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'India can be example to the world'

March 09, 2006 19:27 IST
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Robert O Blake is the  Deputy chief of Mission at the American Embassy, New Delhi. A career Foreign Service officer, he arrived in New Delhi in June 2003. Blake, who entered the Foreign Service in 1985, has served at the American embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, and Egypt. He also has held a number of positions at the State Department in Washington.

In an exclusive chat with rediff readers, he explained why he was upbeat over the visit by President George W Bush to India. Denying that Washington was using India as a counterweight to China, he went on to explain the main motivations behind the India-US bonhomie and why the strategic partnership was poised for takeoff.

The transcript:

Robert Blake says, Good Afternoon. I am here in the chat room and I am ready to take your questions. Since there are no immediate questions, let me start the dialog by saying how pleased we were with the results of President Bush's historic visit to India last week. Although most observers have focused on the very important civil nuclear agreement between India and the United States, we also believe it is important to understand that President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed on a wide range of initiatives spanning everything from agriculture to science and technology, maritime security cooperation, HIV/AIDS, space, and many other issues. I would be glad to take anyone's questions or comments on any of those topics.

ramananda asked, good afternoon, Mr Blake.What are your views on the theory that Washington is cosying up to India in order to 'counterbalance' China...
Robert Blake answers, Good afternoon ramananda. Thanks for your question, which we get frequently. The United States is not seeking to counter-balance China. We seek good relations both with India and China. We think both will be increasingly important partners of the United States in the 21st Century, as the fulcrum of American foreign policy shifts increasingly from Europe to Asia.
vikram asked, Good afternoon Mr. Blake how likely US congress will approve Bush's N-deal with India
Robert Blake answers, Hi Vikram. This is a good question. The U.S. Congress has a very important constitutional role to play. The administration was in frequent contact with key members of Congress as we negotiated this important agreement, and Secretary Rice, President, and other senior administration officials have intensively engaged Congress since their return from India. The reaction thus far has been positive, although certainly some members have expressed concern. We hope to capitalize on that positive reaction as well as the strong support of the India Caucus in both the House and the Senate to gain the support of Congress.
IndianGuy asked, Mr. Blake, altough everyone in the world knows that India has Nukes, then why US and other Nuclear countries are not ready to accept India as Nuclear power?
Robert Blake answers, This is an important question, IndianGuy. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this issue. The United States has not recognized India as a "nuclear weapons state". The 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty defines a nuclear weapons state as a country that has exploded or manufactured a nuclear weapon prior to January 1, 1967. India, of course, does not meet that definition, we do not seek to amend the treaty, and India does not seek to become a signatory.
ramananda asked, Sir, does the president's remark in pakistan that he has no problems with sourcing energy from Iran mean that Washington has dropped its objections to the Iran-pakistan-India gas pipeline?
Robert Blake answers, Ramananda, thanks for your question, since there has been some confusion about what the President meant. The United States remains very concerned about Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and its support for terrorism. We have a law in the United States called the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, under which we seek to circumscribe investments that would help the Iranian government to further its nuclear weapons program and its support for terrorism. It is premature to talk about the pipeline itself, since there is not yet a formal proposal on the table, and many knowledgeable observers doubt that such a project would ever be able to attract commercial financing.
Kirankumar asked, Mr.Blake, is there any chances to increase in cap of H1-B visas?If yes is it applicable to this year cap?
Robert Blake answers, Kirankumar, I seem to get more visa questions than anything else! And that's okay, because we are very proud of the increasing number of visas that we are issuing to Indian students, businesspeople, and others. As you may know, Congress has the authority to raise the H1B cap, and did so last year by increasing the number by 20,000. I'm not aware of any new efforts to raise the cap, but if you're an American citizen, I suggest you contact your Congressman or Senator! And express your views.
Ronja asked, Sir, I for one am thrilled with the President's visit to India, and believe that it is the start of a long term relationship. yet remarks from earlier experts that our relations are far from strategic worry me...what do you think?
Robert Blake answers, Ronja, thanks for your question. Even before he took office, President Bush recognized India's strategic importance. As I said earlier, the fulcrum of our foreign policy is shifting to Asia. India is a country that is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy, with whom we have increasingly convergent interests and values. Our two great countries are working together to combat terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Just as important for us, the Indian Government wants to work with us to advance these important objectives. As the Indian economy continues to grow, we expect that India will be an ever more important partner and that the already strong people-to-people ties between our two countries will continue to prosper. For those reasons, we think that India will be one of our most important strategic partners in the 21st century.
Friendly asked, Good Afternoon, Mr.Blake,When can we expect the US Consulate at Hyderabad to start it's operations?
Robert Blake answers, We were very glad that President Bush was able to announce our intention to open a consulate in Hyderabad as soon as possible. Andhra Pradesh already accounts for 1/3 of all the visa applicants at our consulate in Chennai. Chief Minister Reddy also has been a strong supporter of our effort to open a consulate. We are now working with our friends in the Ministry of External Affairs to establish a temporary consulate while we identify land where we can build a permanent facility.
kumar asked, Hi Mr Blake, do you see US taking on an increasing pivotal role in mediating over kashmir with India and Pakistan? Would it become necessary for US eventually to take a stand on Kashmir?
Robert Blake answers, Thanks for your question, kumar, which is another one that I get all the time. The United States thinks that India and Pakistan, two strategic partners of the United States, are making good progress in resolving their differences. The United States does not intend to mediate in this dispute.
Indianpatriot asked, Sir, other than the nuclear accord, what would you say was the most significant deal negotiated during this visit?
Robert Blake answers, Thanks for the question! It is difficult to choose between the many significant initiatives agreed
to by the President and Prime Minister. One of the most important, from both of our perspectives, is the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative, which is an effort by both of our governments to revive the cooperation between our universities and research institutions in the 1950s and 1960s that contributed greatly to India's Green Revolution and its success in achieving food self-sufficiency. India's challenge today is to increase the growth rate of the agricultural sector from 2%. The Agricultural Knowledge Initiative will revive those university and research links, and create new ones. It will also contain an important policy dialog to allow the private sector to play a much greater role. Already several American companies have established successful businesses here in India to help increase food processing here and raise rural incomes.
whodunit asked, Good afternoon, mr a 18-year-old Indian student, I've always wondered at the love-hate relationship we've had with the generation, weaned on Mcdonalds and hollywood, loves the US, but my grandpa, and to an extent, my father, believe it cannot be trusted...who should I believe?
Robert Blake answers, Dear whodunit, you should believe me! President Bush convinced many Indian skeptics of our sincerity through his historic speech at Purana Qila and his numerous appearances with Indians at the Young Entrepreneurs Dialog in Hyderabad and his visit to the Agricultural University in Hyderabad. Yours is a country where more than half of the country is under the age of 25. You are India's future, and we are proud that 80,000 Indian students are currently studying in the United States, the largest group of foreign students in America. These students, and friends like you, will convince even the most die-hard skeptics that the United States seeks a true and equal partnership with India.
Clinton asked, Mr Blake..Hope you had your Lunch. I just had mine with Rice & Chilly Chicken. OK..coming to the point.What is America's policy towards India's membership in security council ??
Robert Blake answers, Dear Clinton, I just had my dosa, thanks for asking. India's Security Council candidacy was not a major focus of the President's visit. Before the United States can support reform and expansion of the UN Security Council, we and the U.S. Congress would like to see reform of the UN system. That includes management reform, but also reform of important institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council. A successful reform effort with the help of friends like India would help lay the basis and support for a possible expansion of the Security Council.
monsh asked, Sir, During the visit were their any discussions about FDI into retail secgment? Is that an area of interest for the US?
Robert Blake answers, There is great interest on the part of American companies in India's retail sector. Wal-Mart and others already do significant business here in India by sourcing many of their products from here. We believe that the experience of China in opening up its retail sector is instructive because it led to a rapid expansion of the sector and a large increase in employment. India just allowed single brand retail. American companies hope that we will see a continuation of this opening, which would benefit India and America.
chatter asked, What was your favorite part of President Bush's recent visit?
Robert Blake answers, That's a good question, chatter. I had two favorites. First was his speech at Purana Qila, where so many Indians that I have spoken to told me that President Bush's respect and affection for India came across clearly. My other favorite event was the lunch hosted by the Prime Minister, at which the President took the time to go around to every table, introduce himself, and Indians got a chance to experience his warm sense of humor and his deep understanding of India.
ramananda asked, Mr Blake, we have conducted several joint military excercises recently..what was the objective? I mean, what common enemy are we looking at?
Robert Blake answers, Dear ramananda, you're keeping me busy! But your questions are good. The United States is proud that we have conducted more than thirty joint exercises with the Indian military over the last several years. This gets back to our common values and interests and our hope that our two democracies will be working ever more closely together to advance peace and prosperity. A wonderful example of our military cooperation was the seamless manner in which our two countries cooperated in responding to the tsunami tragedy in December 2004. India responded so quickly and so effectively to the crisis in Sri Lanka that the U.S. was able to focus its efforts in Indonesia and Thailand. India also joined a daily conference call that took place between civilian leaders of the major powers responding to the crisis and posted liaison officers to the joint task force that was established in Thailand. All of this was possible because of the habits of cooperation that our two countries developed as a result of our military exercises.
shyam asked, Mr Blake US seems to lead war against Terrorism,but how is it helping the countries like India who have been victims of Terrorism since long.......
Robert Blake answers, shyam, 9/11 in many ways helped to bring India and the United States closer together. Since then, we have worked closely on the war on terrorism with India since our two countries have been among those most gravely affected by this scourge. In addition to our direct cooperation in arresting terrorists and drying up their sources of financing, we think India can be a great example to the rest of the world because of its strong democracy, its ability to integrate its 150 million Muslims peacefully into Indian society, and its ability to provide economic and political opportunity to all of its citizens. These are lessons that could help many countries reduce the conditions that give rise to terrorism elsewhere.
Clinton asked, Are you really interested in Indian Mangoes ?
Robert Blake answers, Dear Clinton, I am addicted to Alphonsoes! And I believe all Americans should have the opportunity to sample India's delicious mangoes (and not just Alphonsoes). On a more serious note, just as we were pleased to go to considerable effort to open our market to India's mangoes, we hope that India will continue to open its market to American products, such as California Raisins, Washington Pears, and Virginia Peanuts.
whatsthefuss asked, Mr Blake what happens to the deal after Mr Bush steps down as President?
Robert Blake answers, First of all, President Bush has two more years in office, and we hope to have the deal through Congress sometime this year. But your question is important, because I think it is now clear that there is bipartisan support, both in America and India, for the strategic partnership that we are now embarked on. So even if a Democratic President were to come in to office, I would not expect major changes to the direction and strategy of American policy towards India. Let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for your great questions and your interest in Indo-US relations. I enjoyed chatting with you, and hope to have another opportunity soon.
The Bush visit: Complete coverage | Chats | The nuclear deal
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