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Richard A. Boucher -South and Central Asia Update

South and Central Asia Update

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia
Foreign Press Center Briefing
Washington, DC
July 17, 2006

2:10 P.M. EDT

MR. BAILY: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher will be briefing. Before that I just wanted to mention that tomorrow we have another briefing on the Doha round and the issue of agriculture with a representative from the United States Trade Representative.

With that, I'll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Boucher. He'll make a few comments and then be happy to take your questions from the people in this room but also from New York and over the web. Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Very good. Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be back with you here at the Foreign Press Center, always one of my favorite places even though I didn't make it here as often as I should have. But it's good to see many of you again, many old friends, and come and talk a little bit about what's going on in South and Central Asia.

I've been at this new job now for about five or six months so I thought it was maybe a good chance to come by and talk to you about the many things that are going on in this region. I was just out in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the Secretary of State and, as you know, one of the first things I did on the job was to accompany the President to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. So we've certainly devoted a lot of high-level attention to this region over the past several months.

I think one of the most interesting things to me is sort of coming in to take the Secretary's logic of putting South and Central Asia together and see what we could actually accomplish in concrete terms. And I think you've heard us talk and brief before about the potential of South and Central Asia, the energy potential of Central Asia, the markets of South Asia, Pakistan and India, the sources of supply and goods from the south, the sources of financing and investment from the north. Many opportunities here and I think we all see those theoretical opportunities and the overwhelming opportunity of developing a region of stable democracies between the Middle East and South Asia, between Russia and China, a region that can stand on its own and move forward in the world as a region of, as I said, democratic stability and newfound prosperity.

And so a lot of what we've been doing is trying to make these ideas become a reality and indeed putting the region together in this way makes sense. We want to see Central Asia and the others maintain their ties to Russia and China and Europe and Turkey and everywhere else. We want to see new ties develop. The more options they have, the more choices they have, the more independence they have.

So we've been working on electricity, and indeed funded electricity studies and see develop the prospects of electricity lines from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan down to Pakistan, and the countries of the region themselves are working on this.

We've been working with the Asian Development Bank, the Kazakhs and others on an all-weather highway from Almaty to Karachi, with other pieces that can go in different places, and the United States is funding the bridge -- a key component of that, a bridge from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, as well as getting the ring road finished in Afghanistan. So Afghanistan is now a place of transit and a place of contact and not an obstacle to cooperation.

We've also been working with countries in the region on the issues of trade policy, customs procedures, border security. All these things can make trade flow so that the production of Central Asia, the melons of the Ferghana Valley, can make it to the markets of the south. And making sure that all those trade relationships are in play is another important part of integration.

And then there is cooperation in South Asia itself. Obviously there are difficulties with this. South Asian free trade and South Asian regional cooperation remains very important to us and we'll be working with the countries of the region to try to encourage them to cooperate with each other.

It's an ambitious agenda for the whole region and for many of the individual countries that the United States is promoting here. We have, I think, accomplished a lot with India and it's also coming up tomorrow, the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Singh's visit to the United States. So it's a good occasion, I think also, to recognize that we are taking the vision that the Prime Minister and the President enunciated, taking many of the concrete programs that the President and the Prime Minister announced during the President's visit to India in March, and turning those into reality, turning those into commissions and funding and studies and legislation and especially moving forward very quickly on the U.S.-India civil nuclear arrangements.

Our Congress has been very supportive. We've seen legislation move now from committees in the House and the Senate. We look forward to seeing votes in the House and the Senate, maybe this month. There are some -- I think the House will be acting, perhaps in the next week, and we hope the Senate will as well.

So the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is on track. The legislation is moving forward quickly and the United States is keeping our commitment of turning the President's and the Prime Minister's vision into reality that the companies can use for cooperation and that we can use to help support Indian economic growth and India's economic future.

The other area that I'd like to talk about a little bit is Pakistan and Afghanistan, the war on terror. Our relationship with Pakistan is much broader and we have initiated a whole series of dialogues with Pakistan -- the Strategic Dialogue, the Economic Dialogue, the Education Dialogue, the Science Dialogue -- all these areas where we have real practical cooperation going on with Pakistan, helping Pakistan with its energy needs as well.

In addition to that, there's a lot of cooperation with Pakistan in terms of helping the Pakistani Government support its efforts out in the border regions. You have in both Pakistan and Afghanistan a similar process going on of government extending its control, extending its peaceful and beneficial activities to the edges of the frontier on both sides, and we're supporting the Pakistani Government in doing that and on the Afghan side of the border we're supporting the Afghan Government in doing that. So that with the deployment of NATO troops, the deployment of policemen, drug eradicators, but also the building of roads, building of electricity lines, irrigation schemes, government offices, we're helping both Pakistan and Afghanistan extend their authority out to the edges of the country so that these places can't be used by terrorists to fight us, to fight NATO, to fight the Afghan Government and to fight the Pakistani Government; and in the end, in addition to the actual fighting that has to take place, bringing the benefits of government, the benefits of good government and development, to these regions, because I think what we think in the long term will bring peace and security to the people who live there.

So those are some of the big things we're doing. We can talk about any of the countries and specific issues in this region, but I thought at this moment, five or six months after I started and one year after the Indian meetings with the President, it was a good time to come out and tell you things are going quite well in this region and there's a lot of progress in turning the visions into reality.

With that, Jess is going to help us with the questions.

MR. BAILY: If you would state your name and organization and wait for the mike.

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm Vladimir Kara-Murza with RTI Television Russia. The Central Asian region includes two of the most repressive regimes in the world, as judged by human rights organizations: Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. What approach will you be taking towards those two nations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you. I think first of all the United States is trying to have a relationship with all the countries in the region. That includes Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, these governments have taken steps that are really not in the interest -- in their interests and not in the interests of their peoples.

Talking to people in the region about Uzbekistan, they're more and more closed off. Uzbek people have a harder time trading. They have a harder time traveling. They have a harder time getting educated. They have a harder time going overseas on scholarships. And the Uzbek Government is standing in the way of a lot of this cooperation. So unfortunately the Uzbek people not only have lost their civil and political rights at home, but they're finding it more difficult themselves to make their lives and to find opportunity with others in the region. The same applies by and large with Turkmenistan.

But nonetheless the United States is looking to have a relationship there. We're trying to be positive. We're trying to find ways of working with people in these countries even as we have to talk to the governments there about some of the things that they do that we seriously dislike. We hope that others will do the same. We know the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for example, is active in trying to open up opportunity and make clear that there are certain standards and parameters we would expect any government to live up to.

But we hope that other governments involved in the region would do the same and would promote democratic stability, would promote prosperity, would promote border security, would promote a fight against terrorism that doesn't involve alienating the entire Islamic population of a country, and would support education and a future of opportunity for the people who live there. So a lot of what we do is trying to work with other governments in bringing those kind of benefits to the people there.

QUESTION: Pavel Vanichkin, TASS News Agency, Russia. Sir, I'd like to ask you to comment a little bit on the recent agreement, U.S.-Kyrgyzstan agreement about the prolongation of using Manas base. Let me include some points which I'd like to ask you to clarify. One is protocol of intention, not the full agreement. Is this some kind of "agree to disagree" stuff? If I'm wrong and it's a full-fledged agreement, could you tell us about the time frame from which it would be valid? And if it's possible, could you say about how much money United States Government to pay Kyrgyzstan. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No. (Laughter.) Yeah, I don't have all the details with me and I'm sorry, but I think for the details of the agreement you'd probably have to check with the Defense Department on that. I don't have them handy in front of me.

I can tell you we have a deal. We have a deal with Kyrgyzstan over the continuation of the base at Manas. Our operations there support the fight on terrorism, which is important to the Kyrgyz Government, it's important to us, it's important to all the countries of the region. And they wanted us to be able to continue to do that and we wanted to continue to do that.

We reached agreement on the details of that process, on how to pay an appropriate amount for rent, on how to buy fuel, on how to help make sure the air field was going to be capable of supporting the operations.

And this is part of a bigger package of cooperation with Kyrgyzstan that the United States has, and I think we've talked in public, there's probably 150 million or more a year, U.S. dollars, that in one way or the other, whether it's through aid programs or purchases or rentals, that we do in Kyrgyzstan. So that's not a base payment; the base payments are only a small part of that. But we have an important relationship with Kyrgyzstan that we will continue to develop and prosper. But I'm very glad that we've been able to reach agreement on the base, I'm very glad that we have a positive relationship with Kyrgyzstan and we look forward to cooperating with them in many other ways as well.

MR. BAILY: Let's go to China and then Pakistan.

QUESTION: Naichian Mo from Phoenix Television of Hong Kong. China shares a vast border with a number of South and Central Asian countries and has significant equities in the region. And without understanding U.S. intentions, some people in China may come to see the increasing U.S. influence or ambition in the region as competing with China or even Russia. So I'm curious how you perceive Chinese and Russia's influence in this region. Do you plan to work around it or to -- or with them and would the U.S. be interested in participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an observer? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I hadn't really thought about Shanghai Cooperation Organization because I think their rules require that the observers come at the same level as the participants, so you would have to have the U.S. President going to the meetings and I think that's kind of unrealistic. But I think the point of, you know, Russia, China, the United States, Europe, Turkey, all these countries being involved in Central Asia, in our view, is not to compete with each other; it's to offer more alternatives and options to the countries of Central Asia. They deserve the right to choose. The more choices they have, the more independence they have.

We don't want these countries to be subservient to a major power, subservient to a single market, subservient to a single set of pipelines or transport or supply routes. We want them to have a variety of options and a variety of options means they have choices and choices means independence. That's our policy. That's what we're supporting. So we expect China to be involved in this region. You know, they've just opened up another rail line with Kyrgyzstan. They just opened up a new export route for Kazakh oil to China. They just exported -- they have just opened up some roads in other countries of the region. So these are all good things. These are things that give the countries of Central Asia and South Asia more options, more choices, more independence and that's what our goal is. So I have no problem with Russia and China, Europe, Turkey, anybody else, as long as we're all there to help the Central Asian countries develop their options and develop their choices.

As for as Shanghai Cooperation Organization, you know, it had some utility, I think and they still have certain utility. It's done well on some of the economic and border agreements. I think we get concerned when it starts making pronouncements about foreign bases as it did last year, or when it starts making pronouncements about letting some countries keep other countries out as it did this year. So I wonder if that's really the right way for the countries of this region to be treated. And I wonder if that's really the right way for them to find their independence in their choices. But ultimately, they will decide what arrangements are useful and what organizations are useful to them. And I think as long as we all keep the emphasis on the countries of the region and not on countries outside the region, they'll probably be okay.

MR. BAILY: Let's go to Anwar.

QUESTION: Hi. To a more recent and controversial event. Have you seen any evidence to suggest that Pakistan or Pakistani-based groups that are involved in Mumbai blast? And also there is an impression that U.S.-Pakistan relations are on the slide -- that the United States is not very happy with what Pakistan is doing or not doing on the part of Iran's border and also is not doing enough to stop people from crossing over into Kashmir.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, let me deal with two things. One is the Mumbai bombings were a horrible tragedy. They were obviously well-prepared by somebody with evil intent, by somebody with local knowledge, by somebody with -- or some group, some individuals, some people with a lot of planning and malice, so forth -- you know, and a lot of malice. The evidence, you know, as far as who they were, who was responsible, I don't think we've seen all that yet. That's to be expected. The Indians are conducting the investigation and investigators usually don't talk about their investigations until they've reached firm conclusion. So we look forward to seeing how the evidence develops. We look forward to hearing the firm conclusions of the investigators.

I know there's a lot of speculation out there now. That happens in these cases. But I think we need to be led by the evidence before we start trying to draw conclusions and make policy pronouncements on it. So that would be our attitude and I think that should be the attitude of others as well.

As far as U.S.-Pakistan relations, you know, one of the reasons I tried to mention it in the opening statement, is U.S.-Pakistan relations have been very positive recently. We've been cooperating across the board in things that are -- areas that are important for Pakistan's development, areas that are important for Pakistan's success as a moderate, stable, democratic society. And our goal is to help Pakistan achieve success in all those areas that we're working with them: strategic issues, the fight against terrorism, finding energy supply, educating its population, building a democracy. These are all the areas that have been outlined for President Musharraf in his program of Enlightened Moderation and we want them to succeed. And we're working with Pakistan across the board to try to help them achieve that success.

The fight against terrorism is a tough one. We all have to do more. We all have to make sure that terrorists are not allowed to operate, not allowed to prosper, not allowed to find sanctuary. We're playing an important role in that with the military operations we're conducting in Afghanistan. We play an important role in terms of the development programs we have in Afghanistan, you know, the support that we give to Pakistan for its own development programs. So we are in that together. We're all fighting a common enemy and we're all going to try to keep cooperating, keep improving and keep doing better so that we can beat this threat, the big threat to Pakistan's success.

MR. BAILY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: K.P. Nayar from The Telegraph. After the dinner in Vienna in March at which the Chinese Ambassador approached you for a nuclear deal with Pakistan similar to the one with India, has there been any further --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Who said that?

QUESTION: I've seen documentation. Has there been any further approaches to you or anyone else in the State Department for a similar deal? And secondly, the G-8 has submitted -- issued a statement on nonproliferation, which is a paragraph, which implicitly endorses the Indo-U.S. deal. Can you reflect on how we have got here, considering that after the 1998 nuclear test the G-8 was the engine for condemning India and the engine behind the Security Council resolution on the Indian nuclear test?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As far as things -- discussions taking place within the Nuclear Suppliers Group, we're really not supposed to talk about it and so I don't want to violate the confidences of that organization. But I think in terms of what you've seen, I think it's safe to say that I have not seen any proposal by any government to make a similar sale to another country along the lines of the one with India. We certainly believe that the situation with India is unique. That's the way we've approached this agreement. That's the way we pursued it and I think that remains the view of many other members of the international community. So I haven't seen anybody make a proposal for anyone else along those lines.

As far as the G-8 and nonproliferation, it's truly an interesting question that if you look at, you know, the G-8 countries a number of them have already pronounced themselves firmly in favor of civilian cooperation with India. We also know that the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency is strongly supportive of civil nuclear cooperation with India under the terms that we've outlined. So there is, I think very strong desire on the part of many nations in the world to have this kind of cooperation with India to help India meet its energy needs in a clean manner for its future economic development.

But I would point to the other side of this as well; that India certainly has changed its attitude towards many of these organizations and towards the international nonproliferation effort. And it's important -- it's important that India is changing its mindset. It's just a very interesting speech given by the foreign secretary last week about the one year anniversary of the Prime Minister and President's agreement, but also about sort of India's attitude towards the world. And I think as we change our attitude towards India, it's interesting to see the Indians reflect on their relations with others in the world, particularly with some of these organizations that they have had problems with in the past. And it's interesting to reflect how important it is that India is joining the international nonproliferation effort because they understand the importance of that effort to India's future stability, security and safety.

MR. BAILY: We have a question from New York, please.

QUESTION: Hi, I'm Anil Padmanabhan from India Today, based out of New York. And I have two questions, both are actually linked to each other. I believe President Bush and Prime Minister Singh met on the sidelines yesterday of the G-8 meet. My first question is can you bring us up to speed as to what they discussed? One of the issues apparently was a civilian nuclear deal. And the second question is can you set a timeline for the next stage of the legislative process and where we are with respect to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I appreciate the question about the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh. The reason that I didn't mention it in my own remarks was that I don't really have a lot of information on it yet. My State Department people who were out there during the meeting are in an airplane on their way back, so I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet. And so I've seen the statements and I've seen the press reports but that -- I don't have anything more than you have on that one.

On the future timeline, I'm always hesitant to predict how the Congress will act because the Congress decides on its own how and when it wishes to act. But our expectation is the House will take up the matter in about a week. The Senate may take it up soon after. Once each passes legislation, assuming that the legislation's not exactly the same, they'll have to go through conference which would happen after their August recess. So perhaps in September they could put through the final legislation.

In the meantime, we're working with the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India's working with us on negotiating a bilateral agreement. India's working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to negotiate their safeguards agreements. So if all those pieces come together and we have the legislation, you know, it's conceivable that all this could be done by the end of the year. But I can't promise specifically that it will be because each of these factors has to move forward and get concluded on its own track.

MR. BAILY: We have a question from the web -- from one of our colleagues.

QUESTION: Our first question is from Arshad Mahmud from the Daily Pro Thom Alo, Bangladesh. Mr. Secretary, thank you. You're perhaps aware that Bangladesh is trying to get quota-free access to the U.S. textile market. This will contribute to the country's economic well being. What concrete steps is the Bush Administration taking to help Bangladesh achieve this? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I can't, at this point, get into questions of textiles. I can't make any promises in that regard. Certainly we have a very strong interest in seeing Bangladesh prosper, Bangladesh succeed and we have assistance programs, we have our support for democracy. And I think we have a strong effort working with Bangladesh in all these areas: economic prosperity, democracy and the fight against terrorism. I plan on going out there the first days of August, I think it is. So I'll be able to go out there for a couple days and talk to people in Bangladesh about how the United States can be helpful -- helpful in helping -- in seeing them succeed in the upcoming elections, seeing them find new avenues for economic prosperity and seeing them achieve this safety as fighting against terrorism and keeping it from taking root in their own country.

QUESTION: Hi. This is Sachin Kalbag from Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai. I have two questions, two quick ones. What specific diplomatic effort is the U.S. taking -- undertaking to calm the Indian subcontinent right now, given the current situation after the bomb blasts and encourage dialogue, continuing dialogue, between India and Pakistan? And the second question is, has India expressed its concern over the sale of F-16s to Pakistan and how would the U.S. address Indian concerns regarding this? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As far as the current situation, you've heard what I said about, I think, basing any conclusions or actions on evidence. And I think that's pretty much been our message to everybody. We have kept in touch with the Indian Government on this. Under Secretary Burns had a meeting last Thursday in Paris with Foreign Secretary Saran and where this was discussed somewhat. President and Prime Minister Singh met today. I don't know how much that was discussed. But I think our message to everybody is let's find the evidence, let's find out who is responsible and then let's look together at what we can do to stop any groups or organizations or support that organizations might be getting to make sure that people can't carry out such actions in the future. And that's something we want to do with all the governments in the region.

We certainly hope that India -- the progress in India-Pakistan relations is not lost and that they find opportunities to cooperate, to cooperate against terrorist groups, to cooperate in stabilizing the region and that's something we'll continue to encourage. It's up to them to decide how to proceed. We realize that they felt it wasn't possible to have the foreign secretaries meetings this week. But I think our outlook remains that India-Pakistan cooperation is important for the region and we hope they will find ways to continue it in the future.

Oh, and F-16s, I haven't heard anything from the Indian Government. That's up to the Indian Government, if you want to ask. If you want to ask them their attitude, go ahead, but our sale is based on what we think are legitimate needs of Pakistan to defensive purposes and we proceed on that basis, not on the basis of what other people think or don't think about it. Yeah.

MR. BAILY: We have one in New York. Go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Yeah. Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Indian television channel CNBC TV. I just follow up on a couple of responses that you gave. The first one is, of course, on the India-U.S. nuclear deal, I thought you said that the House will take up the issue in about a week. I think the audio here is bad. I'm not sure if that is the correct timeline that you provided.

And my second question is again about the Mumbai bombings and the fact that the secretary-level meetings, which was supposed to be held on the 31st of July, they have been canceled. How much -- how much is the U.S. concerned about this development?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, your second question I think I just answered. And the first question, yes, I did say I think the House will take up the legislation in about a week. And we hope the Senate will do it soon after that.

MR. BAILY: Okay. Last one in the back. Thank you.

QUESTION: Steve Collinson with AFP. Last week the Pakistani Foreign Minister said at his visit to Washington that he thought the blame game was over. He was talking about U.S. officials and U.S. journalists perhaps accusing Pakistan of continuing to support the Taliban and Taliban remnants in Afghanistan. Does the United States agree with that characterization of the relationship, you know, five years after -- nearly five years after September 11th and recruiting Pakistan, you know, into the war on terror?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I guess I disagree with the premise of the question, that we've never been involved in some attempt to blame people. We've been involved in a fight that affects us all. The terrorists that we're fighting against have been fighting against Afghanistan, been fighting against Pakistan, been fighting against the United States, been fighting against Europeans and maybe some of them fighting against India as well. So every country in this region has an interest in stopping terrorism. And we want to make that a joint effort. We're always looking for new ways to do more to improve our capabilities, to improve our cooperation. But there's nothing -- I think we have nothing but praise for our partners in this effort.

No country has done more to fight al-Qaida or has lost more people in doing so than Pakistan. We have made that abundantly clear. Are there other things that we and they can do together? Yes, and we're doing them. And it's not just the fight. It's not just the struggle. That's a very important part and that struggle and that fight needs to be taken to every terrorist, no matter what his purported cause. Terrorism is inherently destabilizing for any society and all terrorism needs to be fought. But in addition, we need to stabilize the society. We need to give people hopes and aspirations they have for their children, give them the education they need and the development opportunities they need and Pakistan is equally a partner in that effort as well.

MR. BAILY: I'm afraid that's all. Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay. Thank you very much. Good to see you all again.

Released on July 17, 2006

ENDS


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