making now is to introduce the export control legislation. The prime minister announced in Moscow that they are working on it and expect legislation this week.
It is a very positive development. I think once the legislation is passed and once the United States and all India's partners have a chance to look at the legislation, we hope that it will be comprehensive and would enable us to make greater progress on the nuclear things, especially civilian-space and many many other things.
The controversy about the Boeing deal recently hogged the headlines. The French ambassador spoke out publicly in a very extraordinary manner.
I have no comments on what the French ambassador said but I am very, very clear, that Boeing made the best offer, made the lowest bid for the best product. That is why they won the bid. American companies are subject to very strict standards, as you know. We have an Act which imposes very strict penalties against any American company engaging in corrupt practices. So American companies want to respect the law and never engage in those kind of (corrupt) practices.
Do you still consider Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint?
I think the progress that India and Pakistan have made, especially Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee's Srinagar peace speech has been quite astonishing and very, very positive. Indian and Pakistani diplomacy has shown that the process continues.
In this light I see the possibilities of Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint have greatly diminished. I would not want to...
Make any absolute statement.
Well, all I want to say both governments have made extraordinary progress to reduce the threat of war.
The US remains the only country ambiguous about India's entry into the United Nations Security Council. Is that the special favour the US has for a people driven one billion person democracy?
We have free standing and important relations with both countries (India and Pakistan). We don't see them in the context of each other. Our chief objective in Pakistan is to work with that country in the war on terrorism. And we have made tremendous progress as shown in the arrest of Al Qaeda persons. We are very encouraged with the progress.
Now our relations with India are completely different. We are taking up initiatives with India that we are not taking with Pakistan. For example, the whole NSSP initiative and Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Singh talked to elevate the strategic relations. We have a very important stand along with relationship with India on strategic partnership that will mature into a very stable and strong strategic partnership.
When Secretary Rice was here she said it is in their interest to see India assumes greater power and that India's role grows in international institutions. We have not made any decisions about (India's entry into) the UN Security Council. So far the only country whose candidature we endorse is Japan. As you know, it has been a high standing issue for many years.
We will look into this. Certainly India has a sure case to make and is making its case around the globe. But we are not able to comment about it now.
If not India, then which other country most deserves the Security Council membership?
A lot of other countries would say that.
But not a lot of countries are 'a billion person democracy' in the world. Why don't you want to change the architecture of the five nuclear weapons state?
Well, that's a big question. At this point we are not looking at that, but at some point that might be a possibility in the future. But for now I think it will be a good thing for India to show that it wants to be a responsible nuclear state to abide by all the responsibilities of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) NST (Nuclear Space Arms Talks), MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) regimes, and initiative to join the non-proliferation initiative.
All those will help India to show that it is a responsible nuclear weapon state. At some point in future then, perhaps US and all other countries would consider to make the changes.
If you have offered F-16s to Pakistan, what is your best-confirmed offer to India?
One major policy change in our policy was a decision to participate in a multi-role combat aircraft tender for 125 combat aircraft. Two of our companies, Boeing and Lockheed, have expressed their interest. We have to see at a positive interaction between the two navies. We would like to do more on the military side and one part of it would be on the defence procurement side, and defence co-production as well. Another new area we are pursuing (is) cooperation. Perhaps new exciting things may begin.Working together on the war on terrorism?
I think there are immense possibilities. I think India is a great example for other countries to follow. Millions of Muslims living happily with the rest of the population. That's a good example for other countries to follow.And the denial of a US visa to (Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra) Modi? An equally good example?
Our law does not permit those who are guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Washington's decision was also based on India's National Human Rights Commission. This was not a decision against the BJP, or India or the Indian people. That was the end of it. We moved on. We understood the protest of the Indian government and explained our position.
Kind courtesy, PanchjanyaImage: Uday Kuckian