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Journalist Roundtable on India [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Robert D. Blackwill, President, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, International; Counselor, Council On Foreign Relations
Presider: David B. Ensor, National Security Correspondent, CNN
February 23, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations


DAVID ENSOR: Good morning, all. I’m David Ensor, national security correspondent of CNN. And you’re not here to listen to me, so I won’t take very long.

This meeting is on the record. And judging by the turnout and also who’s here, Ambassador Blackwill doesn’t need much introduction to this audience. You know already that you’re here to listen to one of the best minds on foreign policy in town, and it doesn’t require a lot of recounting.

As you know, Ambassador Blackwill’s at Barbour Griffith & Rogers now. And he came there from service as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning under the president, current president. And without going into all the details and reading all of this, you probably also know that he spent 14 years at Harvard and was also in the first Bush administration for a period of time in the—on the National Security Council, doing European and Soviet affairs. But you’ve changed subjects since then. He’s also a counselor to the Council on Foreign Relations here.

And obviously the reason for great interest in hearing from him today is that the president is going to India. And Ambassador Blackwill had the president’s ear on this issue for some time, probably still does. I don’t know. And he always is careful to quote the president and others in the administration when talking about the administration’s reasoning for trying to build a new kind of relationship with India. But I certainly suspect—and maybe there are others in the room who do too—that he had no small role in that development.

So, Ambassador Blackwill, why don’t we get started and hear from you for a few minutes before opening up a conversation?

CNN’s David Ensor with former ambassador to India and
Council Counselor Robert Blackwill.

ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: Thank you. Thank you, David. And good morning, everybody. It’s early in the morning.

I’m going to speak for about 10 minutes, and then we’ll have a conversation, if that’s all right. And I was—gave some thought to what I could say to you that would be helpful and not repeat what you already know, which is a lot, because you’re paying attention to this now. Maybe you did before. So excuse my somewhat perhaps eccentric approach to this.

There was a gymnastics coach in Bangalore who called the national gymnastics coach and said, “I have a girl here who’s 13 years old. Her name is Sunita Patel. And she is enormously gifted. I’ve never seen—I’ve been coaching for 35 years, and I’ve never seen such a natural gymnast in my life. And I’m calling you to urge you to bring her to Delhi and make her part of the national team.”

“Let me just say my judgment,” he finished, “is that she’s one in a million.” And the national coach said, “We have a thousand of those.”

There are 500 million Indians under 25 years old, and there are 750 million Indians under 35 years old. And I start like that because—and of course I lived in India for a while—trying to grasp these numbers and digest their implications is at least not easy for me to do, and I think it’s not so easy for others to do, too.

A country of a billion people, which, in a couple decades, will be the most populous country in the world; a country with a middle class of somewhere between 200 (million) and 300 million people—that, of course, is larger than the population of the—the 300 million is, of course, larger than the population of the United States, also larger than the total populations of Britain, France, Germany and Italy together, and so forth. These numbers, as I say, are hard to digest.

The second big point I want to make is this extraordinary history of the bilateral relationship. India was the only country—the only democratic country in the world with which the United States had systemically poor relations for most of the Cold War. It’s the only one. And you know there are special reasons for that.

So the president’s visit is—at least to some extent, marks the transition from this 40-or-so-year painful bilateral history to the transformed relationship that the president spoke about yesterday.

And let me tell you what I think is the basis for this transformed relationship. And again, I apologize for being epigrammatic.

First of all, my own enumeration of vital American national interests—one could have a different catalogue, but mine are five for the United States. And they’re pretty obvious. The global war on terror or Islamic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, energy security, the rise of Chinese power, and then the international economy are my five.

And my basic proposition here is that if you do a matrix and have those down the left side, or maybe you have them across the top, and then down the left side you have all the countries in the world, and you put an X in which there’s similarity or overlapping or even identical national interests, that it’s hard to find a country with as many Xs in the boxes as India.

And in that regard, let me just say one thing, again, trying to sort of say something that you haven’t perhaps thought of before, which is difficult in this kind of group. Energy security, the Persian Gulf—let me give you mileages, which might surprise you. They certainly surprise some. And I picked Doha, but you could pick anywhere out there in the Gulf. It’s 7,000 miles from Washington, D.C., okay. It’s 3,200 miles from London. It’s 2,700 miles from Berlin. It’s 2,200 miles from Moscow. And it’s 1,400 miles from Bombay. Just pause.

So you think if you have a geopolitical map in your head—which isn’t like most of us, certainly myself—which has Washington as the epicenter and out go the—(inaudible)—and have instead one in which India is the center, and if you remember that this part of the world was governed from Calcutta for much of the 19th century, and if you know that 3 million Indians live in the Gulf, and if you know that 75 percent of Indians’—India’s oil comes from the Gulf, the energy security issue is vivid.

Now, the—of course, what’s on people’s minds—and I will speak to this, but we can get into it in the discussion—is the issue of the July 18th nuclear agreement and where it fits in the president’s visit, and I don’t want to guess what’s going to happen. Nick Burns is in Delhi as we speak; 10-and-a-half hours, I think, time difference, so he’s trying to get this done. We’ll see if he can.

You seem to quote that he said that, “It’s 90 percent”—and of course that’s good, but those of us who have done this sort of thing before know the last 10 percent is always the hardest. That’s the reason it’s the last 10 percent. (Light laughter.) So we’ll see whether they can get it done. I don’t want to—and I don’t want to guess whether he can or not. I know they’re trying hard.

But let me just say a few things about it, and I want to be analytical here. I have my own views about it, which are familiar to you probably, but I don’t want to talk about that. I wanted to be analytical about it. And there seems to be two opposing schools on this with respect to the agreement.

School number one asserts that one can’t have the kind of transformed strategic relationship with India that is in our vital national interest for the reasons I’ve said before as long as we treat them like an international piraya and keep them out of the civil nuclear regime.

That school goes on to say: In addition—in addition, it’s in America’s interest that India rely more on nuclear power, rather than on oil, because with India’s economy and burgeoning middle class and all the rest, India, if it doesn’t have more nuclear power, will of course be in the energy market with all the obvious consequences.

And finally—and finally, school number one argues that with regard to the nonproliferation regime, it’s hard to think of a country who at present has no nuclear intentions and because of this agreement will have them; that is to say, hard to think of a country, not in the abstraction, but an actual country where homosapiens hang out and so forth, who would change their view because of this.

Now sometimes—and again, I try to be analytical—sometimes North Korea and Iran are mentioned in this regard, and this first school believes that they make their decisions independent of what might happen in the U.S.-India relationship and India’s relationship to the international—the international civil nuclear regime. Or to put it differently, they believe if India announced tomorrow that it was abolishing all of its nuclear weapons, that it would not have an affect on the decision making of North Korea or Iran, who are these school number one, operating for quite different reasons.

Okay. So that’s school number one.

School number two has a different view, and it is essentially that this agreement, first of all, favors India, that the United States, that the administration got far too little out of India in the negotiation; that this agreement is therefore markedly to India’s advantage; that the only way to correct that is to ensure that almost all or maybe even all of India’s nuclear facilities are under IAEA safeguards permanently; and that that will have the effect of first capping, and then weakening and then ending India’s nuclear weapons capability.

And these people, at least some of them, are very direct in saying that’s their purpose, because they think that India with nuclear weapons is a destabilizing—a destabilizing element in both South Asia region and internationally.

And therefore, if I can just sum up with school number two, if I understand the character of the negotiation going on now in Delhi, school number two will be disappointed if there is an agreement because they will think it did not go far enough, and you’ve seen this in the op-ed pages and so forth.

I do want to say that there’s a third school, and this is in Delhi or in India. And this school says that the agreement—and again, this is on the front page of the India Press and on the op-ed pages—that this agreement dramatically favors the United States. So this is the mirror image of the—of school number two, and they say—these folks, these Indians, strategists and members of their nuclear establishment—say that India is being pressured to put far too many of its facilities under IAEA safeguards for the purpose, they say, of weakening and then ending India’s nuclear deterrent.

So you get this curiosity of arguments here that it—the agreement doesn’t go far enough and arguments in India that it goes too far.

Okay. So with the president arriving soon in India, what will be the effect of whether there’s an agreement or not?

Well, I can’t be sure. India—Indians like the United States. According to the Pew Poll, India—the United States is the most—India regards the United States more positively than any other country in the world, it turns out. So in that respect, I’m sure the president will get a very warm—warm welcome, but it isn’t—I think it’s also true that if this agreement isn’t reached, there will certainly be plenty of commentary in the Indian press that says, without this agreement this kind of major transition to a new relationship won’t have happened without this agreement. And I think you could expect that. Although, there’ll be plenty of other things that they will agree on and talk about: the military-to-military relationship, U.S. arms sales, trade, science and technology, agriculture, the environment, health, HIV/AIDS, and so forth.

Finally, Iran, which of course has been out there as a shadow on the relationship, at least for the moment it has—it’s been finessed through the diplomacy of the administration, and so I don’t think it’s going to figure prominently in the visit, but eventually it may come back again, depending on how the IAEA, and especially the Russians and the Chinese, react the next time around.

But I would point out that the next step, as envisioned, if it happens, would be Security Council deliberations on this. And, of course, India’s not a member of the Security Council, so it wouldn’t have to vote, and so forth. And they seem comfortable in joining a consensus, if one exists, in the IAEA.

So that’s what I wanted to say about India.

Now, on Pakistan, I want to say this; that without any doubt, President Musharraf’s decision right after 9/11 to change Pakistan policy 180 degrees to help the United States and the allies vanquish the Taliban, and so forth, was absolutely indispensable and it—Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against international terrorism remains indispensable. That’s, of course, because of the Afghan border, and Taliban going back and forth across that border. And then the internal challenges of Pakistan I think you know. But with the cooperation of ISI, we’ve been able to capture hundreds of al Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan, which couldn’t have been done without the Pakistanis. And Musharraf, in my opinion, has shown extraordinary courage in pursuing this policy. There are questions which arise, which I’ll just mention and then we can talk about, of course. One is the very nature of the future of Pakistan and what will be the role of Islam in the future of Pakistan. The second, of course, is questions of democratic change in the 2007 general elections, and so forth.

Which leads me now, near the end, to the relationship between India and Pakistan. And I’d point something out, which you probably noticed anyway, but I thought it was striking that in the president’s speech yesterday this was the last part of the speech, and really quite brief compared to the rest of the speech. And I’d just point out that if you do a Google on president’s speeches about this part of the world, that had never been true before. And it’s true because relations between India and Pakistan are the best since partition, and that is largely, dominantly so because of the policies of two Indian prime ministers and one Pakistan president. I don’t think that the outside world, including the United States, can take much credit for that. But it is striking, because I’d just point out that about now four years ago, we almost had the first war in human history between two nuclear weapon states. That was only four years ago. And so this has really been a dramatic change.

Which leads me to my last point, which has to do with hyphenation, this phrase that I think you know means for decades no American policymaker could think of India without at the same time, or virtually the same time, thinking of Pakistan, and vice versa. The relationship, in my opinion, with both countries has now been largely—not entirely, but largely de-hyphenated. And I think this visit will represent that. But I have to say, again, as an analyst, that when the leaders of the two countries say good relations between India and Pakistan are irreversible, I think that’s a political assertion, not an analytic one, because I think they are reversible. And what would hyphenate the relationship again would be a crisis between India and Pakistan. So one of the reasons it’s been able to be—the administration, over these last five years, has been able to de-hyphenate it is, after 2002, this extraordinary improvement in the relationship. But at the moment, at least, as I say, relations, including people to people, are really quite extraordinarily good between the two countries. But the issue of Kashmir remains.

Let me stop there and then take it wherever you want to take it.

ENSOR: Let me just—and let me just ask a couple quickly, and then we’ll open it up.


ENSOR: First, you hardly mentioned the word China. And I’m sure that was deliberate. But nonetheless, I’d like you to. Where does China fit into your thinking about this relationship that you’d like to see grow?

BLACKWILL: Okay. Well, I did say we have in common—you’re right, I didn’t go into detail—in common a preoccupation with the rise of Chinese power. Let me put it like this. There are American enthusiasts for signing up India as part of a containment strategy toward China. There’s no way better to empty a drawing room in New Delhi, of Indian strategists, than to start talking about this idea. They have no interest whatsoever in trying to contain China because they believe that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And their whole policy is to seek the best possible relationship with China and to try to shape their policy to that end. However, they understand, I think, that—as we do—that nobody knows the kind of China that the international system will be dealing with in 10 years. And so the Indians hedge. And they’re, as I say, extremely attentive to events in China. So from the administration’s point of view, I believe—they can speak for themselves, it’s not an issue of containment.

But let me put it like this, if I might. You notice that the president yesterday used this—I think I have it right—this phrase “natural partners.” And I recall for you that Vajpayee, when he was in Washington, I guess six years ago, used the phrase “natural allies” to describe this relationship. I think that that is a good mirror into the issue of China. There’s going to be no formal alliance between the United States and India, for sure. Their colonial history, among other things, will prevent that. And so it will be bilateral cooperation, but there’s going to be no formal treaty and so forth.

However, I believe that if this relationship continues on its current direction of transformation, and if in 10 or 15 years—or sooner, but 10 or 15 years—China begins to act aggressively externally and in a hostile way, these two countries will come together naturally. So they do not have to plan for it; they’ll come together—by the way, with other like-minded democracies in the world. So they don’t have to plan for it; it will happen, it seems to me, because they are natural allies with a little “a,” or natural partners, or however you wish to describe it.

ENSOR: I’ll just take one more, as the privilege of the chair.

There are a lot of people in this town who are opposed to the Indian nuclear deal. And without summarizing at great length their arguments, one of the main ones is that you are in effect rewarding rulebreaking and you are doing terrible damage, by doing that, to the international system that the U.S. and others have tried to develop over the years to reduce the number of nuclear states and keep it to a low—to a dull roar and make the world a safer place. Respond to that.

BLACKWILL: Well, that’s what I call school number two, and it has some eloquent people in it, some very smart people in it. And one just has to look at the merits of the case. The way I tried to get at it, without advocating fundamentally, is my question of what countries would change their policy on the basis of this exception for India. And I can’t myself find one, but I’d entertain thoughts. But the notion that this North Korean regime is studying carefully the July 8th agreement seems not plausible to me, and I don’t get the sense that the president of Iran takes it to bed with him either.

So I’m just skeptical about that. But it’s a matter of judgment. It’s a matter of judgment. And as I say, most folks are good friends of mine and they’re right to have their views and to express them. I don’t agree with them.

I do think I’d say one other thing, though. This is—I want to say this. This should be debated, and certainly if the agreement is reached on the separation of civil and military facilities in India, it will be debated in our Congress. It also will be debated, of course, in their Parliament. And it should be, because it is really quite fundamental. And it’s not surprising that this step—which I would call a radical step, historic step, call it what you want—it’s not surprising that it has excited such debate in both countries.

I would just point out—again, I’m a diplomatic historian—that this always happens in major departures of American foreign policy. We now forget the debate about the opening to China, but there was a big debate in this town about the opening to China. There was another big debate about detente and dealing with the Soviets. In my opinion, the transformation of the U.S.-India relationship and this visit and the civil nuclear arrangement that’s being discussed is in that same galaxy, and therefore, it’s not surprising that folks debate it, and they should.

ENSOR: Deb Riechmann?

QUESTIONER: What do you think would qualify as a credible—(off mike)—separation? And can you better explain to me how you go about separating these? And is that issue part of this 10 percent?

BLACKWILL: Yeah, I think it is the 10 percent, is my impression.

And first of all, as I say, there are those in the U.S.—and David adverted to them—who believe that all of India’s nuclear facilities have to be under IAEA safeguards to prevent any seepage or transfer of materials technology and so forth over into the military side. And one reads about that. There are those in India who say that virtually none of these facilities should be under IAEA safeguards, or at least not even perhaps half of them, smaller than half, because of the uncertainties and contingencies with respect to these reactors and the danger that their regular supply of weapons-grade material for their military program might be compromised. So those are basically the two poles.

The question is—and don’t lean forward expecting to hear a number here, because I don’t know what it is. It isn’t that I know and I won’t tell you. But the question is, can the two political leaderships find a compromise which on the one hand, persuades the Congress that this meets reasonable concerns regarding the separation of India’s civil and military nuclear facilities, and satisfies the Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament and elite, that it does not weaken their nuclear deterrent, because they are—and this is across party lines, with the possible exception of the Communists—there’s no debate in India about maintaining this nuclear deterrent.

And so the question is, if those are the boundaries, what’s the middle—and I don’t know the answer. It’s more than half. I don’t know.

And another very complicated question: are there breeder reactors, the ones being built and the ones that are being planned—we don’t know how many—I don’t think the Indians have yet decided exactly how many breeder reactors they will in the end construct. I think the two governments are mindful that they don’t want to have this—let me put it like this—they don’t want to have this agreement fail because they can’t agree on imaginary safeguards for imaginary breeder reactors, since these are way down the road.

On the other hand, breeder reactors produce weapon-grades material. So having an agreement in which breeder reactors are exluded in perpetuity is a problem in—with regard to—at least in many people’s minds.

So those are the two—what is the number of their current civil nuclear reactors, those under construction, and those planned—what’s that number—and what percentage of them or what number of them are going to be covered by IAEA safeguards—and I’ll get to the second part—and the second is what to do about the breeders?

And your question about how are they separated? Well, I’ll be both conceptual and then practical. They’re separated in the first instance by IAEA inspectors who are—who ensure, just as routinely there and everywhere else, that no material relevant to a military program can be diverted. So they’re doing that, and they got cameras and all the rest.

In a conceptual way, they are separated by which reactors contribute to the Indian production of weapon trade material, one way or another, and there are five or six technical ways that that could happen, so that’s the way.

And as I say, the challenge for the two administrations is to find a compromise that they can both believe is fair and so forth; but equally important, can pass the political task at home.

QUESTIONER: And that’s what you mean by credible?

BLACKWILL: Yeah, that’s credible.

And of course, that—credible—that’s, you know, somewhat in the eye of the beholder. It isn’t that you can say, “Well, turn to Tab E in the briefing book, and there’s a big number, and that’s—and the eye of the beholder is Henry Hyde and Richard Lugar and folks on the committees up there.” And in the Indian side, the eye of the beholder is the nuclear establishment and the Indian parliament and their political—I mean—and as I say, the agreement—I put this slightly differently, but the same point the president did yesterday—this agreement, if they can find that middle ground that I was trying to describe, is going to be significantly criticized in both places for sure.

So the question is, do you get it above a threshold where the criticism is a minority, or is it more? And that’s what they’re trying to get done here with Nick Burns and his Indian counterparts now.

QUESTIONER: Do we know where all these reactors are? Are we completely aware—(off mike)?

BLACKWILL: Well, I—everything—the reactors certainly, they’re big.


BLACKWILL: I think we have a good catalog of Indian nuclear facilities, yes.

QUESTIONER: The second thing is, what do—I mean, what do you think the chances are that it’s going to happen—

BLACKWILL: Well—(chuckles)—well—

QUESTIONER:—(off mike)—because it seems like it’s going nowhere fast.

BLACKWILL: Well, let me just say—well, no, I wouldn’t say that. This is one I remember somebody saying to me a long time ago that, “Well, don’t predict something where you’ll know in 24 hours, all right?” So it’s like predicting the election the day before the election—“Well, you just wait 24”—we’ll see.

But I don’t think “going nowhere” is correct. They’ve been going at it—it really began in the fall discussing this. I think what Nick said is right. They’re getting closer. But will they be able to get across the divide? I don’t know. I just—I don’t know. And I—if I said yes or no or I’m optimistic, the wishes the father of the thought—I don’t know. That’s what—that’s—this is—in olden days, this was called diplomacy. It’s what’s happening here. It’s not so well-known in current times, but this what it was called, and so we’ll see. But we’ll know because Nick is either going to get on a plane with an agreement or not.

And then—and let me just say that maybe doesn’t even necessarily mean it can’t get done before the president gets there, but time’s running out here, of course, so if he can’t get it—get an agreement, it’s going to be an awfully hard to have one more round and try to get it done, and he’s there with him, so—

QUESTIONER: So what if they announce something—(off mike)?


QUESTIONER: If there’s no deal to implement this, what does the president—(off mike)?

BLACKWILL: Well, there are a lot—I mean—

QUESTIONER: I mean, that’s not just the usual—

BLACKWILL: Yeah, yeah, there is—(laughter)—I don’t want to perhaps adopt entirely your vivid language here, but—but more so—and let me just—and you all again, you’re following this closely—but I do want to contrast the difference between here and India because there—this is on the front page of every newspaper every day. And so there it will be hard to ignore that this didn’t get done or it’ll be hard.

Now, the president said yesterday, as you know, we have to have patience, for sure, and this is hard to do, he said, for both sides, and I’ve tried to develop—he didn’t have time to do it, but why it’s hard to do. But it’s certainly true that there will be no shortage of Indian commentators who will say the trip was not a success because they didn’t get this done. And others will say, yes, it was and da, da, da, da. But it will—this is now a very large boulder in the room of this relationship, which will either get rolled out the door or not, and we’ll see. And as I say, I just don’t know. I know that both sides are working extremely hard on it.

The Indian ambassador, Ronen Sen, who’s really quite gifted. He’s really a talent is back there, too. He’s in New Delhi with the team, and so he’s working it. Everybody’s working it. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTIONER: Does this require formal approval by the Indian parliament, too, or—

BLACKWILL: Yes. Yes. Yeah.

And there is that mirror image pressure. The prime minister will be going before the Indian parliament a few days before the president arrives. And of course, one can see why he would prefer to go before the parliament and say, “I’m now going to justify the deal we have,” rather than go through the parliament and say, “Well, we can get it done.”

But there are many—or at least there are—the counterpart of what David was describing here—there would say, “Boy we’re glad this didn’t get done. This was not in our interest. The Americans wanting too much—wanted to weaken our deterrent. Hooray.” And there—just as there will be those same people if it doesn’t get done who David was describing here would say, “Great, it didn’t get done.”

ENSOR: Down there?

QUESTIONER: I want to just clarify: do you or your firm have some sort of contractual relationship with the Indian government?

BLACKWILL: Yes, yeah. We represent the Indian government here. Sure.

QUESTIONER: All right. That sort of leads on to my second question.

About a year ago, when Secretary Rice went to India, one of the big issues then was U.S. pressure on India not to go ahead with its gas pipeline to Iran. And does your firm have a position on it? Are you—

BLACKWILL: (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER:—(off mike). Do you think Bush, when he goes, will take up this issue? Is the U.S. still trying to prevent India—(Iran ?) and India—(off mike)?

BLACKWILL: Well, maybe I could speak—first of all, no was the first answer. We don’t have anything, no. I believe, if I’m not mistaken, it’s against the law for Americans to engage in commercial activities with the Iranians, so you can visit me with your chocolate chip cookies in the pokey if we did such a thing, no.

But the other part of your question’s really quite interesting and separate to at least to some degree from the nuclear issue, which has dominated the press with respect to India.

India has a civilizational relationship with Iran—4,000 years old. And maybe you know this, but the second-largest Shi’a population in the world outside of Iran is in India. And so the Indians have worked very hard, especially in recent years, beginning with Vajpayee, who made a five-day trip to Iran five or six years ago, to nourish this relationship with Iran. And one of the reasons is what you point out, I think, acutely, which is India has just a vast thirst for energy, given the dynamism of its economy and all the rest, and, of course, Iran has vast energy resources. So the notion of Iran providing at least one of the sources of Indian energy is very attractive to the Indians.

What the Indian government has made clear, and I think this is largely agreed throughout the Indian elite, is that they’ll decide whether they’re going to go forward with this or not, from the Indian point of view. But it’s not—I’d just say now as an analyst, it’s not an immediate issue because there are many people who think this pipeline will never get built because the neighborhood through which it has to pass is too rough a neighborhood and the capital will never get raised in the private capital markets to build this thing.

But there is not an agreement for sure, as you imply, between the administration and the Indian government or Indian elite about this. But I don’t think it’s going to figure very prominently. I think much more—will figure more prominently, for obvious reasons, is the Iranian nuclear issue, because of course at the end of the first week of March, the IAEA gets together again, and ElBaradei and his folks will present to the board their conclusions about Iranian behavior, and so forth. I think that will be the Iranian dimension. I’ll be surprised if the pipeline figures very importantly.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

BLACKWILL: I would not expect that to become the administration position.

ENSOR: Over here.

QUESTIONER: You talk about de-hyphenating the relationship with Pakistan. But what are the ramifications of this deal on the relationship—U.S. relationship with Pakistan? Surely they have every right to say why can’t we have—


QUESTIONER: And can I just add another thing?

BLACKWILL: I’m sorry. Please. Sorry.

QUESTIONER: I mean, how does the rest of the world view this in the sense that this is, you know, riding roughshod over the NPT or international agreements, and it’s sending confused signals, even though you say Iran won’t directly be affected.

BLACKWILL: Well, can I do the second part first?


BLACKWILL: ElBaradei and the IAEA bureaucracy support this agreement. It’s also supported by the Russians, the British, the French, and you just saw President Chirac in Delhi signing an agreement, a civil nuclear agreement, which is dependent, of course, on the America-India arrangement, and then the nuclear suppliers agreement. So there will be, I think, some in the nuclear suppliers group who will have reservations about this. My own judgment is that if it gets passed, the two governments can reach an agreement which is above the threshold here and there, that the nuclear suppliers will agree too. So I think the real question is here and there, although as I say, there are some with reservations.

My impression is—of course, this again is—we should have a Pakistani here—is that—from reading their editorial opinion, is that they do have the view you expressed, which is, first, we’re worried that this will feed the Indian nuclear weapons program and, therefore, weaken deterrence. So you see that in the—I try to read the Pakistan press every day. And the second is, well, why not us? Okay. And it will take a while to deal with the first—probably too long. But on the second, because of the A.Q. Khan network, there’s not the slightest possibility that this deal is going to be made available to Pakistan. And there is this enormous difference in the two countries’ history and current practices of protecting these secrets, with India having an unblemished record of protecting the technology and the secrets and no export of technology, and we all know about the A.Q. Khan network, which went everywhere. So that is just not going to happen.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—non-proliferation advocacy. But to what extent is the debate being held hostage on their end somewhat for new reactors? In other words, we’ll give up one or two civilian reactors for every two or three we get from you. In other words, as India seeks new civilian reactors, I mean, there’s a certain logic in their—in seeking support direct gifts from various countries for new civilian reactors in exchange for what they—

BLACKWILL: I’m just trying to understand. There’s the question, will gifts—I don’t know anybody who’s going to give them a reactor. But you mean sell?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—to sell.

BLACKWILL: Sell. It’s certainly true that the nuclear industries in those countries that make—that produce, that build reactors, would very much like this to be opened up. And the Russians, the French, even ourselves come to mind. I don’t think this has an effect on the debate. I don’t think that anybody—at least certainly not in this town, that anybody is saying we should give up this one for—because we can sell them reactors down the road. I don’t think that.

But we do know what India’s plans are with respect to their reactors, and they have very ambitious plans to build new reactors over the next 10, 15, 20 years. But they don’t have fuel for the reactors. So they have this agreement is a precondition for those very ambitious programs. And then we’ll see who they decide to buy from, and it will be some competition, and so forth. But I don’t think that’s an element, certainly in this administration’s calculations.

QUESTIONER: Can I follow up? As a post-9/11 ambassador to India—

BLACKWILL: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:—can you explain how on the eve of a presidential visit, the American Consulate Office denies a visa to a high-ranking Indian scientist who’s visited in the United States in the past?


QUESTIONER: (Chuckles.) What’s going on?

BLACKWILL: I just read it in the paper. I don’t know. I don’t know. But you’re right to roll your eyes!


QUESTIONER: Thank you, sir, for doing this. We probably all read Steve Call’s (sp) harrowing account of your experiences during that averted nuclear complication that you referenced. I wonder if you can tell us like how close you think it was? Did that article overstate the situation? And what do you think was the key to this—(off mike)?

BLACKWILL: The question of how close it was is somewhat Rashomonic, depending on where you were sitting and what information was available to you, and what your assumptions were about the behavior of the two countries.

The U.S. and British governments thought we were very close, on the basis of everything we knew. We thought we were within a few days of the initiation of hostilities by the Indians. But the prime minister of India had made no such decision, so this was our best guess of what was happening. Of course that produced the evacuation of the embassies, and so forth.

It’s interesting to me—and this is an issue I follow fairly closely—that both that Indian prime minister, Prime Minister Vajpayee, and Musharraf did not say so at the time, but have said so subsequently, that they, too, thought that it was close. There was a lot of noise in India and debate about how close they were and what our policy was.

I actually am quite proud to have been part of the diplomacy which I think prevented that war, which was American/British diplomacy. But what happened was—and again, now we’re really in the realm of speculation, but I will try to answer because, of course, it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.

I recall for you that U.S.-Soviet arms control and confidence-building in the nuclear era what Joe Nye, my Harvard colleague, calls “nuclear learning” came after the Cuban missile crisis, which scared the pants off both leaderships. I can’t make a linear judgment, but I do notice that after that crisis, led by the Indian prime minister, who gave a famous speech in Kashmir of reaching out to the Pakistanis, that over time, the two of them have pushed this relationship to where it is now. As I said, I think there would have been a war without American and British diplomacy in 2002. But since then, this extraordinary change in the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship is up to them. We stand sort of stand at the side and applauded. But it’s not us.

So it may be there was a Cuban missile crisis phenomena going on there, but I just don’t know. And then you, of course, had a change of governments in India, so now—and that, by the way, is really quite important because you had a change of governments, change of the political parties, new prime ministers, new everything, and the momentum of the improvement in India-Pakistan relations has continued, which is important. Got past the elections.

QUESTIONER: Do you mind if I ask a quick Iraq question?

ENSOR: Please.


ENSOR: He probably minds. But—

QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—the way forward, you did what you said you weren’t going to do, which I think 72 hours before the election you issued quite detailed predictions about them. And you know so much more about it than I do, I couldn’t even tell how right you were—

BLACKWILL: I actually turned out to be pretty right. That’s the reason I remember. If I had turned out to be wrong, I would not have—it would be like “Men In Black,” I’d do this and—couldn’t remember anything. So—

QUESTIONER: And what’s your quick forecast for the formation of that government?

BLACKWILL: Well, I don’t know. And of course yesterday, what happened yesterday, and I’m a long way from Iraq. This is just my own, obviously, view. I have thought for some time that systemically the insurgency is going to get worn down. That’s my view. I don’t know how to factor what happened yesterday into that judgment, and we’ll have to see what’s happening today there. And if this keeps going, this could really be decisive.

So anyway—and I have been more worried about the political process, whether a government—not the military, not the insurgency, not the counterinsurgency and all that, important as it is—but I have been optimistic about that—but rather, whether a political process would produce a government which has these three characteristics.

One, a partner with the coalition, and especially the United States and the British, in prosecuting the war against the insurgency.

Second, a government that includes Sunnis sufficiently to weaken Sunni support for the insurgency.

And three, a government that can begin to provide services and improve quality of life for ordinary Iraqis.

And I do not know whether such a government is going to emerge.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

ENSOR: Back to India?

BLACKWILL: Back to India.

QUESTIONER: A question related to your reference to the natural alliance. The U.S. and India are the largest donors to the U.N. Democracy Fund. They both belong to this community of democracies—


QUESTIONER: There’s been talk—(India ?) has talked about having a benign influence in the near neighborhood of Central Asia. How much of this is sort of symbolic? And how realistic is kind of these two countries working together on democracy—

BLACKWILL: I think it’s real, and—but I don’t know—I say that in a(n) elevated sense. I don’t know whether they will find a way to spend the money in a fashion that actually is successful on the ground. That turns out to be hard.

But the two elites—and I mean beyond the governments—are quite devoted to this proposition. The tactics will not be the same, partly because of India’s colonial experience and their hesitance to overly interfere in the affairs of other nation-states. They had that for these centuries, and they don’t want to replicate it outside their borders. But I think it’s really taken quite seriously by the two sides.

Maybe I can give you—can I just give you one brief anecdote in this respect, but it’s so important to understanding this India that the president will be visiting. I once, when I was ambassador there, went in to see Jaswant Singh. Jaswant is the George Shultz of India. He’s had virtually—he’s been finance minister, foreign minister, defense minister. I say George Shultz, but this was when he was finance minister.

And I went into talk with him about the budget, and as my predecessors and successor do—have done and do, I lectured him on the need to reduce barriers to foreign direct investment, so I lectured him away. And when I finished, he said, “Bob,” he said, “I want to explain something to you. When you say, “foreign direct investment,” you think of General Electric. When we hear “foreign direct investment,” we think of the East India Company.” And I just want to say that this remains part of this picture of India. It’s related to what you were saying.

It’s very prickly about—and this is part of the debate in the Indian press—about being anybody’s cat’s paw, you think of the metaphor you want. They’re extremely proud of their independence in their foreign policy over the decades, so this is—their colonial history is part of their DNA, and it—I think it’s not an impediment to the U.S.-India relationship at all, but it’s part of how they think of the world.

And they, like everybody else, have their national sensitivities, and this is one. And this leads into, if I may say, what Jaswant said, leads into this great sensitivity about whether India—to take us back to the nuclear deal—is making this decision on the basis of its own calculations with respect to its national interest, or is it making this decision because of muscle from Washington, because muscle from Washington feels like the East India Company, if I may put those two together. It feels like—and as I say, they have a visceral reaction against this, which is deep in their bones.

ENSOR: We probably better stop there because you have to—

BLACKWILL: Maybe one more. I got to go out the door. I have to go out the door at 10.

ENSOR: Okay.

QUESTIONER: Are you suggesting that if there’s no deal set now when the president’s there, there won’t be a deal at all?


QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—there’s no deal short term or long term, how big of a set back—

MR. BLACKWILL: Yeah, I think—good question. No, I’m not suggesting that, but again, just as an analyst, my times at the White House, the best time to make these breakthroughs is when the two political leaderships are most engaged, and that’s now in the run-up to the president’s visit. So this is an opportunity, and I think both sides recognize that, and they’re doing what they can. If—and by the way, again, diplomatic (historian ?)—if you think of the SALT agreements or the START agreement, all of them are associated with summits in which the bureaucracies are forced by the political leadership in their respective countries to get to the deal. So—and I think there are almost no exceptions to that in the U.S.-Soviet relationship.

In this one, therefore, there is this opportunity. If it doesn’t happen, it can’t get done, that does not mean the negotiation ends for sure. And after the president comes and goes or goes and comes, they’ll return to it. But I don’t know—if they couldn’t agree with all of this attention, I don’t know whether they’ll be able to agree later. This is—let me just say, it’s a very complex subject, but both sides know exactly what’s at issue here. There aren’t going to be any surprises here about what—back to the question—what nuclear facilities are there and so forth. Everybody knows what they are. It’s just, can they make the deal?

So I think that if it’s not made, they’ll go back to try some more, and then, we’ll have to see whether they can get it done. But I know, again, from my own personal experience—and the U.S.-Soviet summits are the best example just of the incentives to get it done—let me just say a great Kissinger line, which is, “No statesmanship ever arose out of the interagency process.” Okay. And this is now not in the interagency process. This is up there with the president and the prime minister and the secretary of State and so forth, so forth, on the Indian side, and we’ll see if they can get it done.

The bureaucracies, for the reasons I tried to explain, the bureaucracies on the two sides would not get this done, in my opinion, because one of the great strengths of bureaucracies is their routine. That is to say, bureaucracies want to do today what they did yesterday, and want to do tomorrow what they did today. Right. And that’s a strength, and that’s a reason that you wanted to be like that when you go into a(n) emergency ward at a hospital. You don’t want them to say, “Well, what should we do first?” Right. They have their SOPs.

Well, these bureaucracies all, on both sides, on the U.S. side—and David adverted this earlier—on the U.S. side, with their mothers milk, came to the view India was a nuclear renegade, that it had to be punished, that there had to be sanctions against it and so forth. And these bureaucracies—I’ll give you an example, which I know about personally. The American Foreign Service bureaucracy was hostile to Detente and hostile to Reagan’s confrontation with the Soviet Union later. That is to say, they were hostile with Detente. They got used to Detente, and there was another change—so that’s just the way bureaucracies are. I don’t mean to be too Kennedy-schoolish here, but—so it’s back to this question of what happens afterwards.

If it’s turned back to the bureaucracies, we’ll never have an agreement. This will take political decisions by the two leaderships, that the bureaucracies will never be able to do. That’s my own judgment.

ENSOR: Well, thank you very, very much.

I rather envy my print colleagues here because I wish I’d had a camera rolling and could actually use some of this, but—because it’s very, very interesting. And I imagine we’ll see some of it in print.

BLACKWILL: Well, I don’t know. Well, thank you. I thought your questions were, in my respects, better than my answers. But there you go, you got a free breakfast.


ENSOR: Thanks. (Applause.)








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