Media Conference Call: Robert Blackwill on Obama's Trip to India

Media Conference Call: Robert Blackwill on Obama's Trip to India

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OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience in holding. We now have your speakers in conference. (Gives queuing instructions.) It is now my pleasure to introduce Ms. Anya Schmemann.

Ms. Schmemann, you may begin now.

ANYA SCHMEMANN: Thank you. I'm Anya Schmemann, director of communications at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for joining us today.

And I'm pleased to introduce Robert Blackwill. He is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has served in a number of senior government positions, including as deputy assistant to the president, deputy national security adviser for strategic planning under President George W. Bush. He also served as presidential envoy to Iraq, and coordinated U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran. And most relevant to this conversation, he served as U.S. ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003.

Ambassador Blackwill, it's a pleasure to have you with us.

ROBERT BLACKWILL: Thank you very much, Anya.

Here's the way I intend to proceed. I will give you an overview, you all, of the visit -- and I won't go on all that long, and then we can get into our discussion and the Qs and As.

Let me say first, if you've had a chance to read the many reports and op-eds written in both India and the United States associated with the visit, you will have seen a major theme that many experts on both sides think that the relationship has been drifting to some degree in the last two years. And I could at a later point tell you why that seems to be a broadly held view. But in any case, I think the big question associated with the president's visit that's about to begin is: Will his visit to India change that perception and that reality, if it is a reality, and end the drift?

Now, I'd like to divide my comments into three different baskets regarding the visit. The first are public events and their impact on the Indian people; second, transactional initiatives and agreements between the two sides; and then the third, strategic understandings, which would be private largely, and further tangible strategic collaboration.

So first -- and I'll do this very epigrammatically -- first, public events and their impact: I don't have any doubt that the president is going to wow the Indian masses. Of course, he is, in Indian eyes, a(n) extraordinary example of the diversity, pluralism of American democracy, being our first African-American president. So just at the most basic level, the Indian people are going to find him, I think, extremely attractive, charismatic and so forth.

In addition, I think he'll say -- because he's very smart -- he'll say all the right things in general about the U.S.-India relationship, including in his speech to the Parliament.

So in the first basket, how he does with the mass of the Indian people, I think, it'll be a great success.

The other two parts of my template have to do more with the reaction of the Indian national security and business elite, which of course is much more informed about the visit. So let me go on down the template.

And there -- there will probably be more, but there are at least five initiatives, transactional initiatives, and agreements that will play a part one way or the other in the summit: the U.N. Security Council membership for India, the so-called entities list, defense sales, the nuclear liability law and retail trade. Let me just tick these off one at a time.

The first is -- and I can put it simply -- will the president, while he is in India and probably while he is speaking to the Parliament, utter the words, "The United States supports India's permanent membership in a reformed U.N. Security Council" or not? If he does, it'll have a very, very positive effect on both the people of India, but in the circumstances I'm now -- in the context I'm now describing it, on the national security elite of India. If he does not, they'll be disappointed. And I'm not now going to do the merits of the case on that, but he'll either make a big positive impact or disappointment -- or disappoint them.

The second is the so-called entities list, which goes back a very long time, back to '98 and before, when they tested their nuclear weapons. There are lists of Indian organizations whose -- for whom technology transfer is constrained by the United States, and the Indians are very much hoping that almost all of the current organizations that are on that entities list will be taken off of it, and that only the two Indian government organizations that are associated directly with their nuclear weapons program will remain on it.

So again, he will either announce that almost all those organizations are off the entities list or not, and he will, as in the Security Council, either make a very positive impression or not. And I think you'll see afterwards, the op-ed writers and editorial writers in India concentrating on those two.

Then, moving along, defense sales -- there are a variety of defense sales that will be announced at the summit. They may be as -- worth as much as $12 billion, although it's hard to calculate exactly, but they're C-130s and GE jet engines for their light combat aircraft; there are maybe C-17s, the big U.S. transport aircraft; locomotives for the Indian railroads, not quite a defense sale but a very big sale; maybe some more maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

So there -- several of these will be, I think, announced at the summit, and has also, of course, the advantage of generating American jobs as these sales go forward. And then, of course, the biggest of them all is the multi-role combat aircraft, 126 of those. That decision will be made in about a year. Then that's a $10 billion buy. And so I suppose that will come up as well.

On the nuclear liability law -- I don't know how many of you've been following this, but put simply, the Indian Parliament several months ago passed a law that said that with respect to nuclear reactors, that the seller of a nuclear reactor was liable for perhaps as long as many decades for an accident that occurred in India, associated with that nuclear reactor, even if -- even if the seller had nothing to do with it.

And of course not only the U.S. but other nuclear suppliers have reacted negatively. And the Indians recently signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation on Nuclear Damages, which, if it's ever ratified, would solve this problem. But this is new that will also be a subject of discussion there.

There will probably be something on space cooperation.

And then finally -- and of course, given the economic situation in the United States, it's not surprising that the president will highlight U.S. jobs and trade to India, and seek Indian agreement on a variety of issues, like raising the caps on foreign investment; opening up financial services, pensions, insurance to U.S. firms; retail -- multi-brand retail, like Wal-Mart; dairy exports to India, poultry, pork; and then perhaps even agree that there should be a bilateral investment treaty between the two.

And then there will be something on agriculture, something on climate change, I suppose.

Finally, just to conclude, on those transactional issues, I expect it to be a pretty good set of agreements by the time they're finished. I guess the question is, are they really good, or the sorts of agreements that always come out of or usually come out of summits of this kind? And we'll see.

And as I said, the Indians will be watching most carefully for the president's position on the Security Council and on the entities list.

Finally, and more difficult, are the strategic understandings and collaboration, because, on the four big issues, all of them contain possible or actual differences between the two:

Pakistan, where India -- and I'm happy to discuss this at length, but where India believes that the United States is not putting enough pressure on Pakistan regarding cross-border terrorism against India.

Afghanistan, in which the Indians are very worried about the July 2011 date for the beginning of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, military withdrawal, and very worried that might presage a rapid and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan by the United States.

China, in which, for maybe the first 18 months of the Obama administration, the Indians were worried that the United States had placed China as its most important bilateral relationship and did not sufficiently take into account the problems with the rise of Chinese power, but in the last six months or six months to a year that's changed on the U.S. side as Chinese external behavior's become more aggressive.

But there still is the issue that Indians ask, which is -- and this national security elite ask -- which is, does the administration, the Obama administration, believe that India has an important role to play in the rise of Chinese power?

And then finally Iran, in which the Indians will of course adhere to the U.N. Security Council -- the U.N. Security Council resolution, the latest, on Iranian sanctions. But they go no further, and they have, as they say, a civilizational relationship with Iran and also 20 million Shi'a's who live in India. So they will be extremely cautious in joining the United States and others in putting greater pressure on Iran.

So those are the three baskets. I would say the first one, as I said, will be a great success, the public side of it. The transactional side of it will be, I think, at least good, and it may be better than good. But the third part, which are these issues I enumerated, we'll have to see where they come out. And I suppose you could say those are the most long-lasting, enduring issues of the U.S.-India strategic relationship.

Let me stop there and take your questions.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. And thank you for that comprehensive overview.

For any of you who have joined us late, we're having a conversation with Ambassador Robert Blackwill about President Obama's upcoming trip to India. The ambassador has outlined some of the goals of the trip and likely agenda items.

And Operator, at this time we are ready to take questions from any callers.

OPERATOR: Thank you. (Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Laura Rozen with Politico.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thanks, Ambassador Blackwill, for doing this call.

I'm curious what you might advise the president, were you to have the chance, on what he should do about the Security Council issue. Should you -- should he say something about being interested in doing this -- reforming the Security Council to include India, possibly, in a second term? Or what would you advise?

BLACKWILL: I think that my prescription would be that he say to the Indian Parliament, which would get them on their feet with rapturous applause, that the United States supports India's permanent membership in the Security Council in the context of a reformed Security Council. That's a very direct way of saying it. And if he uses more equivocal language, of course, the Indian scribes will take the more equivocal language apart a sentence and a -- or, sorry, a phrase and a word at a time.

Just to put one more fact forward: Now the United States and China are the only two countries that are permanent members of the Security Council that have not endorsed India's membership -- permanent membership in the Security Council. So -- and I don't think that's very good company for the United States to be keeping on this issue. So I very much hope he'll say that to the parliament.


SCHMEMANN: Thank you. We're ready for another question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Sima Sorohi (ph) with the Bengal Post.

QUESTIONER: Ambassador Blackwill, good afternoon. I wanted to ask you about China and Afghanistan.

What would be a way for U.S. and India to reach an understanding? As you have said, that the prospective U.N. departure from Afghanistan is a great cause of concern for India. And India always feels that Pakistan seems to have a veto on whatever is done inside Afghanistan.

What, in your opinion, should be, let's say, a future security arrangement?

BLACKWILL: Well, let me put it like this. (Inaudible) -- process first. But that would have to be at the outset.

The United States and India -- and I think I'm well informed on this from both sides -- are not now talking to one another frankly and in detail about the end game in Afghanistan. And therefore, lots of understandings and misperceptions can and do exist.

And so the first thing to do is for leaders of the two countries -- the ministers and the senior officials -- is to shut the door so none of us -- especially none of the press, if I might say -- are privy to what's being said, and to talk about the end game.

As you know, as you especially know, the Indians are also very anxious about the idea that the United States will forge a deal with the Taliban, because most Indian national security experts think that there are no moderate Taliban. So the first thing is to have that conversation.

And by the way, my own view is that the United States and India, at a very senior and private level, ought to have a similar conversation about Pakistan and the future of Pakistan, because whatever happens in Pakistan -- and certainly the systemic trends are very negative -- will have a great effect on both the United States and on India.

So -- now as for the final outcome, in this setting, this call, I can't go into it in detail, but I do think that the current counterinsurgency strategy being conducted by the United States is not going to succeed, so then the question is, does the United States pursue a more limited set of objectives in Afghanistan or does it leave? And my own view is that a quick American military departure would be a disaster for the United States, also for the region. So I hope that doesn't happen. So those are my basic prescriptions.

Of course, this is an enormously complex issue and doesn't lend itself to bumper stickers. But it has to start with much more intimate and candid discussions between the two governments on the end game in Afghanistan.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks.

Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ashi Sinh (ph) with the Washington Times.

QUESTIONER: Ambassador Blackwill, thank you for doing this. My question was, there's a recent report put out by the Center for New American Security which says that the U.S.-India relationship has lost steam, has stalled under the President Obama administration. Is that an opinion you share?

And also, I was wondering if you could give us a sense of what the election results last night -- what impact they would have, if any, on the U.S.-India relationship, and on President Obama's visit to India next week.

BLACKWILL: Okay, on the first one -- and I said just a word about this, but I'll say a little bit more now -- yes, I do share that. And I think it's widely shared around the national security community in both countries that the Obama administration did not get off to a very good start with India.

Of course, to be fair to them, they took office and had the global recession and two wars to take up their time, but I think they were distracted. Then there was the issue of Kashmir in which the president during the presidential campaign talked about an American diplomatic emissary to Kashmir, which, of course, is anathema to India, and Dick Holbrooke's efforts to include India in his portfolio in that regard, and then the G-2 communique in -- or the U.S.-China communique in Beijing which seemed to say that China had a role in South Asia and maybe even in Kashmir, and then the IT services dispute and so forth. So I think, yes, it got off to a rather rocky start.

And again, to be fair on the Indian side, you have a complicated coalition government which -- and a lot of other things on your mind, too -- or the Indians' mind, too, so anyway.

And I think that's what -- that's why this visit is so important. And hopefully, in all the dimensions that I mentioned, there will be enough aggregated forward movement that we can put that perception behind us and the two governments can say to one another and to everybody else: Well, we might have gotten off to a kind of slow start here, but now watch our momentum. So that's what I think.

On the elections, well, first of all, I think Indians will be mostly interested in Nikki Haley, the new governor of South Carolina, who, of course, is of Indian origin. But I don't think the election is going to have any serious effect on the president's visit.

Of course, everybody knows that he took a shellacking yesterday. I think he may have even used that word today. So that's no surprise. But I don't expect it to affect any of the three dimensions of the visit that I mentioned earlier. Over the long term, we'll just have to see.

But there's one very important thing to say in the context of your good question, which is, there is very widespread bipartisan support in the Congress and in the American people for the U.S.-India relationship. So unlike some other issues that one can think of, like the new START treaty or how do you deal with China and its currency and so forth, there will be no controversy of that kind given (India/in the ?) -- given the changes that happened yesterday in the election. And that, of course, is very good news.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.


Next question, please.

OPERATOR: At this time, we have no further audio questions. I'm sorry, we had a late queue from Lynn Brecken (ph) with the Bureau of National Affairs.

SCHMEMANN: Okay, thanks.

QUESTIONER: Yes, Ambassador. Can you tell us what the prospects are for the bilateral investment treaty?

BLACKWILL: Well, this is my best understanding. It's still being debated even now inside the administration. I don't know whether they're going to unveil this or not as an initiative. I hope they do and (was it ?) -- let's get to work on this, but I don't know. I myself support it, although it will be complex to negotiate between the two sides and we'll have to see.

But it is an example of what happens at these summits, which is that as you get closer and closer and the higher and higher levels of both governments get involved, then such initiatives as that one get seriously looked at. It doesn't matter so much in the months before, because the folks who are worrying about it then aren't going to be anywhere near the decision when it's made. And so we'll see whether, in the end, as he and his senior people travel to India, whether they will say a yea or a nay to that. But I very much hope it'll be a yea.

And it'll be part of what I was saying earlier, which is a series of -- a series of steps which the two sides commit themselves to to open up trade -- more trade between the two countries and just to do the Indian side of it. I think the Indian side will, in one way or another, plead to the American side to stop using India as a whipping post for problems of job loss.

And as you know, the president himself mentioned Bangalore in a speech a while -- well, a year and a half ago now, and it often comes up that the United States is losing jobs to India and so forth. And I think the data is pretty conclusive that, in fact, more jobs are generated both through American sales to India and through Indian investments in the United States than are, quote, "lost," unquote. But in any case, it's a -- (inaudible) -- issue with the Indians. And I hope that maybe the administration -- and, of course, it's complex back here in terms of U.S. domestic politics -- but will let up on that particular theme and urge others to do so.

But that's a big part of this trip. As you know, there are a couple of hundred American executives. They're not part of the official party, but they are traveling to India in connection with the summit, and the president will be giving a speech to them in Mumbai. I think that's all to the good. And India's business titans will also be involved in various meetings. So I'm very much hoping that at the end -- and we'll know in three or four days -- that there'll be a -- an impressive list of forward movement.

Now, one last point, which is, of course, especially on the Indian side, some of these initiatives, like the market caps and things like that, will have to pass through a parliamentary vote before they would take effect. But the commitment of the Indian government to seek that outcome would be very important in the context of the visit, as would, as I say, lifting the restrictions on imports from the United States of poultry and dairy and so forth.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Operator, if you could remind participants how to get in queue for a question --

OPERATOR: Certainly. (Gives queueing instructions.)

SCHMEMANN: Ambassador, I have a quick question while we wait for any other questioners.


SCHMEMANN: You mentioned China. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on the India-China relationship. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao just announced that he would visit India this year, saying, quote, "There's enough space in the world for both our nations to prosper." What is the future for Chinese-Indian relations?

BLACKWILL: Well, I think it's fair to say now that China-India relations are not very good and, in fact, have been deteriorating for about the last 18 months. And the Indians have a long list of Chinese transgressions, which in my judgment are accurate, having to do with Chinese policy on Kashmir and on the border dispute between the two countries and the so-called "ring of pearls" of Chinese quasi-military installations in Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan and so forth.

So the relations aren't very good between the two. The prime minister keeps saying, and I think deeply believes, that there's no reason why India and China could not have a good long-term relationship. But it isn't clear that the same degree of enthusiasm for that end state is felt in Beijing.

And of course, many Indian strategists think -- and again, I think there's some evidence for this -- that China's preoccupation with Pakistan and long-time close links with Pakistan is closely connected to the Chinese realization that if India is preoccupied, if not pinned down by cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and problems in the India-Pakistan relation, that it will slow the rise of India as a great power. In other words, China using Pakistan to slow India's rise.

So China-India relations are not good, and I myself don't think they're going to get very much better on the geopolitical and security side. Now on the economic side, they're thriving, and of course, that's good for both countries.

Let me just say one other thing about the United States and India and China. The Indians have no interest in thoughts of containing China, a concept that one sees in the American media from time to time. No way faster to clear a Delhi drawing room than to talk -- begin to talk about containing China.

But what India would like is an agreement with the United States that over the long term, the United States and India will keep in close touch, both to the issue of Chinese behavior and trying to decipher it, and second, close touch on trying to shape Chinese external behavior in a positive way.

And so that's what the Chinese national security elite is waiting to hear from the Obama administration, which is, do you see us as a partner, if not the most important partner in Asia, in trying to help manage the rise of Chinese power, not in a confrontational way, but in a way that seeks to find instruments to produce Chinese behavior which is more congenial to both U.S. and Indian long-term vital national security interests? And that wish on the part of India to have that informal understanding with the Americans has been accelerated and intensified by Chinese external behavior over the last year and a half, including, again, to add more, the South China Sea and so forth.

So that's the way India sees China. But there's -- I think it would be true to say that the Indians regard the rise of Chinese power, at least most of them -- most of the Indians, the national security experts -- the rise of Chinese power as the most -- the most important of the long-term strategic challenges facing India. And since at least I believe the rise of Chinese power is the most important long-term challenge -- strategic challenge facing the United States, we ought to have a lot to talk about with the Indians.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Let's see if we have any additional questions.

OPERATOR: No, ma'am. No further audio questions at this time. I'm sorry. Sima Sorohi (ph) from the Bengal Post.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Ambassador Blackwill, I wanted to ask you about U.S. policy towards Pakistan and India. The U.S. has some necessity to -- to remain engaged with Pakistan, but some of what the U.S. gives Pakistan in terms of military aid, India -- it hurts India's strategic core. And then there's the whole issue of terrorism, that terrorism directed against India is somehow felt to be more tolerable than terrorism directed against the West.

Is it possible, in your opinion, to have a better mix of policy so that, you know, Indian fears can be assuaged?

BLACKWILL: Well, I think that's an excellent question, and again, it's a seminar question. We could have a conference on that -- on that terrific question, but I'll put it like this. My own view is that the United States, this administration, but I believed the same thing of the last administration, should put more pressure on Pakistan regarding its support for terrorism against India, and also more pressure on -- and this, of course, is pressure really on the Pakistan military, which controls these matters in Pakistan -- and more pressure on Pakistan military on the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. So I think we should put more pressure on Pakistan.

I would say this, that the administration came into office, like its predecessors, with a theory of how best to influence the behavior of the Pakistan military. And that theory was: If we engage with them, if we give them military aid, if we also have big aid packages for the civil side, the society, if we have an intimacy in our discussions with them, then that's the best strategy to get the Pakistan military to cut back on its support for terrorism both against us, the Americans, in Afghanistan and in -- across the border into India.

So that was a theory of persuasion. It didn't work. I think you could say now, two years on, the Pakistani support for cross-border terrorism has not diminished, the military, and cross-border infiltration was up this summer, and so forth. And then, of course, you have the worry about another iconic attack in India. And the sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban remain unaffected by the Pakistan military -- if not supported by them inside Pakistan.

So the question now is: Well, now what, since the administration tried that theory and it didn't work? And as I say, I think that there have to be -- begin to be consequences for Pakistan -- bad behavior on the part of the Pakistan military. And we'll see after the president has his discussions with the prime minister and the top of the Indian government and comes home, and they'll, I imagine, have a review. We know there'll be a review in December of the Afghan policy, and I assume closely associated with that will be a review of the Pakistan policy.

I very much hope that the United States would be willing to put more pressure on Pakistan; for example, saying military aid is directly tied to the two issues I mentioned before, and we are not going to provide military aid if there is evidence, as there is, that Pakistan is supporting cross-border terrorism against India and if there is evidence, as there is, that Pakistan is supporting these Afghan Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. I wouldn't send a dime -- not 10 cents -- to the Pakistan military if they continue their current conduct.

SCHMEMANN: Okay, thank you.

Operator, do we have any last questions?

OPERATOR: We have a question from Graeme Smith, with The Globe and Mail.

SCHMEMANN: Okay, thanks.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Blackwill, I apologize if you've already covered this waterfront, but you were talking about theories of how you can influence Pakistan, and one of those theories is that you need to solve the Kashmir conflict as a way of decreasing the temperature in Pakistan. But here in New Delhi, where I'm based, you know, it's the "K" word. You -- American intervention on this topic is -- it's seen as highly, highly sensitive. I'm wondering if you think there is anything that Obama could usefully do on Kashmir here.

BLACKWILL: Well, I thank you. And of course, you live there, so you live with it every day. It is incendiary for a senior American to imply that the United States should involve itself in trying to be an intermediary on the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan, and to its credit, the Obama administration says this is a bilateral issue between the two.

I would guess -- I would guess -- that the president, in maybe his one-on-one with the prime minister, might just ask, "Well, how do you think things are going?" especially after the violence in Kashmir in the summertime. And that would be a natural question that any American president in these circumstances would ask. I would be very surprised if he goes further and starts suggesting prescriptions or American involvement.

And one of the reasons, I suppose, for that is that the prime minister keeps reaching out to Pakistan, and I support this myself, to try to find an interlocutor over there that might lower the temperature. And we are reminded, of course -- is that India and Pakistan, through its secret channel near the end of the Musharraf era, actually reached an agreement on Kashmir. And the Indian position I think might be, "Well, we reached that agreement and we're willing to start there." But of course that agreement has been rejected by General Kayani and his associates. So I don't think that Kashmir will figure in -- (audio break) --

QUESTIONER: My apologies. If I could just follow up very briefly: Given that Obama seems unlikely to intervene in any significant way on Kashmir, I'm wondering if that represents in some way a baked-in victory for the -- for the Indians, because Pakistan had wanted some sort of U.S. intervention on this front, had wanted Obama to make Pakistan a stop on this visit, and so -- and had wanted some copy of the Indian nuclear deal. And it seems like on all three of those fronts Pakistan will be disappointed, you know?

BLACKWILL: Well, perhaps it will be. I would just say -- and you know this, since you live in Delhi -- the Pakistan government has been seeking to internationalize Kashmir for 50 years. So it isn't particularly associated with this president or this visit. And they've been, in that sense, disappointed for 50 years. So this is another moment in that -- in that disappointment.

On the nuclear deal, well, A.Q. Khan and the spread of nuclear-weapons technology that was conducted by the government of Pakistan, at least with its acquiescence, I think rules out for any sensible person a civil nuclear deal of the kind that was reached with India, which I guess you know has an exemplary record of protecting such matters.

But I think one point I'd make, which -- you're absolutely right, any American administration when you have a summit in India is also quite aware that this is being read with great care over in Islamabad. And so that will be in the American party's mind as they seek to do the sorts of things that I've been talking about in this call.

But I think what will dominate this particular visit is what I said earlier, which is whether the agreements reached, including on the strategic side, can produce enough corpus of understanding and forward action that both sides will say, well, we may have gotten off to a slow start here in the last couple of years but now we're ready to move forward.

If that makes Pakistan uncomfortable, well, so be it, because none of what I've said, and I think none of what's in the administration's mind, should be in the slightest bit threatening to a reasonable Pakistan audience.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thank you. We are nearing the end of our hour. Operator, if you could just give a final reminder on how to get in queue for questions -- ? Then we'll take any last questions.

OPERATOR: Sure. (Gives queueing instructions.) And at this time we have no further audio questions.

SCHMEMANN: Ambassador, let me ask you a final question, perhaps, to wrap up and to give anyone who has a final question a chance to dial in. President Obama said this week that he noted the significance of visiting India first on his trip to Asia and said he sees India as the cornerstone of America's engagement in Asia -- a strong statement, I think, of the U.S. commitment and interest in India. Why is it, you think -- this is perhaps a psychological question -- why is it that India needs to be reassured about the U.S. relationship?

BLACKWILL: Well -- (chuckles) -- first of all -- and by the way, I salute the president for saying that, and I assume he'll say it in some way or another before the Indian parliament. And I think it's true, and I'm glad he said it in such a straightforward way.

But the Indians in the short term need to be -- need to be reassured, because when the president went on his last trip to Asia, he went -- had his first stop in Tokyo, gave a speech on the United States and Asia, and did not mention the word "India." So that had its consequences in India and raised exactly the question that he just, thankfully, answered.

But this is a relationship that is new. Just to remind, India is the only democracy in the world with which the United States didn't have good relations during the Cold War. And so we had four decades of very difficult relations. And the transformation is only 10 years old. And it hasn't filtered down into the bureaucracies sufficiently on the two sides. So I think it isn't surprising that there are still sensitivities and so forth.

And again I conclude by saying therefore I'm delighted that the president said that and will say it again, and I will be even more delighted if the United States takes steps to make that a living reality.


Last call for questions. Otherwise, we'll conclude this call.

OPERATOR: We have one last question from Ashish Sen with the Washington Times.

SCHMEMANN: Okay, Ashish.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- again. Ambassador, what, in your view, do you feel India needs to do to get this relationship right? You've noted irritants in the relationship, like the liability issue that's cropped up in New Delhi. What do you believe that India needs to do?

BLACKWILL: Well, again, I'll prescribe for India. I'm not hesitant to prescribe for both sides.

First of all, let me begin on the trade side. I think India has to open up its markets to U.S. goods and services. And we all know there's a long history of this going back to the -- before the early 1990s, when that finance minister, who was this prime minister, began the reform process.

It's been rather slow, that reform, economic reform process in recent years, partly because we know the complexity of the coalition. But given India's economic growth, which is exciting and, most importantly, has -- is pulling millions of Indians out of poverty, then I think there is really no reason to have such protectionist regimes to such a degree in India today. So that's the first thing that India can do. And I think that will be very much on the -- for every good reason, will be on the president and his party's mind.

The second is, is on issues of Pakistan -- and here again, I'm speaking very -- I'm on the record, but I always speak very bluntly. Indians often confine their views of Pakistan and how to shape Pakistan's behavior to only criticizing American policy. And I think a very good question for my friends in the Indian strategic community is, what is India's strategy for seeking to shape Pakistan's behavior in a positive way?

And as you look at the Indian punditry on this question, it's mostly devoted to what's wrong with American policy. And as I said earlier, I think there are some things wrong with American policy, but surely it would be in India's interest to debate what's the best long-term strategy for India in trying to shape Pakistan's external behavior.

And then the third thing I would say is, on issues of other strategic importance, India perhaps could do somewhat more, somewhat more to try to open up more candid discussions with the Americans on Afghanistan.

And something I want to say is -- and I think I'm informed about this -- the relationship between the prime minister and the president is excellent. And I think they respect each other and they may -- and it may even be more than that, that a personal relationship is developing. And of course they're both very smart.

But -- and it's again my impression that, going back to last November during the prime minister's visit to the United States, and then also in the various times they've met, at the margin of G-20 meetings and so forth, they have excellent discussions, really excellent, candid exchanges. And I think both sides -- both the leaders are gratified by that.

The problem is that the same degree of candor and incisiveness does not happen very often below them in the rest of their two governments. And so maybe the Indians -- the Americans too, but maybe the Indians could take more initiative to try and make that happen, because on China and on Afghanistan and on Iran and then on -- most of all, for India, on Pakistan, India's going to be enormously affected by American policies in this regard, in all four of those. And so obviously, it's in India's great interest to have as much intimacy as possible as the American decision-making locomotive chugs on forward.

QUESTIONER: (Thank you ?).

SCHMEMANN: Good. Thank you for that. I think that that's a good note -- a positive note to end on. And so with that, I'd like to thank all our participants for this on-the-record conversation with Ambassador Robert Blackwill, and thank you to the ambassador, and a note that some of the ambassador's writings and additional resources on India, as well as Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and other countries in the region, are available on the council's website at

And so, again, thank you all, and thank you, Ambassador.

BLACKWILL: Thank you. Buh-bye everybody.








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