Interview of Principal State Dept. Deputy Assistant Secretary Geoffrey Pyatt with BBC Re: President Obama’s Trip to India

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–Nobember 6, 2010.  

QUESTION: Thank you very much for joining us on the BBC. I’ll start with a simple question. What would make the visit of President Obama to India a success?


I think this trip will be judged a success if we manage to explain to publics in both countries the tremendous importance of this bilateral partnership between the two governments and between the two societies. The President is traveling at a moment when our economies and our interests are wrapped together as they’ve never been before, and this is a great opportunity for the President to speak both to our public here in the United States, but also to the Indian public about the broad importance of this bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: But after the nuclear deal that was struck a couple of years ago and the rapid expansion of ties between Washington and the United States, what else are you looking to get out of this relationship? It feels a little bit like the relationship has stalled.

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: I’m not sure I would agree with that. I think that the trick with the U.S.-India relationship is not to view it in transactional terms. This is a relationship which is important to the United States because India’s rise is important to the United States. At a moment when our interests are engaged in Asia as never before, there’s probably no country with whom we have greater potential to build a broad strategic partnership than India because of our common values, because of our shared interests, because of the way our societies work and what we hold in common.

So the visit will be a success, and what we need to try to get out of the visit is a recognition of the long term trajectory of strategic partnership which we seek to build between the two countries.

QUESTION: So there is no goal, let’s say, per se specifically like a nuclear deal or another sort of deal. It’s just a comprehensive relationship.

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: I think there will be a lot of accomplishments which we’ll be able to point to at the end of the visit which demonstrate how we are building this architecture of collaboration between two very complicated democratic societies, and with an India which is becoming a much much more important actor in the international system. That is a phenomenon which is profoundly in the interest of the United States. An India which is more powerful, more effective in the international system, is good for the U.S.

QUESTION: You talk about the rise of India. Are you hoping that the rise of India will help you contain the rise of China?

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: I wouldn’t look at it that way. Both India and the United States want to have a positive relationship with China, and China is obviously a major factor in the geopolitics of the whole Asian region. But the fact is with India, as we approach our Asian agenda, India has emerged as a real keystone of that Asia agenda. It’s not a coincidence that the President’s swing through Asia begins in India — a key partner with whom we hold so many values and so many interests in common.

QUESTION: You have interests in common, of course, and you are two big democracies, but India does have also a lot in common on some of the positions it takes on climate change with China. It sees more eye to eye on some of those issues with China than it does with the United States. So there is a bit of rivalry there as well.

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: We’re not going to agree with India on everything. The fact is India is a powerful and proud and nationalistic country. But the fact is, because of how we look at the world, we have a shared interest in a rules-based international system, we have a shared interest in democracy, we have a shared interest in the maintenance of open markets. All of that draws us together. And even on the issues where we have tactical differences, our long term objectives tend to converge.

QUESTION: One of the issues that is a key source of tension in the region is Kashmir, of course. And as long as that is not resolved Pakistan says that it cannot divert its troops from that border to the border with Afghanistan. Afghanistan key to the battle against al-Qaida. Are you going to be putting any pressure on India to help you on that front?

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: We’ve made clear for a long long time that the scope, pace and timing of dialogue between India and Pakistan is for those two countries to decide. It’s not an issue where we wish to inject ourselves.

QUESTION: Why not?

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: We of course welcome dialogue. Why not? Because we’re not in a position where can have an effective impact on the two governments. The interest that the United States has is in advancing the dialogue which the two governments have to pursue based on their own national interests and their own politics. In that regard we have great respect for the commitment that Prime Minister Singh has demonstrated to the vision of rapprochement with Pakistan and to the vision of a more open and productive relationship between the two countries.

QUESTION: It is a very sensitive relationship. It required the President to make a call to Pakistan to reassure the Pakistani government that the visit to India didn’t take anything away from the commitment that Washington also had to Pakistan. It’s a fine line you have to walk between those two countries.

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: No, it is. But I think we’re at a moment right now where we have a strong relationship with both capitals and that’s the ideal situation, from my standpoint. We would like to convince both governments and both societies that a good relationship with Pakistan and a good U.S. relationship with India are in the interest of the wider South Asian community; and a strong relationship with one government doesn’t take anything away from a strong relationship with the other. This is not a zero sum equation.

QUESTION: Although a lot has been written in previewing the visit of President Obama to India, do you think expectations are too high?

PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY PYATT: I think the long term possibility of this relationship is so great that it’s very hard to overestimate the possibilities. I see the U.S.-India relationship as really being one of the United States’ most important international partnerships as we look out over the longer term. As India grows inexorably at eight, nine percent a year; as it heads very quickly to become the world’s third largest economy; there’s tremendous headroom to this bilateral relationship and it’s a relationship which rests not just on the foundation of a strong commitment from the two governments and the two leaderships, but of this fantastic web of people to people ties. Hundreds of thousands of business people and students moving back and forth every year. That’s going to be the real foundation of this relationship over the long term.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for talking to us.