Boucher Tackles Journalists in Kathmandu
US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs RICHARD A. BOUCHER, reponds to Journalists' questions ranging from peace talks to American support to Bhutanese refugees.
U.S. and Nepal Relations
Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks to the Press
November 16, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good afternoon, everybody. Good to see you, good to see some of you again. Let me start by saying it's been a great pleasure for me now to be back in Nepal again. I think I am here at a historic and again a hopeful time.
We all anticipate that a comprehensive peace agreement will be reached between the Government of Nepal and the Maoists, although I realize today there's been a lot of speculation about how soon that will happen. Let me just say flat out, we want to see the peace process work and we pledge our full support. We support an agreement that can safeguard the aspirations of the Nepali people and give them free, fair choice without fear and how to make their government in the future.
To reach this goal, violence, intimidation, coercion, and criminal acts must end. The Nepali people deserve the chance to live without fear and to choose their form of government in fair elections. If the Maoists separate from their arms, renounce violence and establish their credentials as a peaceful entity, the United States can remove them from our terrorist list and we can treat them like any other political party.
We also support a robust role for the United Nation in the peace process. They have important capabilities, important expertise and a diverse role to play in this process. We continue to be committed to Nepal 's long-term development. We will continue our assistance program for the Nepali people, helping them build democracy, helping them get economic revival, helping them receive the health care and education that they and their children need. The United States , in fact, has been committed for many decades, remains committed to help the people of Nepal to build a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future for themselves and their children.
I'll stop at that and I'll be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is MR Josse from the People's Review weekly. Mr. Assistant Secretary Boucher, my question is how do you react to the charge that the United States ' Nepal policy has been outsourced to India, specifically to Indian Communist Party Marxist?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Outsourcing is somewhat controversial in the United States but normally we defend it as an economic principle. But I have to say there's no such thing here. We have our own unique relationship with the Nepali people that's been built up over many decades, going back to the 1950s at least. We have a particular role, I think, in the present circumstances where we can help with the institutions of the government. I made a special point today by seeing political parties, by going to see the Parliament, visiting with the Election Commission, visiting with the Human Rights Commission. I think those are the things [in which] the United States does indeed have a role to play in supporting those critical organizations. I went to visit today with the Defense Ministry and the Chief of Army Staff so that I can better understand the defense needs of Nepal , to make sure that under the leadership of the civilian government we continue to play a role in Nepal in supporting the defense needs and their peacekeeping efforts around the world.
So I think there are many things here that we do that are somewhat unique to the United States and play our own role. We have our own views. We also discuss those views with other governments, including the government of India . I think I've benefited from hearing the Indian government explain their views and I hope they've benefited from hearing the United States explain their views of the situation. But we do have slightly different approaches; we've different views because we are different nations. And I think we each can play our own role here in helping Nepali people achieve what they want.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I try to be hopeful. I am hopeful but I think I am also realistic. When I talked to the political leaders today, they were very committed to try and make this process work and I told them that we are very committed to help them make this process work. But we also have to be realistic. There are many challenges in front of us. The Maoists have to give up their weapons. They have to keep their armed forces into the cantonment areas. They have to end their harassment of the villagers. They have to end coercion and violence – extortions that go on, the beatings, the efforts that they've made to keep the government, political parties out of the villages. There are a great many challenges, but these challenges can be met. They can be met by resolve among the political party leaders, by working together among the democratic forces from the country, and indeed by support from the international community, and those are the things we talked about.
QUESTION: Kumar Lamichhane from Nepal 1 Television. My question is: you've just committed that your economic support would continue. What would be the political support for Nepal once Maoists join the government? What would be that political support? My second question is that, you are expecting the Maoists to give up violence. So how many months of period you can see as their trial?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think, really, we can't wait. I don't think the people of Nepal can wait. They are about to conclude the agreement with the Maoists that says the violence will end now, says the Maoists would go into cantonments, says the Maoists will abandon their agenda of violence and move into a political process. I think it was unfortunate to see, just today again, the Maoist leader say that they reserve the right to armed struggle. That's not the way to go in. You don't go in with half a foot, you go with both feet. If you want to give up the gun and join politics you have to do it sincerely, you have to do it fully. So I think we all expect them to abide by the accords and the accords don't say how many months. The accords that have been agreed so far, and the ones being negotiated, say starting now. So that's what we're looking for.
As far as the U.S. policy towards a government that has Maoists in it, I think we're prepared to wait and see. We're prepared to deal with the people in government as government officials. We're prepared to find ways to continue our aid programs. We have certain laws about not supporting terrorist groups and until they are fully converted to a political party we're going to have to apply those laws and make sure we don't provide support to the Maoists in any way. But that doesn't – that means we can deal with them as part of the government, we can continue our programs. Perhaps we will have to find some mechanisms for doing that, but we fully intend to continue our support for the people of Nepal as they proceed down this road.
QUESTION: I am Gopal Sharma from Reuters. With the Maoists in the government, the U.S. Ambassador has been quoted in the process as saying that it will be difficult for the U.S. to give assistance. Now you are saying that [you're] going to continue with the assistance. Is it a shift in the U.S. policy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think it's a shift. Again, even about ourselves we have to be realistic. We have laws that prevent us from providing support to Maoists, providing support to a group we have labeled terrorists because of their past activities. And until they go through fully the process of transition, until they establish a track record as a peaceful political party, we're not going to be able to provide support to them. We won't be able to deal with them as a political party until they really are one. So yeah, we have a sense of reality about this. We're prepared to work here, though we'll work within our laws. But I think we can find ways to meet with ministers in government, whatever party they come from, and we can find ways to continue our programs even if we don't continue exactly the same way the way we've done in the past. That'll depend on the program, that'll depend on politics, and that'll depend on the ministries.
QUESTION: Two brief questions please. One is: has the United States pledged any financial or personal human resources support to the UN trust fund which is going to support the Ian Martin's mission here? Second thing is: how do you feel about the deep divisions created among the Bhutanese refugees after the U.S. offer to resettle them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I have to write them down so I know.
As far as the UN trust fund, I don't think -- you know it's just come out -- and I don't think we've been able to make any separate pledge at this point. I would say we're very big supporters of UN activity around the world -- we give 25 percent of the UN budget, more or less, for these kinds of activities. And so I think we have to recognize already that we are in for quite a lot and we will carry out our obligations there. But we will also look at what specific needs there are in the current situation. We give a lot of assistance that I think contributes to the process already and we will continue that assistance. But I can't give you any specific numbers at this point or do anything brand new at this point other than just say that we're already in it in a big way and we will continue to support the process, including the UN role.
As far as divisions among the refugees, different people are going to want to do different things. Where people go is a matter of choice. People who have Bhutanese citizenship, recognized by the government of Bhutan , they need to be able to go home. Other people may not find it so easy. There'll be matter of negotiation, consultation. We've made clear that people who choose to do so, we're prepared to resettle as many as 60,000 in the United States . That can go a long way towards settling the problem if that's what people decide to do. No one goes to United States against their will. It's a choice people are allowed to make and if people make that choice we'll be glad to have refugees.
Refugees have contributed a lot to the American society as good citizens. They get jobs, they support themselves and their families. For many people this has been a choice that they've made. We've taken, I think, 40,000 refugees last year – many years we take more. So if people make that choice we'll be glad to have them. We welcome them but it should not create any division other than people getting the right to make their own choice.
QUESTION: I am Sam Taylor with the AFP. Prior to the April people's movement, the U.S. was advocating the political parties and the king should try and reconcile their differences. Six months down the line what role does the U.S. see for his majesty in the current climate of Nepal ?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Certainly, the king's actions last year and his unwillingness to reconcile with the political parties have really damaged his reputation, damaged his role here. What his role ultimately will be is not for us to decide. We don't really have a particular opinion on this. This is something for the people of Nepal to decide, something that I am sure will be debated, discussed as they head towards elections to the constituent assembly. It is something that's understood to be decided by the constituent assembly. That's fine with us. The question is for the Nepali people, what do they do about the monarchy?
QUESTION: I am Shirish Pradhan with the PTI. My first question is, has any Maoist leader tried to contact you or you tried to meet any Maoist leader this time? And secondly, if Nepalese people choose republican system through constituent assembly, will you support that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The answer to your second question is very simply: yes. We'll support whatever the people of Nepal decide in a free and fair process, support whatever the constituent assembly comes up with. That's the essence of all this. That's why we're calling for [inaudible] by all people. We pledge ourselves to the same recognized role that the people or Nepal are making the choices for. We respect the rights of the people in Nepal in making free and fair choices and give them the opportunity to make that choice without fear or intimidation.
As far as whether any Maoists have tried to contact me, not that I know of. My cell phone has not rung, but I haven't really been waiting for their call and nor have I tried to reach out them. I think at this point it's fair to say that we haven't seen any change in their behavior. We haven't seen them act like a political party and therefore it's not time to deal with them as just another political party.
QUESTION: This is Mahesh from Kantipur FM. I have two queries for you. Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists have reached a historic agreement regarding restructuring of the nation and Maoists have entered into the peace process. Under these circumstances, is the U.S. discussing to lift off the terrorist tag off the Maoists or is U.S. still stands to see the Maoist activities before proceeding further? And you told about legal implications to support the interim government with Maoists, can you clarify those legal implications?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We will be fully prepared to take the Maoists off our designated list as terrorist organization when they stop being a terrorist organization. We'll be fully prepared to deal with them as a political party when they start being a political party. Political parties don't run militias, political parties don't walk around with guns. As I said many times and I'll say this again, you don't walk into Parliament with a gun in your pocket. So when they've changed their behavior we'll be happy to change our designation. We'll be happy to deal with them as a political party.
As far as the legal implications, I think I explained U.S. law says that we can't provide assistance to support any group that we see as a terrorist group. Maoists over many years now have earned that reputation and have earned that designation. So we have to make sure that until their behavior changes, we'll not provide any support. That means we won't be able to fund the programs they run. We won't be able to fund programs where they're in charge. We're not providing them the benefit of running these programs. So given that law, we will have to look at circumstances, the program, circumstances of the ministries or an organization we use, and make sure that we're not doing that. But I am fairly confident that we can restructure our programs as necessary, because ultimately the goal is to get the benefit of the programs, to get the health care, to get the education, to get the democratic assistance or other assistance, to the people of Nepal – and that remains our priority.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Rekha Shrestha and I am representing The Himalayan Times. What will be the process for the United States to lift the terrorist tag off the Maoists once they start behaving like political party? And has it happened in the past with any other terrorist organization which were put in the list and they were lifted?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think I am quite the expert on the past. I know there've been states taken off the state terrorism list. Mohmmar Qaddafi made a big decision and I think, well, we're not quite there yet. Anyway, we're moving in that direction. So there certainly are opportunities. The process is that we will watch their behavior and when we see them abandoning violence, when we see them acting like a political party, we will do the appropriate study and we will make our decision. The law says there has to be six months of activities without terrorism. I don't think it happens automatically in the end of six months. There has to be some period of time to say that they have truly given up violence, stopped terrorist acts, and begun to act like a political party. When we see it we will make the appropriate decisions.
QUESTION: I have a supplement question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure, go ahead…
QUESTION: Now the Maoists are going to keep the key with themselves … (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think it's just a matter of keys. I mean, a key is not going to stop somebody from breaking the law. The issue is what their intentions are. I am afraid when I see Prachanda saying he reserves the right to return to armed struggle, and I have to wonder if that key is going to be enough. But it's really about their intentions. What do they intend to do? If they intend to lay down their arms, the UN can set up the process to do so. We will have to see. But I have great confidence in the UN. They have a lot of experience doing this around the world. They know what kind of arrangements can work. They know how to make the best of any arrangements agreed by the parties. So in that regard, yes, I do have confidence in the arrangement worked out and the role of the United Nations to make it happen. But, ultimately, what's going to make it happen is for the Maoists to make real decisions -- sincere decisions and strong decisions -- not reserve some right, as I say, not put a gun in their back pockets.
QUESTION: My name's Charles Haviland with the BBC. Two questions, if I may. The first is: the government and the UN will soon be undoubtedly seeking support to keep both their army and the Maoists in their camps and cantonments. I think you talked about not supporting the Maoists, but will the U.S. be able to financially support that process? And the second is, does the U.S. wholeheartedly welcome the peace process or is their some ambivalence, given your antipathy towards one portion of the government that's about to be formed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As I mentioned before, I can't say anything specific about the supporting the UN in this particular period or in this particular circumstance. We will certainly be looking at the needs of the United Nations and I am sure others will as well. We already provide a lot of support and I am sure and that will continue and we will do what we can.
Do we wholeheartedly support the agreement? Yes, we wholeheartedly support the agreement. We wholeheartedly want to see it work. We are always hopeful, but we are realistic about the things that need to be done to make it work.
QUESTION: This is Manesh Shrestha with the CNN. You said that you met the Chief of Army Staff, you already met the Prime Minister in the morning who also holds the defense portfolio. You mentioned that you wanted to look into what are Nepal 's defense needs. Assuming that a peace agreement would bring an end to ten-year-old conflict, do you still think that U.S. support is needed for Nepal 's defense needs?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think every nation that we know of around the world has its defense needs -- these change, they evolve over time. Nepal sends peacekeeping missions around the world; it's very important to us. It's been a great contribution that Nepal has made. As I said, it will be a matter – we will continue our discussions with the civilian leaders of Nepal , the Prime Minister as Defense Minister will keep the Defense Ministry himself. They are the ones who decide what their needs are. So all I came to do this time was to talk about our willingness to continue our support.
QUESTION: Simon Deyer with Reuters. The armed force has had their share of critics. Do you see a need for reform in the armed forces, and do the Maoist seem realistic in asking for a full integration into the army to create a new army?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: First of all, the critics of the armed forces have included us. We raised issues regarding human rights violations and certainly I talked to the chief of the army today about the need to have investigations of past abuses, to have a good training program on human rights, professional conduct and on their arms, and, indeed, he told me that was one of his priorities. He's taking steps to establish that program and conducting investigations where they are necessary.
I also had the opportunity to talk to people at the human rights commission where they are very objective about looking at reports of abuses, violations -- whichever side it came from -- document abuses, problems that occurred from the security forces as well as the Maoists, and I think that's a very important role to have in an objective observer and a willingness on the part of the government not only to (inaudible). So this was an issue I discussed at number of places – the security forces, the political parties, the human rights commission.
We certainly want to see a democratic government here that maintains high standards of human rights because ultimately it is about respect for the Nepali people and their lives, and making their choices. And we expect the Maoists to show the same kind of respect and stop intimidation and violence directed against the people of Nepal .
And having said that, I forgot the second question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think I have a comment on that. That's something the political leaders of Nepal have to decide. I don't believe that the point's been accepted at this point of negotiation.
He's asked one before. Get somebody new.
QUESTION: I would like to know American clear view point on Bhutanese refugee issue -- whether America is in favor of repatriation or third country settlement? We want to be clear on that.
QUESTION: And in addition to that, what did you discuss in Bhutan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I discussed this issue in Bhutan. And the answer to your question is: yes. We're in favor of repatriation of those who qualify. We're in favor of third country resettlement for those who choose to do so. Above all, we're in favor of resolving this problem for the benefit of the refugees and out of humanitarian concern.
That's all. Thank you very much.
Posted by Editor on November 17, 2006 3:35 AM