We will continue to urge our friends in Pakistan to deal with this.
Robert Blake is the United States Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs a position he has held since May 2009. A career Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Blake has served at the American Embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt and in senior roles at the State Department in Washington. Mr. Blake was also Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi between 2003-2006, and Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 to mid-2009. He has a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins. In a recent interview with The Hindu, Mr. Blake touched upon a number of current foreign policy issues. Excerpts:
On David Coleman Headley, it has been over one month since he struck a plea agreement with the Department of Justice. Could you explain why Indian authorities should not feel frustrated that this process is taking so long and what is the exact nature of the procedures that are stalling the process?
It is not so much a question of the U.S. putting [modalities in place for India's access to Mr. Headley]. It is more a question of getting agreement from Mr. Headley and his lawyers about this — what are going to be the parameters of that access, should it occur.
People at a very high level with very good intentions are working on this and we are in very close touch with Indian authorities on this.
We are well aware of India's interest but also India's equities as well. Obviously Mr. Headley was involved in reconnoitring sites for not only the Mumbai bombings but perhaps other ones. They have a very clear interest in knowing what further information he may have and we understand that.
You also recently mentioned that you had urged authorities in Pakistan to take action against Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In what ways are they following your advice?
We really see [LeT as] an organisation of growing scope and ambition, as the Headley case itself illustrates; and a threat to the U.S. but also a threat to India and other countries, and potentially a threat to Pakistan too. So it is important for all countries to do what they can to circumscribe and control the activities of LeT.
We will be continuing to urge our friends in Pakistan to deal with this. As I said earlier, they have made a lot of progress in Swat and then in South Waziristan, in arresting senior members of the Taliban. There is good momentum. We will continue to urge for progress on that.
Yes but do you not think the lack of progress prevents bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan?
Well it does, so again that underlines the importance of Pakistan fulfilling what it has always said it would do, which is to not allow its territory to be used as a platform against other countries. Pakistan has a sovereign government and they are a friend of the U.S. and we will continue to work with them on this. All I can say is we have identified this as a priority.
President Obama said recently the U.S. wanted to reduce nuclear tension in South Asia. Does the U.S. see Chinese nuclear weapons and the Chinese proliferation link with Pakistan as factors which have contributed to this tension?
We all know the historical ties between Pakistan and China. But I do not think I would want to make any statements about the current [situation]. I do not think that there are any significant proliferation issues right now with regard to China and Pakistan.
What is your view of India, Pakistan, and Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation? How does the U.S. see the SCO in relation to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?
[The SCO] could be a very important vehicle for dialogue and also for economic development and economic integration. As long as the SCO sees those things as its goal, we certainly welcome that. I know India particularly has a great deal of interest in trying to expand relations into Central Asia, and many Central Asians tell me that they have interest in doing more business with India, and also Pakistan eventually. But the security situation in Pakistan sometimes constrains them right now.
You earlier expressed concern about India and Pakistan tying up with Iran, in the context of pipelines. Do you think that both at forums such as the SCO and on independent commercial projects the coming together of countries like India and Iran is a cause for concern for the U.S.?
You are well aware of what we are trying to accomplish with Iran right now. We are at a very sensitive stage in our diplomacy with them. At the moment we are tying to discourage all countries from pursuing projects that would put significant resources into the hands of, particularly groups like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps. It is in that context that we discourage India and Pakistan from pursuing, for example, energy projects and so forth.
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