News

USIS Washington File

26 May 2000

Transcript: Pickering Press Conference in New Delhi on S. Asia Visit

(Focus of trip will be full range of bilateral, regional issues)
(3520)
 
Thomas R. Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs,
briefed reporters in New Delhi May 25 on his visit to South Asia. He
characterized his conversations that day with officials in New Delhi
as "very full and very friendly."

Pickering said his visit to India was a follow up to President
Clinton's visit to the region earlier this year and the upcoming visit
of India's Prime Minister Vajpayee to the United States in the fall.

His discussions with the Indian officials covered a wide range of
bilateral issues, including trade and U.S.-Indian cooperation.
Regional discussions included Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kashmir and
relationships throughout the South Asian region. They also discussed
China, Japan, Korea, the Gulf and South East Asia, Pickering said.

Pickering said his agenda in Pakistan will be to discuss the full
range of issues that the United States and Pakistan have been
discussing over a long period of time: democracy, non-proliferation,
Pakistan's economic situation, instability along the line-of-control,
terrorism, Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden.

Concerning reports of nuclear testing in the region, Pickering said
the United States believes that the commitment that both Pakistan and
India have made against future testing "should remain in place and
should be continued. We talked about encouraging both of them to sign
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," he said.

Pickering said "there is deep concern" about a possible bloodbath in
Sri Lanka and that he has expressed both publicly and privately, as
did his Indian colleagues, "the hope that it could be avoided. ... I
know that Norway is continuing its contacts in an effort to try to
avoid that and to also try to get some kind of process started that
could lead to a peaceful resolution," he said.

The Undersecretary also answered reporters' questions on Chechnya and
Fiji.

Following his visit to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Pickering will
go to Tokyo to discuss preparations for the G-8 Summit in Okinawa in
July, according to the State Department Spokesman.

Following is the transcript of the press conference:

(begin transcript)

PRESS CONFERENCE BY AMB. PICKERING
AT ROOSEVELT HOUSE
MAY 25, 2000
New Delhi, India

Ambassador Pickering: Thank you very much Dick and thank you all for
coming. I thought just to put in perspective what I have been doing
I'd go over a little bit of our conversation and where we have been in
those conversations. First I would say, as an overall
characterization, we have had very full and very friendly discussions.
And in every sense of the word, I mean that. I believe that is indeed
a very fair characterization of what we have been doing. You should
know that I came in the context of the President's trip to do what I
can to carry out the design which he and Prime Minister Vajpayee
reached of the architecture of our follow-on discussions with the
direct purpose of trying to put some substantive action in place
behind and to follow-up the President's visit and the coming visit of
Prime Minister Vajpayee to the United States in the autumn.

And my particular charge, my particular responsibility was to conduct
two sets of conversations with the Ministry of External Affairs and
the Government of India, one having to do with our bilateral relations
and the other having to do with the South Asian region and the Asian
region in general, and I will be finishing up shortly with the final
call I have on the National Security Advisor Mr. Brajesh Mishra. The
conversations on the bilateral issues covered everything from trade
and U.S.-Indian cooperation and in that area, through what would be
expected to be the normal range of bilateral discussions that any
government would have. In the regional discussions, of course, we had
an opportunity to discuss Sri Lanka, discussions of Pakistan and of
Kashmir, of the Indian view and our views, and of relationships
throughout the South Asian region. In the Asian discussions, we
focused very heavily on China, Japan, Korea, the Gulf and South East
Asia, so we had a very broad opportunity to do a full review. I have
been engaged in these types of discussions before and I would say that
this particular discussion represents a serious step forward in the
depth of discussions and analysis that each side presented and indeed
in the discussion of where both of our views overlap and where our
views diverge.

We had, of course, non-proliferation on the discussion menu although,
as you know, Deputy Secretary Talbott and Foreign Minister Jaswant
Singh will be discussing probably next month this issue again.
Secretary Albright expects to meet Foreign Minister Singh in the
Conference on Democracies in Warsaw later on in June. So we have a
very full agenda and we have had discussions of economics, discussions
on science and technology are forthcoming and discussions of
commercial cooperation have taken place. So this is one of a number of
steps, as I said to work on building on some serious action to follow
up the President's visit.

Q: Mr. Pickering, you are going to Pakistan next. Are you going to be
repeating the United States' warning about a new nuclear test or do
you think another warning is necessary? How serious is that?

A: It goes without saying that we are always disturbed by any reports
that testing may occur throughout the region, and we usually follow up
those pieces of information, however soundly based or non-soundly
based they may be, but to make sure that everybody knows that the
United States believes that the commitment that both Pakistan and
India have made against future testing should remain in place and
should be continued. We talked about encouraging both of them to sign
the Comprehensive Testing Ban Treaty.

My agenda in Pakistan will be to discuss the full range of issues that
the United States and Pakistan have been discussing over a long period
of time: democracy, non-proliferation, the economic situation in
Pakistan, the instability that exists along the line-of-control, in
particular in efforts to try to find a way to reduce that instability
as rapidly as possible. Issues of terrorism, Afghanistan and Osama Bin
Laden, they are on the agenda and none of those are hidden from your
eyes and all of them have been very prominent in our past discussions.

Q: Is the South Asian region still one of the most volatile regions in
the world, a few years after the last nuclear testing?

A. I think the President's judgment when he talked about that was
soundly based on the fact that the 1998 nuclear test did not
contribute to this stability to the region, nor did they contribute to
the notion that if there were any instability and any insecurity, one
could not eliminate the possibility that, God forbid, nuclear use as a
result of such. So any conflict, any disturbance in the region, I
think, raises for us that potential and clearly, as a result, the
President's judgment on that case. I don't believe have changed even
after his visit. Although he came hoping that we would make serious
progress, he believes that we have and he believes the reason why I am
out here is that we must continue.

Q: Russian (inaudible) today as yesterday has said that if (inaudible)
consignment of arms for Chechnya from Afghanistan -- they will not
hesitate to bomb Afghanistan? How do you feel United States -- is this
an issue that will be discussed in Pakistan?

A: Well certainly all kinds of questions having to do with Afghanistan
are open for our discussion and are a part of our menu. We have in our
discussions with the Russians on the issue of Chechnya, said that we
recognize that states have a responsibility to deal with problems of
terror in their own country, and this was of course in the aftermath
of five apartment bombings in Russia which took a very serious toll of
human life. At the same time we have made clear to the Russians in
their prosecution of the conflict in Chechnya, that we believe that
their serious divergence from law of war and from human treatment in
particular of civilians in that conflict and that allegations and
charges of misconduct on the part of the Russian military should be
thoroughly investigated against full international standard. We have
also said and continue to say that the humanitarian needs of that
population need to be met. And that we would hope that they would
continue to cooperate and improve their cooperation with international
organizations. The ICRC is one, the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe is another. Finally we have said in connection
with the Chechnya conflict, that we would hope they would rapidly
undertake the political context with the idea in mind of arriving at a
solution to the conflict, we do not believe that there is a military
solution to that conflict. Certainly it hasn't been achieved, and we
believe in fact that the political process could be extremely helpful
in finding an answer to the difficulty.

Q: You said that the Indian Prime Minister is going to visit the U.S.
Have the dates been finalized?

A: The dates have not been finalized. September would be a good date
for autumn. Yes. September is a good example.

Q: Mr. Pickering, during your discussion in Pakistan, is there a view
in Washington after the visit of the President that there is some
forward movement in curbing cross-border terrorism?

A: We would hope there is, but I haven't seen here in India a
universal support for that conclusion yet. Indian officials have
expressed concern that they don't believe that there has yet been
detectable change in the level of infiltration, and the level of
activity that goes on -- military activity -- goes on inside Kashmir.
So that is something that obviously has not yet, in the eyes of the
Indian interlocutors I have spoken with, been achieved. It is our hope
that can be and obviously we want to encourage it.

Q: As far as the information you have received, is there going to be a
bloodbath in Sri Lanka?

A: No one that I know of has an answer to that question. There is deep
concern about it and I have expressed both publicly and privately as
did my Indian colleagues a deep sense of concern and the hope that it
could be avoided and I know that Norway is continuing its contacts in
an effort to try to avoid that and to also try to get some kind of
process started that could lead to a peaceful resolution.

Q:  inaudible  (About U.S. role in Sri Lanka)

A: I see a supportive role for the United State here. In large measure
because we respect the leadership that Norway has shown and the
serious work that they have done over the months to develop good
contacts with both sides, to appreciate the situation.

Q: They have developed contact but they haven't been able to find what
is happening, they have not been able to say that the Norwegians have
been successful?

A: I think that we have made it very clear that we are prepared to
support a Norwegian initiative as has India. I believe that initiative
needs to have a chance to work, the situation is changing rapidly on
the ground. No one has made, in my view, any conclusive judgments as
to whether this situation as it's evolving on the ground will work in
favor of or against institutional contacts between the parties. Those
will be things that obviously need to be explored in the coming days
to see whether that can happen. I would think however that it is
important that we not have a race of mediators but rather that we
should all work together to a common purpose and reason why since in
the context of the Norwegian ideas have been more rapidly and more
fully developed than others, and that India has made its own
statements of support for the Norwegian initiative that it seems
reasonable that the United States after studying those particular
initiatives should also commit itself to try to support those
initiatives and in no way does that in my mind reduce the importance
of those initiatives.

Q: inaudible (About whether India and Pakistan would resume their
dialogue.)

A: You certainly have, and it's been a centerpiece of our discussion.
Their reaction is that they in simple terms as we would like to see
real progress on the ground as a basis to have confidence that if the
dialogue is resumed it can move toward a successful conclusion. I said
that we too would like to see it, that the President has made clear
when he was in Pakistan, that he felt it was time for Pakistan to make
its move to contribute to the process and that we would all hope that
that could be done. We were not requiring a lot of public comment but
were much more interested in steps on the ground.

Q: (inaudible) come up for review in the United States, the United
States supports the Norwegian peace initiative, would any change of,
big changes by the United Support (inaudible)

A: The position of LTTE as a designated -- as a foreign terrorist
organization -- in the United States under U.S. law is arrived at
after careful considerations of factors that are delineated by law and
therefore is not a political decision. It is a legal decision on the
basis of the assessments of objective circumstances. And as a result,
obviously, anytime this issue comes up for review, it must come up for
review in the context of the legal prescriptions and not in the
context of a commitment or our contribution to a diplomatic process.
We would hope that the LTTE would act in ways that would eliminate the
requirement that they're found as a foreign terrorist organization but
that is up to the LTTE. They know the law; they know what the factors
are. We have been, over the years, disappointed that it has adopted
assassination as a weapon of its struggle, and we are very much
against that, and it has postured itself in a fashion to be found as a
terrorist organization. We believe that these practices should be
immediately eliminated. I believe that the LTTE knows our views very
clearly.

Q: Even though the United States doesn't support a separate Tamil
homeland, if the Tamil rebels are able to take Jaffna would they not
be able to come to peace talks with a very strong hand (inaudible) of
the homeland.

A: I think that it is not for me in public to analyze the positions of
each party to a negotiation that doesn't exist. I think that is a
little bit presumptuous and a little bit perhaps asking me to make
statements that might in some way or the other prejudice the chance to
succeed in a negotiation that I think is very important to everybody
concerned. To the government of Sri Lanka, to the opposition parties
in Sri Lanka and the LTTE therefore, I don't believe that that is an
appropriate role for me to play at this time. The situation is
evolving and I think, clearly, the best time to begin negotiations on
discussion is when both sides believe the time is ready to do so. We
would hope that they would reach that conclusion very quickly and we
would encourage them to do it.

Q:  inaudible

A: I would not but I would say this: that we would hope that Pakistan
would return to democracy as soon as that can be done. The Supreme
Court in Pakistan has made a decision on that subject, and it is not
for us to question or quibble with that decision. It is a decision
which now sets a time and our hope is that in its return to democracy
in Pakistan the Chief Executive Officer General Musharraf could be
able to tell his own people following his speech on March 23 and the
international community by what steps and stages, by what process, by
what road map, he would return. And clearly that is our hope and I
hope that Pakistan will consider that positively and react positively
to that process. I am not an expert on constitutional law in Pakistan
but I would hope that the Supreme Court decision would be considered
an important benchmark in the roadmap, if I could put it that way and
that other benchmarks could be filled in.

Q: inaudible

A: I think it's a very important question for the government of India
and the government of India might believe that it has said it is
prepared to work on this particular question but only when it has the
support of, the approbation, or the permission of both sides. Now that
is the Government of India's decision which I don't question in light
of the history, of Indian associations, if I could put it that way,
with this problem in the past. We would hope that offer can be well
received by both parties. We believe it was made in good faith and
with a clear sense of humanitarian interest and should be received
that way.

Q:  Inaudible

A: My view is that it is an important step that my government has
welcomed the release of the Hurriyat leaders and more importantly, if
I could put it this way, the possibility of opening conversations with
them and we believe that this is significant. We would hope that India
would consider talking with others from Kashmir as well who might as
well be able to contribute to a process of resolving the conflict and
particularly beginning to understand and find ways to deal with the
wishes of the people of Kashmir themselves. When I go to Pakistan,
obviously I want to discuss the whole problem. This is an important
contribution from the Indian side and as I said we also hope that we
think we have reason to be positive about this but I will have to
confirm it that Pakistan too understands this situation and is
prepared to make its own positive contribution.

Q:  One more question -- inaudible

A.: We have, we have both compared notes on the situation in Fiji and
I think it goes without saying, as I have said publicly in previous
conversations to the Press, and that we had hoped that the situation
can be resolved rapidly. We support continuing the elected democratic
government in Fiji and not the removal of the government by force of
arms. We have been particularly struck by the very positive role that
President Mara of Fiji has taken with respect to the difficulty as
well as think the Grand Council of Chiefs have been positive in their
support for the return of the democratically elected government.

Q: inaudible

A: I understood, and I may be wrong as I am not an expert on Fiji
politics, that the first request was obviously to releasing and to
permitting the government to resume its role. And I am not sure how
that fits with their second request. Obviously, what Prime Minister
Chaudhry does when he can make up his mind free of compulsion and free
of the armed presence of others holding the hostages is for him to
decide and I can't even say that. But I do think that it is important
that this crisis be ended. If the people want to change the government
of Fiji, that the use of arms not prevail in this situation, and that
Prime Minister Chaudhry and his government be returned to their full
powers.

Q:  inaudible

A: I think that it is very clear in our discussions that both India
and the United States share broad interest in the future of Asia and
that we believe that Asia should be a stable, prosperous, secure and
peaceful region for all. And that the liberty of the United States and
India to compare notes and consult about the region about its future
and about our respective policies, analyses, interest is important to
our mutual understanding between India and the United States, both of
Asia problems, of how to resolve those, and how to work together in
the broad reach of the continent. From the Gulf to Korea, each of us
has interests here, some of those are economic and some of those are
existential but they are nevertheless important and the ability to
compare notes from this particular set of issues represents a
deepening of diplomatic contact between the United States and India,
something that we haven't been able to realize before and now we
believe as a result of the President's visit is possible and fruitful
for both of us.

(end transcript)

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Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)