Richard Boucher Remarks at Press Roundtable
Remarks at Press Roundtable
Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
April 20, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It's good to see you all again. There's obviously a lot happening in the region. I was very pleased to be able to make my first big trip out there on my own and I think I saw a lot of people, hopefully moved some things forward in terms of our relationships, but also learned a lot myself about the region.
I think it is significant that I started off in Kabul at a conference on regional integration sponsored by the Afghan government and the Johns Hopkins School of -- SAIS, right? Johns Hopkins University. It was very interesting. I think we all understand the potential that's out there for cooperation between South and Central Asia, provide sources of energy that can move southwards; provide sources of goods, supplies, investment that can move northwards.
Afghanistan is a key point. It's a pivot point for these kinds of plans. While we all share the vision we also want to move into reality and look at how to do this in a practical say. So we're indeed working with governments in the region. We talked about it in all the places I stopped.
We have a big electricity conference coming up in Istanbul in June. We see U.S. companies and others working with the governments in the region on power and transmission. The U.S. is also funding transmission power lines in Afghanistan. So there are a lot of pieces that are starting to come together on this, but I think translating the vision into a reality is going to be a big one for us.
I also went to India and Pakistan to follow up on the President's visit. We came out of those visits with a lot of very specific things we want to do in our relationships and a lot of those things now fall to us in working levels of the bureaucracy to make sure they really happen.
Pakistan is a very broad agenda for the United States. It's one that goes from strategic cooperation to economic cooperation to promoting education together, to helping Pakistan achieve its big goal of enlightened moderation, becoming a more moderate, more democratic society. So we worked on many important aspects of that to carry it out and we'll be working on more next week. The Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Riaz Kahn, is coming and will be meeting with us, with Under Secretary Burns, to pursue our efforts to talk about all these efforts and try to keep moving them forward so we keep the ball rolling and keep up the momentum of the President's trip to Pakistan which is very important to us because it's such a vital relationship and such a broad one for us.
In India, again, I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of people at various levels, but I would highlight in some ways the meeting with Joint Secretaries from the Foreign Ministry where we were able to talk about regional issues, multilateral issues, places where we're both concerned like Nepal. Plans for Central Asia, areas where the United States and India can cooperate by promoting democracy around the world. I think that's a good symbol not only of how we're following up on the President's specifics, and we did go through a long list of specific agreements, but also how we're following up on what I think the President and Prime Minister made clear is a very broad relationship that involves U.S.-India cooperation in many, many areas. Many areas including some where we have not cooperated before.
So all in all I found it a very useful trip. I also went to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. We share a lot of the same goals in terms of development in the region, opening up options for the countries of the region, opening up opportunities for the citizen of the region.
So I felt it was a very good visit. I'll go back to a few other places in early May. I keep going out there as often as I can, but also keep seeing many of the players here in Washington as they come through.
I think we have a very active diplomacy in the region in all areas. I won't go through every single one now, but I think it's a good time for me to just take your questions on that basis.
QUESTION: There was a very little news item in Tuesday's Post about India's commitment not to have any more nuclear tests and they denied that they made such comment in any formal negotiation. I heard Secretary Burns say [inaudible] that India is moving towards like the NPT framework.
Any comment on this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think there's a bit of mischaracterization here. I don't know if it was the Post or the way you phrased it. But I think we all understand that India has a moratorium on nuclear testing and has made a public commitment itself, based on its own decision, to continue that moratorium on nuclear testing. I think that's very important to us and others who look forward to cooperating with India in the area of nuclear power, civilian nuclear power. And we look for that to continue and that's one of the bases on which we're establishing this new cooperation so it's not surprising to find that encoded in various forms in the documents we write and the statements we make. But it was India's decision to do that, just as the major nuclear powers themselves have decided not to test.
QUESTION: There won't be any pressure from the United States if they change their stance at any time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think you see in the draft law and elsewhere the fact that this is, the Indian decision to have a moratorium on nuclear testing is one of the bases on which we think we should, we can undertake this civilian nuclear cooperation.
QUESTION: You used the term that the agenda in Pakistan is very broad and one of the elements is to make Pakistan more democratic. In the context of what it is today, what would "more" constitute?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Democracy is elections but it's also building institutions. It's building a foundation for democracy. An educated population. It's building a foundation for democracy through a strong and independent press which I think one can say that Pakistan has at this point, through a strong and independent judiciary, and also moving to elections which is a goal that President Musharraf has committed to.
When I was in Pakistan I met with the head of the Election Commission, for example, who has a very important role in ensuring that there's a fair election and a level playing field for all the parties. And we will support his work as much as we can.
I also met with representatives of the different political parties, not all of them, many of them, to get a feel for how they approached this and their willingness to engage with the Commission, engage with each other to try and ensure a fair and free election. I think that's one of the elements.
But there's more to building a stable democratic basis for Pakistan than just having the election. That's important. We want to make sure it succeeds, but we also want to help build the broader institutions of society.
QUESTION: How about a uniformed general siding with only one political party? Is that okay? What you have said is generic. We do want education, we do want economic strength and everything.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: There are a lot of questions that come up in the context of an election. There are a lot of questions that come up in the context of building democracy. Everybody seems obsessed with one particular question. I want to see that question resolved in the broad context of moving towards a more democratic nation and towards a successful election next year.
QUESTION: Talk a little bit about what's happening in Nepal. The last couple of weeks you have seen a lot of statements coming out of the State Department very more generalized, but it looks as if things are slipping rapidly to a low point there. So what exactly, other than putting out, saying that you want the King to talk to people and other things, what exactly is the State Department going to do or the Bush administration going to do in Nepal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Let me be as specific as I can and start out by noting that we are in touch with other governments on Nepal, in particular the government of India on Nepal. We're making all our efforts to try to ensure a peaceful restoration of democracy there.
To be as specific as I can in response in to your request, we think it's time. It's time for the King to return political power to the parties so that they can appoint a Prime Minister and take over governance. It's time for the King to adopt a more ceremonial role and let the political process go forward.
We are prepared to help with the political parties, with training, organization, whatever we can do to ensure that they can govern more effectively. We are helping and will continue to help with things like the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, which again are very important elements in ensuring clean, effective governance. We think it's time as well for the Maoists to adopt a real ceasefire, to end their violence, and to participate solely in the political process.
We're also very concerned in the last few days that the security forces have used what I think we'd have to call excessive force and that this has resulted in quite a few deaths. So we think it's time that they respect the people and time for them to return to the role of guaranteeing the safety of the nation. But this has gone on long enough for all the parties. The King needs to make the first move, but the international community I'm sure will also help Nepal get back on a solid footing when he makes the right choice.
QUESTION: While you were in New Delhi you created sort of a mini-tsunami when you spoke about the fact that you would like to know what India's credible minimum nuclear deterrence was. Shyam Saran sort of said no way are we going to tell anyone what our minimum nuclear deterrent is and he said that you did not bring it up during your conversation with him. But obviously he thought you were not winging it, it was not inadvertent.
So is the U.S. still wanting to know what India's critical minimal nuclear deterrent is?
And on the thing about the bilateral agreement, Nick used to tell us that it is almost a formality, just technical agreement. But this thing seems to have created waves now, and won't that create complications in terms of the Congressional people wanting to know whether India is in a sense going to abide by the CTBT or not? Because after all it's Kerry, Biden, and your Clinton crowd who are wanting to know whether India is going to show this bilateral agreement [inaudible].
But the mini-tsunami thing first. [Laughter].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I didn't feel any mini tsunamis. What I felt was that some people who misread my remarks and distorted questions asked on that basis created a mini storm in a mini teacup. But no. It's long been a position of the United States that we think that all the parties in the region need to think about strategic stability. We welcome the discussions that the Indians and Pakistanis have had on that subject. We've had our own discussions with each of the parties on the questions of strategic stability in the region. We think those are worth pursuing, and as part of that we do think it's important to talk about and think through more some of the doctrine involved.
That's as far as I went in the speech. You can look at exactly what I said. I'm sure we have it on the web site. But no one should get too excited about a restatement of the interest and a position the United States has long held.
On the question of the bilateral agreement, we do think it's a fairly straightforward process. It's going to be something that we have to negotiate, we have to discuss. We're not going to discuss it through the press or in public. We're not going to start posturing based on positions that are ascribed to us or pieces of paper that might have been leaked. We look forward to hearing from the Indian government and sitting down with them to negotiate.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't have a precise timing on that. I think we're certainly ready to do that pretty soon, but I'd have to hear from the Indians. I'm not sure I'm up to date on exactly when they might have something for us. But no, we'll sit down and negotiate with them. We think it's, obviously we don't have the exact same position on the text. We'll have to talk about it. But that's a normal part of diplomatic life, we look forward to doing it. So I don't see it as overly complicated, although the whole process, one has to remember, you have to negotiate the agreement, and then we have to go through a whole process here with our Congress to get it approved.
I think it's important that when we asked our senators and congressmen to vote on the civilian nuclear arrangement that they understand not just the overall picture as far as the benefits, strategic benefits, the benefits of India's energy system, what we think is a net plus on the non-proliferation side, but that they also understand where some of the other pieces are.
So as India proceeds with its talks with the IAEA on the safeguards agreement, as we proceed with India on the bilateral agreement, we hope those things will move forward and that we'll be able to keep our Congress well informed so that they understand where the different pieces are as they proceed with their work on their piece.
QUESTION: My question is again on the civilian nuclear deal. When Secretary Rice was testifying before the House and the Senate there was questions that were repeatedly forced to her about India and the IAEA deciding on the list of safeguards, and one of the provisions that will be enshrined specific to the India context. And that is something that the Congress wanted to see before they wanted a vote on this.
Has there been any further pressure? Is the administration looking at that as a serious option?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We have told our Congress we will keep them informed as best we can not only of discussions we have with India on the bilateral side but also of the progress that India makes with the International Atomic Energy Agency. As you know, India has already had a visit by Mr. Kakodkar to Vienna to talk to Director General ElBaradei about the safeguards agreement. We look forward to their working together as soon as they can and getting down to business there and to their own discussion and negotiation.
But I think these are all things that need to proceed together. Each piece wants to know what the other piece is doing. One can't regulate the timing of these different bodies so we have an exact sequence, but I think as we proceed with Congress, with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, in our bilateral discussions with India, in India's discussions of safeguards, that each part of this needs to know what's happening in the other part so that we all have an assurance that the pieces are going to work well together.
QUESTION: If I can follow up, well then can we reasonably expect the timeline is going to be shifted much further down, there's also talk of nothing happening until after the elections, and then there is the Iran issue, since a lot of senators have been bring that up as well, and is that complicating matters?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I don't think we need to shift the timing. I think we need to proceed quickly on all these fronts, and I think we can. It's our hope to do that, I think it's India's hope to do that as well.
As far as the Iran issue, I think just the other day India restated its basic policy which was that India doesn't want to see another nuclear power in the neighborhood. It is as concerned as anybody is about the prospect that Iran might get a nuclear weapon. In fact we've seen India act on that policy in terms of some of the votes it's taken in the IAEA.
So no, I don't think -- I mean it's an area of continuing interest to us and to people in the Congress, but we've also seen India maintain a pretty consistent policy on the subject in recent months.
QUESTION: Kyrgyzstan's President Bakiev said very loudly and very clearly yesterday that his government is ready to unilaterally terminate the agreement with the United States which allows it to use Manas Coalition Airbase. Please give your thoughts about these comments and about a possible increase in payment for the usage of this base. It was not discussed until I think he said June 1st. I was wondering if you could comment on his remarks, if you foresee the situation when you would have those really [inaudible].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Let me say a couple of things. First of all I think it's important for everyone to remember that the use of Manas Airbase by coalition forces, principally the United States, is for the safety and security of everyone in the region. It's there to help stop the terrorism and help develop stability in Afghanistan. It's there to help with the security and stability of the whole region, including Kyrgyzstan and the other nations. It contributes to the safety and security of other nations like Russia that are in the neighborhood because they don't want to see terrorism coming out of this part of the world either. So we all need to remember first and foremost, that this is a joint effort by the United States, coalition partners, and the Kyrgyz government. It's in all our interests in the interest of promoting stability and stopping terrorism in this region.
Second of all, we are in negotiations. With every negotiation there's always a certain amount of pushing that goes along. We are prepared to negotiate and discuss these issues in good faith. We have an active discussion ongoing with the Kyrgyz government. I talked to President Bakiev and others about the situation when I was out there. So we do think that this is in all our interests and that these discussions can be brought to a successful conclusion. So rather than sort of speculating on alternatives at this point I'll just say it's our determination to conclude these negotiations successfully and we think it should be everybody's determination to do that as well.
QUESTION: [inaudible] you are not ready to pay $200 million dollars as they have suggested?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What is the appropriate cost involved in using the airbase in this way, what's the appropriate reimbursement to the government there is a matter of discussion that we will have. It will be based on objective criteria and not on some figure pulled out of a hat. So we'll sit down and discuss that with them.
QUESTION: My name is Arshad Mahmud, I'm from Bangladesh.
I understand you are traveling through Bangladesh next month. This would be [inaudible] there. I guess also this would be a [inaudible] trip, the first Assistant Secretary taking over.
Things are heating up as you must have noticed. There is violence every day almost between the two parties. There has always been and will be a [inaudible] election [inaudible]. Beyond your standard advisor, friendly advice, whatever every time you --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Our standard friendly advice. Yes. [Laughter].
QUESTION: We believe in democracy, that two parties should come together.
Is there anything specific that you might want to tell them? This is one.
Number two, the United States annual aid to Bangladesh has come down to about $70 million dollars. And Bangladesh pays about $300 million dollars in duties to get to your market, and this is one of the big issues in that country, that they're asking for more easy access to your market. That would ease the economic problems, create more jobs. Could you be commenting on that and how can you [inaudible]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I do look forward to going to Bangladesh soon, "hopefully" next month. Don't forget that word. I don't have a date yet but we're looking to schedule it fairly early. Maybe not on the next trip but another one after that.
We just sent a new ambassador out there. She's on the ground working hard for us and I think really gives us a new opportunity to move forward on all the policy fronts.
I think it's important not to just look at everything today or yesterday but to step back a little bit, not too far, a couple of months worth, and realize that we have seen some significant progress in Bangladesh. We've seen the arrest of two major terrorist leaders. We've seen excellent cooperation certainly with us on the counter-terrorism front, cooperation that will continue. It's very important to all of us.
We've seen a willingness of all the political leaders to participate in the discussions leading up to the next election, sort of political cooperation or moving the struggle to a political realm, whatever it is, but to try to work together to get to the next election in a manner that is fair to both the big parties, to all the parties.
So I think those are good things and I think the basic trends in Bangladesh have been good despite the continued demonstrations and the occasional violence and the continued presence of terrorists there. But we're going to keep working on these things. We're going to keep working with the government to try to help them move forward in a peaceful manner to the next election, help them solidify their fight against terrorism, and help with economic development as well.
I don't have an answer instantly for you on the tariff and trade front. I just don't know it that well personally myself. I'd have to look into it and get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Is it solely dependent on the Congress or the U.S. government can do something about that? I'm just confused about that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I would have to look at it. It depends on the various product categories. Bangladesh benefits from many opportunities in the U.S. market. Whether there are more opportunities we can give to Bangladesh and whether that would require legislation, I just don't know at this point.
QUESTION: You did meet with members of the opposition in Pakistan and as press reports, they have suggested their concerns about the upcoming elections, particularly the barring of two former prime ministers from taking part in the elections. So in order to give a level playing field what is the United States position on letting everyone?
And the second thing, what kind of cooperation is the United States looking for Pakistan in the case of Iran.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Those are two widely different questions. Why don't I pick which one I feel like answering right now. No, let me try to do a little bit on both.
I met in Pakistan with representatives, leaders of a number of the political parties. Not just opposition, not just pro government, but people across the political spectrum. It was important to me as we head towards an election year next year to get a feel from them on what their concerns were, how they were willing to help and work with the process, what their attitude was towards the Election Commission and the upcoming election. So I think I benefited a lot from hearing from them and I was able to reflect some of the views that I heard from them in terms of my discussions and the things I've been looking at subsequently about how we proceed.
As far as individual parties and their leadership, as you know there are various issues connected with those people and I think for the moment I have to just leave that between them and the government of Pakistan.
As far as Pakistan and Iran, I think our concerns are well known about Iran. I think countries in the region understand that Iran's history of trying to develop nuclear weapons, violating its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, supporting violence and terrorism, interfering in some of the neighboring countries as in Iraq. These are dangerous things that one has to be very careful in one's dealings with Iran.
At the same time I think we understand there are people that are neighbors to Iran that have to get along, that have various common concerns, border concerns. Drug smuggling, for example, that comes down out of Afghanistan through Pakistan into Iran, and that people need to deal with the issues that are important to them in their neighborhood with their neighbors.
QUESTION: With the re-organization in the State Department and your bureau to include the Central Asian countries, how different is your policy going to be towards Central Asia than the bureau they were previously under?
And another question, is the Vice President going to Kazakhstan? Is Kazakhstan taking a more central role, a leadership role in Central Asia [inaudible]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Let me try to work backwards. We look to have a good relationship with all the countries of the region. Kazakhstan is obviously a very important player in many respects in the field of energy, in terms of security of the region, in terms of the kind of economic reform it's had, in terms of the kind of goals it's announced to promote a more democratic society, in terms of its interest in investing and pursuing these plans for regional integration and the supply of energy as far south as Pakistan and India. So there are many areas where we do cooperate with Kazakhstan, but we're not picking leaders for the region. We're just looking at how can we develop our relationships.
An important part of all our relationships in that region has been and continues to be the relationships that they have with Europe and European institutions. The NATO Partnership for Peace. Cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Cooperation with the European Union. The pipelines that offer opportunities to export to Europe either through Russia or through Turkey. So there are a lot of aspects of these countries' development that link them to Europe. We think that's very important and we want to maintain all those things. So we're not changing any of the things that have been done in the past.
We do think that these countries deserve to have as many options as possible. They need to have options of cooperation, trade, energy relationships with Russia, with China, with Europe, with countries to the south like India, Pakistan, with the United States. The more options they have the better. The more choices they have, the more they have their own independence and the guarantee of their independence is having choices.
So our goal is to take what they've got, continue it, and try to develop things even more in terms of their relationship with the United States and develop some of the regional opportunities.
Unfortunately, Uzbekistan is a case of really where Uzbekistan has been closing itself off from its neighbors, from its region, and from these opportunities. They've regrettably engaged in a lot of repression at home, closed down not only foreign non-governmental organizations but something like 2,000 domestic ones. They've closed their borders to trade. They've closed their borders to economic opportunity. That's very sad. It's sad for the people of Uzbekistan and it - I guess detracts from the overall potential of the region, but we certainly hope that they change that policy. We certainly think it's time for them to realize that cutting themselves off is not doing them any good. They need to open up, they need to move forward like other people in the region are moving forward.
QUESTION: Voice of America, Afghan Service. There is concern regarding Iran becoming a nuclear power and involving Iraq. There are some concerns and actually reports that Iran actually helped Taliban and collaborators are actually in Pakistan trying to help keep the war against the coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
What's your assessment about Iran's involvement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I really don't have an assessment at this point. That's a question I'll have to ask myself and see if there's anything to it. We've talked to the Afghans and the Pakistanis about developments in the region. I hadn't heard that before but it's something I'd have to look into to find out if there's anything to it.
QUESTION: There is some confusion on a certain point which I hope you can clear up. Whereas it has been stated by more than one official, including Nick Burns, that Pakistan was kept informed all along why thetreaty, the nuclear deal with India was being negotiated. Apparently Pakistan gave no objections. But since the announcement here there has been noises to the contrary.
For example, on the 10th of April the foreign office, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, she said that what Pakistan was told was quite different to what Washington had been conveying, what actually was going on. In fact there had been, as if Pakistan has been taken by surprise.
So I would like to know what the situation was. Was Pakistan kept informed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I didn't see those remarks. We kept --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, that's okay. I'm not going to react to them. I don't play tit-for-tat with spokesmen any more. [Laughter]. That's my old job. [Laughter].
Let me just tell you the situation and you can analyze it as you wish. We did keep Pakistan well informed of how things were proceeding. We felt it was important for the understanding of everybody in the region that they knew where we stood and how we were proceeding. We kept our Congress informed as well since last July. Really what we did during the President's visit to India in March was carry out the policy that we announced last July when the Prime Minister was in Washington.
Obviously there were a lot of details that weren't settled until the final moments. As you all know, we were still negotiating with the Indians as they were preparing their separation plan, still discussing with them what we felt had to be there and what they were willing to put in there. There were obviously a lot of details one couldn't brief in advance because they just weren't settled in advance. But with that exception I think we kept Pakistan fairly well informed. They knew what was coming.
I think it is important to remember that we always said this was going to be a civilian nuclear deal. It entails cooperation on the civilian side. It in no way promotes or supports or advantages further developments on the military side. Those are the parameters we set for ourselves, those are parameters set in our law and our international understandings, and that's the kind of agreement we reached. So I think what we were briefing people, what we were saying in public was in fact what we accomplished.
QUESTION: Earlier you spoke about democracy [inaudible] about which you were very general about Bangladesh. It has been apprehended that probably questions are being increasingly raised about the objectivity and neutrality of the election commission as well as about the caretaker government. And reforms are being demanded and the government has agreed to have some sort of discussion.
Do you have any specific suggestions, because now the question, are that there are two strategies being played by both the parties on the street as well as in the negotiations. Do you have any suggestions about activity?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't. I don't think it's for me to start specifying. What's most important to us is that we see the parties cooperate, the parties participate in the process, the parties try to reach agreement on a fair set of rules for an election so that the people can have their voice and decide who the leaders are going to be. There does seem to be progress in that direction and we welcome that, but I don't think it's for us to go beyond that and specify how it has to turn out.
I have to say in various other places in the region when I was talking to political leaders, several of them in different places said we should have a system like Bangladesh where they have a neutral election commission and a caretaker government. So whatever the debate is inside Bangladesh about how the system works, there's at least some theoretical admiration for the fact that Bangladesh has a system and that it has certain benefits.
QUESTION: Chidu Rajghatta, The Times of India. I apologize, I came in late I don't know if this question has been already --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That's okay.
QUESTION: In the Administration's view, is the concept of a minimum strategic deterrent static or dynamic?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Gee, I don't know. [Laughter]. I can't do the quantum physics part of it. [Laughter].
Just a kind of general foreign policy observation and I think I've heard the Indians say this, it's an evolving concept because the environment where they have to decide these things is an evolving environment. I made I think some specific references to that in a speech I gave in India.
QUESTION: On the timing of the Civil-Nuclear Agreement, are you still hopeful it will be done this calendar year? And related to that, there has been some speculation in the last few days that in terms of legislative tactics, one idea that's being purported is the actual agreement when it comes to Congress acting on it could be added onto an appropriations bill to speed it along. Can you comment on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: All I can tell you is we're still hopeful it will happen not just this year but within the next few months. We think that the Congress has heard a lot from the administration. The Senate is going to have hearings next week and the House soon after that from a number of private witnesses. There are a lot of OpEds being written and letters being written and people making clear a lot of different views on the agreement. So there's an abundance of information I think, and we would hope the Congress would find itself in a position to digest this information and proceed with the legislation.
I think we're still hopeful it can happen in the next couple of months. The Congress, however, sets its own schedule so I can't make any promises to anybody. We don't tell them what to do. They decide on their own when they'll do it.
As far as a legislative vehicle goes, again, that's not something I've gotten into very far at this point so I don't know what they will use. The sponsors of the legislation have put it forward in a separate bill. Whether they decide to use some other vehicle or not, I don't know.
QUESTION: Hasmukh Shah, from the Business Times. You have been good enough to answer questions on politics, diplomacy, and other subjects, but not on economics and commerce. I would like to put a question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good.
QUESTION: Under the Joint Statement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh, emphasis has been placed on the rural development and agriculture. Now with that cooperation [inaudible] there is an expectation in India that they will be able to export mangos, the king of the fruits, to America. Is there anything going in that direction? [Laughter].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I am as big a fan of the mango as anyone. [Laughter]. I certainly hope that we move expeditiously on this. As I mentioned, there were a number, a long list of things we agreed to during the President's visit, and one of the things I did very carefully with my Indian counterparts was to go through and say okay, where are we on the agricultural initiative? I've got to move some money, we've got to form a committee. Where are we on the science and technology initiative? Okay, we have to get agreement together on this, to know exactly where we are and to move together to put in place all the pieces to make these things really work.
The mango question I think is in the hands of our agriculture departments. They worked out a basic framework for the export, for the sanitary/phyto-sanitary conditions for the export of mangos and now the experts have to kind of work out the details. But the basic agreement is there. I think they're working on it already. But we will make sure that this is done.
It does take a certain amount of technology and a certain amount of regulation to be done, so they're not going to be there right away. It will probably be next season by the time we get our mangos. But I look forward to sharing them with you when they arrive. [Laughter].
QUESTION: [inaudible] this summer.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You may have to wait.
QUESTION: [inaudible] all of the good mangos [inaudible].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I'll eat as many as I can. I can't promise the whole crop.
Thank you all. I appreciate it.
Released on April 28, 2006