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Richard Boucher Presser in Kathmandu, Nepal

Press Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs

Kathmandu, Nepal
May 3, 2006


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, let me apologize for getting you all up so early this morning. Because of my travel arrangements, this was the only time I could have the chance to see the press and I didn't want to leave Nepal without a chance to meet with you and talk to you and answer your questions, if I can.

I also wanted to say congratulations on "World Press Freedom Day," which we take note of every year.

And finally, I just wanted to say I think I've had a very good visit here -- a chance to meet with political leaders, people from society, look at the situation right now and make sure that we understand it. More important than that, we will do everything we can to support the people of Nepal and the political leaders as they move forward. We're here at a very hopeful moment, a moment of promise but, as with all moments of promise, there's a lot of work to be done and the United States wants to make sure that we are here with you and that we're here to support you as you go forward. Political leaders have pledged themselves to stay unified and to stay together to do what it was that the people wanted them to do. We look forward to supporting them in that task. So with that, and I think I've given you a written statement as well, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: My name is Mr. Josse. I represent People's Review. It's a weekly. Sir, I've a very short question to ask. And it is this: Does the United States support or oppose a Maoist takeover in Nepal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We oppose it. We oppose it because we oppose any kind of "takeover" of Nepal. That's not what this is about; this is about getting everybody involved in the political process, about getting the people of Nepal involved, a choice of what happens to their government. So nobody is going to take over. So anyone who wants to give up violence, anyone who wants to lay down their arms and become part of the political process, should be able to participate. But ultimately, who gets responsibility in Nepal's government has to be a choice of the people of Nepal.

QUESTION: Madhav Acharya, Kyodo news service, Japan. From what happened in Nepal last month the Maoists have emerged as peacemakers. I was wondering if you were contemplating removing them from your watch list.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think we can forget the history of Maoists as a group. What they've done in the villages, what they had continued to do in the villages even when there was a ceasefire in Kathmandu. They've killed people, they've extorted money from people, and they've forced people on to service. So our removing them from any terrorist list and other things is not going to happen until they stop that behavior. It's not a question of what they say in the press or what they're doing temporarily. It's whether they've really stopped terrorist behavior and the only way to be sure of that is for them to lay down their arms, join in a political process, and present themselves to the people of Nepal the way other people do. Other candidates do. See if they can get votes. So it's really the change of behavior we're looking for.

QUESTION: Good morning, Sam Taylor with the AFP. Just in terms of the American position with the Maoists, there was lots of talk before about the danger of the Maoists using the political process to gain legitimacy and then ultimately taking control of the country. Is that still a possibility or are you being assured by what you see in terms of the work between the parties and the Maoists?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I guess what I have to say is first of all one can't estimate how they would fare in the political process. I have to think that after what they've done to a lot of villagers in this country that they wouldn't really get that many votes. But it's not for me to decide; that's for the people of Nepal to decide when they get a chance for fair election.

I think it is important for the parties to stay unified, for the political leadership to carry out the pledges. There's a lot of work, lot of things that they have to do right now. They have to deal with the institutions of the government, the constitution, how they're going to amend it, change it, constituent assembly. It's the whole process. Ceasefire, disarmament, immobilization. So if the parties can stay unified, bring the country through that process, then I don't have much fear of what would happen in an election. An election where the people of Nepal are given the chance to vote. But nobody should think that they can stand for election and if it does not work out the way they want, that they have the option of going back to the fighting. You have to take that option away. That's why people have to give up weapons before the vote.

QUESTION: My name is Binod Bhattarai and

QUESTION: Could you be a little louder please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Ok, I'll try. I'll lift my head up.

QUESTION: My name is Binod Bhattarai and I write for the Financial Times. A statement of your department on April 25 had said the US would like to have a ceremonial monarchy which is missing from the one that we have with us right now. Does that also reflect a shift in what you would have liked?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think it is so much a shift as it is a recognition that at this point in time the decision is with the people of Nepal. We have expressed ourselves in favor of a ceremonial monarchy. We see some virtue in that. I think people here, many of them, see some virtue in that. Many others might not. But at this point the decision is in the hands of the people of Nepal and their political leaders, and how that works out is no longer dependent on statements from the outside, but rather decisions made inside Nepal by the people themselves.

We should go further back

QUESTION: I am Shirish Pradhan from PTI, Press Trust of India. How soon are you going to resume arms supply to Nepal? And do you think that it is necessary to involve international community in disarming the Maoists? And lastly, how can US government help with its expertise as Nepal is going to draft a new constitution through a constituent assembly?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sorry, I have to write it down. On the possibility of US military supplies, or arms supply, that'll be a decision for the government. We want to support Nepal in political areas and economic areas and in security areas. And in each of these things we will be led by the political leaders of the government of Nepal. So, we will talk to them about how we can support the political process, we will talk to them about how we can support the economic needs of Nepal, we will talk to them about how we can support the security needs of Nepal including assistance to the army. As you know we've given assistance to the army in the past, and we're quite prepared to do so in the future. But in all these areas the civilian leadership, the political leadership of Nepal will tell us what they need and when they need it.

On disarmament, the international community might play a role. Again that depends on how the process is set up and how the leaders agree to it and how the leaders, the political leadership, and the Maoists put it together. In many countries around the world there's been a role for the international community to play in the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation process. If it is set up that way here I'm sure the international community would be very glad to help out.

On the third one in terms of expertise in writing the constitution, again, if somebody asks for it we can find something. But that's up to the people involved in writing the constitution.

Should we go way in the back.

QUESTION: I am Tilak Pokhrel with The Kathmandu Post. One of the first is, does the U.S. think the king is a unifying force? That's first. And second Ambassador Moriarty once said that the parties' Maoist understanding was wrongheaded and now the king in a way has also endorsed this understanding, so in this case if the U.S. still thinks so on what basis do you say that the recent developments in Nepal are most exciting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Exactly what was it that you called wrongheaded? I'm sure it was very wrongheaded. But I don't quite understand that portion of the question. As far as whether the monarchy has unifying role, again that is something for the people of Nepal to decide. What the virtues are of having it that way or the virtues are of changing it are things that the people of Nepal will balance and decide on their own.

QUESTION: The United States consistently said that palace and the political parties should work together. But what happened in the end was that political parties and Maoists worked together. How do you see that happening? How do you react to that situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I guess I come back and say, you know, it's important for everybody to work together. Unfortunately the king through his actions of a year ago February, made it very, very difficult for the people of Nepal and for the leaders of the political parties of Nepal to work with him and to get anywhere. Ultimately, the people decided, ultimately the people said the king has got no role anymore. Whether that ends up being a ceremonial role or not, as I said, is up to the people of Nepal and how they vote through their political leadership at the constituent assembly or whatever they decide. But I think the main point that I get from talking to a lot of people is they want to make sure that the king is not able to interfere anymore in the politics the way he had. That he's not able to disband the government and try to take over power.

At the same time, I think if the Maoists are going to lay down their arms and join the political process, one has to make sure that they can't interfere again in the political process by using violence and arms. And that's why giving up their arms and demobilization is such an important part of the way forward. So I think you know these people have a time to work together to achieve certain goals. Ultimately they'll compete in front of the voters and the voters will decide. But it's important that everyone adopt this course of political reconciliation and political decision making and that those involved would not be able to go back and change their minds at some point depending on how they fare.

QUESTION: Keshav Poudel. I work for Spotlight weekly newsmagazine. After meeting with political leaders and civil society members, how do you assess the situation in Nepal right now? Do you think that this transition will go peacefully or ?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it can. I think it, the whole transition, can go peacefully. I found a lot, a number of things. I found there was lot of unity. There's a very strong commitment to the political parties to do what the people had asked for, to make the changes necessary in the constitution, to carry out a ceasefire, get the Maoists to carry out a ceasefire, to go forward with the constituent assembly that would let the people of Nepal elect those who will decide what the shape of the future constitution would be, and to start with, I think, a political program and an economic program that really gets this country back on track.

So I think it's a hopeful moment, as I said, that I did find a lot of determination among the parties to stay together. That's a very, very important part of the process and we will always encourage them to stay together and to act swiftly on the things that people demanded in the demonstrations. Can it all go peacefully? Yes. But it can only go peacefully if the Maoists decide it's time to give up violence and come into political process. They have an opportunity; they have a door open to them. If they are sincere, they can come through it. And it can go well.

QUESTION: This is Sushil Sharma. I work for the BBC. I've two questions. I believe that well, talking about the king again -- I believe that you didn't meet the king this time around. Was it because you didn't want to meet him or it was him who didn't want to meet you? That's my first question. And the second question is about your future policy towards Nepal. During this direct rule of the king you had been coordinating with India like in pressing the king to restore democracy. Now that democracy has been restored, do you still plan to coordinate with India in helping Nepal in rebuilding Nepal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The answer is: no, it's not one and it's not the other, as far as why I didn't meet with the king this time. As you know I had a limited amount of time that I was going to be here in Nepal. And I arrived yesterday and I'll be leaving in about an hour. So the question before us was how I should best spend my time. And I wanted to see the political parties; I wanted to see the political leaders. I wanted to see the people in whose hands the decisions about the future of this country rest. That's where I spent my time rather than anywhere else. So I'd say I concentrated on the dynamic of the moment, I concentrated on where things were moving, and that's how I spent my limited amount of time. So I decided that I'd spend more time with political parties and not do other things.

On the question of coordinating with India, yes we will coordinate with quite a few other countries. We find there's a lot of interest overseas in the situation Nepal, particularly in India, and I'll actually be in India this afternoon with my colleague from the National Security Council and we'll be talking with the Indians about Nepal as well as a number of other things. So, we will continue to talk with India. As you know, we've got our own policy, but it's very important that outside countries work together and that's what we intend to do.

QUESTION: I am Kumar Lamichhane. I represent Nepal 1 Television. Two questions to ask to you. My first question is that, if you said that Maoists should give up the arms and violence to join the mainstream politics for the purpose of constituent assembly if their arms and the arms of the national security forces are kept beyond use, would that be riskier thing or not? My second question is, you've been in good coordination with India regarding Nepal. For the confidence building measure can you ask India to release detained Maoist leaders in India? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: On the first one, putting weapons beyond use at the time of the constituent assembly, that'll be part of the process, somewhere along the way, whether that's what the political parties and the leadership decides, is necessary at this point at that particular stage in the evolution. I really leave for them to decide. But, I think, again, it comes down to that basic point. It's not a particular definition of this mechanism or that mechanism. It's the basic point: Have the Maoists, will the Maoists give up their arms, give up the violence, join the political parties, join the political process in a way that everybody knows, that people here could be confident, that they are not going to go back to violence if they happen to be disappointed with the results? It has to be an irrevocable choice and that's by whatever method is used for making sure that they're not going to go back to the jungles; that it will be an effective one.

On the question of India, and releasing the people that they detained, I'll see this afternoon what they have to say about Maoists. I haven't seen any particular reports of people detained, so I don't know that there's anything to do on that score.

QUESTION: My name's Charles Haviland, I'm also with the BBC. Got two questions. One is, is the US more neutral on whether Nepal should be a kingdom or a republic in the future? And the second question is slightly long one. You mentioned in one of your previous answers, the parties acting swiftly on demands of those who were demonstrating. Of course, demonstrations which or because of which 15 plus people lost their lives. But there are signs that the parties are not acting swiftly and are slipping back in I think what you can call their bad old ways. What kind of pressure would the United States put, or to put it more positively, support will the United States put on perhaps forwarding, trying to promote some of those aims that were and are still being voiced by the people in the street?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As far as whether we're neutral on kingdom or republic, I don't know how to answer the question at this juncture because it's really out of our hands. It's going to be decided as a part of this process that goes forward. We're happy to see it decided that way. So I guess we'll just let the process take place and the people -- either the political leadership through the parliament right now or the people in the constituent assembly -- decide how it's going turn out and we'll see how it turns out. I think we're like many others at this point; the process has started, we're just interested in seeing how it turns out.

On the question of making progress and how we can support or push for more progress if we don't think it's fast enough, I think there's a lot of things we can do to support political progress, whether it's to provide experts as needed or just provide our ongoing rhetorical support, with an emphasis on the importance of results. We can also help institutions in Nepal like the CIAA, the commission that deals with corruption, or help the election commission, or help the other institutions of the government that need to work this process forward. We can support the political parties in their efforts to get information and education. So there's probably a lot of things that we can do, and we'll look to, as I said, support the political process, support the economic recovery, and support the security situation as the civilian leadership decides we should.

I think that's enough. OK, last question.

QUESTION: Sudeshna, Indo-Asian News Service.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher you said you had a very short time here and you made the best use of it by meeting the decision makers. You met Pyar Jung Thapa yesterday. Do you think the Royal Nepalese Army is going to be one of the decision makers in future instead of parliament?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think I quite used the word decision maker, but I said something like that. I think that the army is going to have a very important role to play. The army has to help defend the nation; it has to help defend the nation against threats. They also have to be able to implement the ceasefire, and carry it out. So I wanted to check with the army and see, first of all, that they were supporting the political process, that they were supporting the civilian leaders in Nepal, and second of all talk to them about how they saw their job in the days ahead, and how, when a civilian leadership wanted us to, we could support them in the future.

So, I think it was a good visit; they made certainly very clear to me as they have in public and elsewhere that the army is going to support the political process, that the army is going to respond to civilian authority, and that the army is going to defend the nation in the days ahead. And that I think is a very important commitment that I wanted to hear for myself. So I just felt it was important part of the process, one of the players as we go forward is going be the army and it was important for me to meet with them.

QUESTION: Can I ask a supplementary question to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: OK.

QUESTION: How would the army implement the ceasefire?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: In whatever way is appropriate. That's as far as I can go. I think it's up to the civilian leaders to come out with the kind of ceasefire that they want and the kind of rules that need to be respected during this period. And the army, I would expect, would want to support that process, would want to follow those rules and as this period goes forward. I don't know what those rules are going to be, what the code of conduct's going be for both the parties during the elections, but I would certainly expect both government and the Maoists to respect the ceasefire, and it'll be very important to monitor that. We'll be reading the press very avidly to see if people indeed are respecting the ceasefire.

OK. Thank you very much.

Released on May 3, 2006

ENDS


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