New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV US Ambassador Timothy Roemer speaks to Prannoy Roy on the reasons for his resignation, the 2012 US Elections and the historic India-US relationship on "almost every conceivable issue today."
Here's the full transcript of that interview:
Prannoy Roy: I do want to say that last time we met, just after that historic visit of President Obama and we talked, and I asked you and I have a record, here it is, that you had this successful visit, you being here and being in India without a major blunder is no joke, and how long are you going to carry on, are you enjoying it enough? I want to ask you the same question again. It's been about two years now...
Timothy Roemer: Two years...
Prannoy Roy: So what are your plans now? Another two years?
Timothy Roemer: Well my wife, my family and I have had such a great time here. We've had the opportunity to have warm friendships, travel extensively through India; have the opportunity to build this strategic and global partnership; one success after another in this relationship and after two years it's time for me to go home. I told the President when I took this job that I would be serving for two years. I also, like many Indians, have a family and I have a son that is going to be going off to college in the fall and another son right after that, and I have parents and in-laws that I want to be able to spend time with and so do my children. Plus I think you want to go on high note. You also want to go when the strategic relationship and the partnership is going so well; and it is really unthinkable, inconceivable ten years ago that the United States and India would be global partners, on a historic trajectory of partnership on almost every conceivable issue today.
Prannoy Roy: Would you say almost it is at its highest point, the relationship between America and India now?
Timothy Roemer: It is at its highest point. Again, if you look back a decade, a kind of frozen relationship, not a lot of engagement on some of the most important serious issues. Today, as the President announced on his historic trip here, a few months ago, that he saw an India that was not rising but had risen. He wanted to recognise this global power of India by pledging America's support for a permanent seat on the United Nation Security Council. He wanted to remove entities from the entities list so that US and Indian businesses could continue the great business-to-business relationship and get even closer and do more technology exchanges. We talked about a green partnership and exchanging some of the technologies to allow the next green revolution to take place in India; and with the United States on a two way street of partnerships I signed a historic counter terrorism memorandum of understanding, where today we have not only shared David Headley with the people in the Government of India, but we now have forensics training, best practices, mega police exercises and training programmes going back and forth between the two countries. We are at an historic time.
Prannoy Roy: But you know going back to America because of your family, you know it sounds like you've become Indian now. I feel sorry for you (laughs) have you been Indianised?
Timothy Roemer: Well maybe. I am eating a lot of the naan and dal and enjoying the travel. In a serious way, Prannoy, I was reading through Tagore's wonderful speech that he gave when he won the Nobel Prize in 1913, and you look back over the last two years and you're trying to think historically about what this relationship is, what it means to the world, what it means to the next fifty years of world peace and prosperity. And Tagore talked about it. We live in a great time and in a great age and we are saying the East and the West move slowly closer together and he took great pride in saying "I play a small role in moving them together". I hope in the team that I've led at the Embassy, in moving this trajectory to a global strategic partnership, as the President has directed me to do, that we are not only moving East and West together, it's a partnership, it's an indispensable relationship that helps build peace and prosperity for democracy, for diversity, for non-proliferation, for jobs in both places and for peace in Asia; something that is a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
Prannoy Roy: And your decision to resign as Ambassador and go back, that's final? Can't be reversed?
Timothy Roemer: Well, there is one powerful person that could always have a lot to say about it. President Obama is somebody, that when I took the job, I told them that I would do it for two years, family considerations would be front and centre for me, and I serve at the pleasure of the President, and I intend to remain very active in US and India relations. You can't help, as you take on this job, and as I have travelled to Amritsar and watched the people of India feed 80,000 people a day at the Golden Temple...
Prannoy Roy: The Golden Temple is a remarkable experience...
Timothy Roemer: Unbelievable. Not just for India but for the world to see that. I went to Jodhpur and to meet with the Bishnoi people and where they've offered me everything they have. The generosity of India by the farming population there when I have met with farmers who have been farming the same way for generations upon generation. When I visited the tiger parks here, Sunderbans, Ranthambore and Kaziranga and seen a tiger in every one of those places, it pierces your heart, it brings you closer to these beautiful resources that India has. I cannot see for me, or my family, not being involved in this wonderful strategic partnership for decades to come.
Prannoy Roy: It looks as though India has got into you...
Timothy Roemer: India is in my heart and in my brain and in my stomach.
Prannoy Roy: But you know when you go back and it's family and you've done two year here, there is also something big happening next year. I can't remember what it was, 2012, right and you've been a politician?
Timothy Roemer: You are always a recovering politician especially in America. You never get away from it, there is always a surprise or two
Prannoy Roy: So 2012 for you?
Timothy Roemer: Well I signed up early for the President in 2007 for a 2008 election and got on board early. Campaigned for him in eight or ten states. He will be running for re-election and I think he has done a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances. If the President would ask me to help in some way that is certainly something as my friend...
Prannoy Roy: It is in your DNA...
Timothy Roemer: He is not only my President, he is a friend of mine and somebody I deeply respect and like working with and would have a hard time saying no to
Prannoy Roy: Your arm could be twisted?
Timothy Roemer: (laughs) I think you are twisting it a little bit here on your show...
Prannoy Roy: You talked about Headley and remember we talked earlier about how eventually things are going to emerge from what you said. Now we've just heard recently about four Pakistanis being indicted for 26/11, coming out of Headley's statement. In fact, one is a serving Major in the Pakistan Army, Iqbal, what is America is going to do about this?
Timothy Roemer: I think this case, taken forward by the Justice Department, which is attached to the trial in Chicago that is going to begin on May 16, where we are trying Rana and Headley, who has plea bargained and will serve a life sentence in America for his role in 26/11 atrocities and the terror attacks on India which killed 6 Americans. This is an interesting case. The United States legal system has decided to go after four more individuals, in addition to Headley and Rana. You mentioned a Major Iqbal as well and there is an individual by the name Sajeed Mir. This shows, I think Prannoy, that the United States is not only working very closely with India to prevent a future 9/11 or 26/11, not only cooperating to bring people to justice who attack our respective countries, but also trying to do more and more sharing every day intelligence, sharing sensitive technologies, working shoulder to shoulder together to target people, in a future, that might be involved in things that threaten both our countries. I have to tell you too that we just completed, in the last couple of days, a major training programme in Los Angeles, California for forty Indian chiefs of states and district police personnel, to better understand our system of forensics and best practices in our government, a whole government approach to try to prevent terrorist attacks. So this latest series of indictments proves once again that the United States and India are not only working closely as global partners on counter terrorism, but also share a lot of the same goals and are targeting some of the same people.
Prannoy Roy: Now the Guantanamo files have shown that the ISI in Pakistan has been listed as a terrorist organisation just like the Al-Qaeda. So the frustration in India is that that America knows all this, but there is not enough being done to curb the ISI and Lashkar, because of America's own interest in Afghanistan, and you need the supply routes to Afghanistan. So when are we actually going to see action, based on what you already know, that the ISI is a terrorist organisation?
Timothy Roemer: First of all I think we need to acknowledge that with the United States strongly encouraging Pakistan to do more, that Pakistan has done more in the last eighteen months about the extremism that threatens their internal stability; that they are doing more to take on their problems, the extremism within the country. Secondly I would have to respectfully disagree with you, that the United States has been very direct, in saying to Pakistan, that we have concerns that the ISI has connections to some of these different groups. Secretary Clinton, General Jones, when he was NSA, have all been very direct to Pakistan that they have to do more about extremism within the country...
Prannoy Roy: But if they do, they do nothing, they kind of just look at America and kind of ignore you and then there is no response. So you know all this and nothing concrete happens?
Timothy Roemer: Well we know that Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al Qaida and other groups are not only a threat to Pakistan, and an unstable Pakistan is a threat to India and a threat to the region. The United States and India are working more and more closely as global partners, to try to build the capacity in India to prevent terrorist attacks, whether they emanate from Pakistan or someplace else. They are working closer and closer to share information to prevent attacks like 26/11, and they are respecting the reach that Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al Qaida have, not only in this region. I think the United States more and more recognises the group like Lashkar-e-Toiba as a regional or a global terrorist group, and one that we're doing more and more to address, not only in Pakistan, but also in the reach outside of Pakistan, and I think it is very important to recognise this and give credit to the United States for this. When I took this job two years ago, again it was unthinkable that you would see the United States talking about the Lashkar-e-Toiba in same kind of a way that we talked about Al Qaida and other terrorist groups. Now when you have different individuals come in to India and visit, whether it be our State Department people or be military people, they will often mention Lashkar as one of the most lethal threats with regional reach and global aspirations, along with Al Qaida.
Prannoy Roy: In fact our sources say that Hillary Clinton has told the Pakistan government that the Lashkar needs to be eliminated, in those words. Do you think they should be eliminated?
Timothy Roemer: I think that this is a group, Prannoy, that with a younger generation of leaders is increasingly interested in taking on India, attacking Europe and locations in western Europe, trying to bring countries to war. They are more and more interested in the US homeland. We have seen what Lashkar is capable of doing in hitting both Indian targets and western targets in Mumbai, where they killed 6 Americans. We are very cognizant of what they are capable of doing and very focused on this as a group, along with other groups.
Prannoy Roy: Also there are strong indications from American sources that there was going to be another attack after 26/11 and Hillary Clinton actually told Pakistan they better stop it and they stopped. So America does have that influence. Do you confirm there was another attack going to happen?
Timothy Roemer: I can tell you, on a public show like this, that leading up to 26/11 we shared a lot of intelligence with India; and during the trial of Kasab our FBI testified in court and cooperated with the investigation, led the investigation and in some ways, with GPS backgrounding coordinates and provided some information to Indian investigators, who did such a superb job. We continue to work very closely with India to try to prevent future attacks and sharing information, sharing technology, sharing best practices, that goes without saying. To your question, our highest levels of government expressed to the highest levels of Pakistan, and this includes Secretary Clinton, and General Jones who have delivered very blunt and very honest and forceful messages to the leadership in Pakistan, that if there is a successful terrorist attack into the United States, the game changes
Prannoy Roy: What about a successful, an attack in India, another 26/11 in India?
Timothy Roemer: Another reason why I think you see the United States continue to broaden and deepen its partnership with India, trying to build where India has identified their capacity needs. When Mr. Chidambaram went to the United States, last year, he identified 4-5 different areas that might be helpful, including a possible National Counter Terrorism Centre, mega police training, forensic capabilities, maritime cooperation and security, because the terrorists came down by boat into Mumbai. We were working in all these different areas to try to help India build capacity and prevent future attacks, but that's not enough. We need to also send a message to Pakistan that they need to do more within their country to take on the extremists and the extremist threat.
Prannoy Roy: Are they listening?
Timothy Roemer: ...And need to deliver the message to Pakistan, as we do on a regular basis, that these connections that we see between different organisations must stop.
Prannoy Roy: Are they listening? Are they doing anything?
Timothy Roemer: As I said to you, my first point about giving some credit to Pakistan that they have, in their efforts to take on some of the extremist groups, they have sustained more injuries and more deaths than ever before. They fought the insurgents for a longer period than ever before. I think they are seeing more success than they have ever accomplished before but that's not enough. They need to do even more today given ...
Prannoy Roy: Because you see the Lashkar leaders walking around free, making speeches. Do you feel that America is having an impact there or are they just doing enough to keep you happy?
Timothy Roemer: No, I think the United States is prioritising this. That we need to deliver a strong message about global terrorist groups, we need to work as a global partner with our friends, like India, in this region to promote peace. We also can work with our friends and Pakistan to try to make sure that they can address this growing threat within their country. And again as President Obama said in Mumbai, at St. Xaviers, when a student asked him this question, why should Pakistan get some help in education or economic ways to fight this threat? And the President said, a de-stable or a fragile Pakistan is more of a threat to the people of India then even to the people of America, and that's in our common interest to work together on this...
Prannoy Roy: When you say you are connecting the dots, when you connect the dots was there going to be another attack like 26/11 in India?
Timothy Roemer: Are you talking about pre 26/11?
Prannoy Roy: After 26/11 was there going to be another subsequent attack on India from Pakistan?
Timothy Roemer: We continue to share our more sensitive and recent information.
Prannoy Roy: So you can't. I will take that as a yes.
Timothy Roemer: And let them know if we think there is a possibility of a threat, whether that could be in the Commonwealth Games, whether that could be during a Presidential visit, whether that could be during World Cricket Cup, we will continue to provide that information in real time.
Prannoy Roy: So in all these instances you give, America provided information to India?
Timothy Roemer: All I can tell you is when there are threats, over the course of the last few years, both pre 26/11 and post 26/11, the level of cooperation between the United States and India is unprecedented, historic, shoulder to shoulder and minute by minute every day.
Prannoy Roy: Coming to the WikiLeaks embarrassment. First generally about WikiLeaks, that now that they've exposed so much, so many cables between diplomats, secret cables, is that making functioning less open and more sort of, that everybody is much more cautious and therefore it's been counter-productive? I asked Julian Assange the same question that is it counter-productive? From now on nobody will say what they think on cables. They will be very careful they, like you see in the movies, walk into the garden and you know, talk where there are no mikes.
Timothy Roemer: No, first of all I think that everybody involved in the relationship between India and the United States of America recognises the importance of the relationship today for both economies, for the security and safety of both peoples, for peace and prosperity and stability in Asia. This is a global partnership and you don't shut that down. This relationship is at a new time and we continue to talk to our contacts in India, in the governing party, in the opposition party. As I told you, I travel, meet with regional parties, the Chief Ministers and Governors, these are people to people ties and business-to- business ties that are extremely important. Secondly, I would just say to your general question, that a privacy relationship, whether that be between a doctor and patient, whether that be between a psychologist and patient...
Prannoy Roy: (Interrupts) that sounds like, more like diplomats talking psychologist and patients.
Timothy Roemer: Well sometimes in some parts of the world that might be true. With regard to the US -India relationship I think you are saying..
Prannoy Roy: Who is the patient and who is the psychologist?
Timothy Roemer: You are saying that both of us see the need to have trust and develop this trust in a way that is mutual respect, and that has gone along extremely well. I think overall, the Wikileaks short term, you know might cause some people some pause, but medium and long term I think this relationship is in such a good place, whether it is the strategic importance of it, that the trajectory is unstoppable, there are no limits, there are no horizons, there are no preventions to how deep and broad the US - India cooperation is going to become in the future.
Prannoy Roy: So in the WikiLeaks for example everything is signed by the US Ambassador, but does that mean it is from the US Ambassador or not?
Timothy Roemer: Just without getting into too many details, Prannoy, the Ambassador's name goes on every cable that goes out.
Prannoy Roy: So you don't necessarily read every single thing because probably...
Timothy Roemer: Well I'm not going to comment on every single.
Prannoy Roy: No naturally, naturally. But we did hear that every single communication from the White House, from the Secretary of State is signed by her but she obviously doesn't read a million a day so you know...
Timothy Roemer: Nobody could do that. It is not realistic.
Prannoy Roy: So when it says that one of your officials saw cash in a MP's house, is that correct or is that him bragging?
Timothy Roemer: I am not going to comment on the details on WikiLeaks but I appreciate you trying, and like you said that pointed attempt, but we are not going to comment on the details. You comment on one, you comment on all of them.
Prannoy Roy: Ok, just not comment. I understand, but it was worth a try. Is it generally are they authentic? Would you say?
Timothy Roemer: Again, I am not going to comment.
Prannoy Roy: They sound pretty authentic to me...
Timothy Roemer: It is up to the people to judge.
Prannoy Roy: Just coming finally to US-Pakistan relations and the use of drones and the reaction that it's causing within Pakistan, it is a delicate issue. Are you going to slow down on the use of drones, or carry on, because there are a lot of protests happening as a result of that?
Timothy Roemer: Again as the US Ambassador to New Delhi India that is the subject that the President will ultimately determine, in consultation with the Ambassadors of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Prannoy Roy: Right and even if you knew you wouldn't say...
Timothy Roemer: Certainly not on this show.
Prannoy Roy: One of your favourite issues, nuclear liability, nuclear power, nuclear liability. There is a bit of a stand-off between India and America on who is liable. Is it going to be the government or is it going to be the supplier of weapons? Is there any progress on that?
Timothy Roemer: There's been a great deal of progress on this issue in the last several years. The way I explain it is that when we use the term civilian nuclear cooperation, I think many of your viewers and many people of America are not quite certain what that means. This historic agreement between the two countries allows this two-way partnership to continue to broaden and deepen in strategically valuable ways for both countries. The United States manufactures the sensitive technology, creating jobs at home. We sell it and send it to India so that Indians get access to energy and electricity. So that these lights that you take for granted in your studio or right in front of us can shine for a 12-year-student to do their homework in a village outside Bihar, in a very, very critically important area for development, inclusive development as Prime Minister Singh likes to talk about. So I think as we move forward in working out the details, all details of this historic agreement, it's going to continue to benefit both countries. And I think Prime Minister Singh, who handled this question very well on his trip back from China, the other day, when he was on plane somebody asked him how things were going with nuclear cooperation and nuclear power in India, and he said safety and security have to be put in the very front of the debate, but this needs to remain a very viable clean option for the people of Indian in the future.
Prannoy Roy: Everybody understands that and is sympathetic towards that but if something like Japan happens who will pay? Will it be the supplier or not I think that's the key?
Timothy Roemer: And that is something India is working through. Are they going to be consistent with International law, and whether the United States does this kind of business in 26 or 27 other countries where the liability is steered to the operator, or are they going to do it in a different way? I can tell you, Prannoy, that this cooperation between our two countries has been very positive. It is a new strategic area for people to people, business-to-business ties and I am confident of the road ahead. Things will go well
Prannoy Roy: Okay, I have to ask you that two years in India, what you going to miss about India? You'd probably be thrilled to be out of here?
Timothy Roemer: No, for Sally, my family, our children we are connected now, not only intellectually with the great traditions of Tagore, who I mentioned it earlier, Gandhi. My children have been all over India they do volunteering and Mother Teresa and other community services are a very important part of their time here. They enjoyed going to different parts of India. They just took a trip with me to Assam, saw the beauty in the hospitality of the people, the Assamese people there, they've been to the beaches of Goa.
Prannoy Roy: I bet they liked that bit?
Timothy Roemer: They loved the beaches of Goa, but there is not a place in India where this hospitality and generosity does not shine through, to me and to my family. People have opened their doors, their communities and their hearts to us. I remember the saying when I got here, that you come to India as a tourist, you leave as a member of the family. We came here as diplomats, we will leave as family members of this great country and it will always be in our hearts. It will always be part of us and I will always be involved in this relationship, building the strategic nature of it, continuing to expand it in new global ways. I think it is going in a direction; it will always go in a positive way. In fifty years from now the historians will look back and say, this was the time that one of the most crucial relationships for peace, prosperity, dignity, inclusiveness, human rights and religious freedom was forged, and we were here.
Prannoy Roy: One thing you won't miss is the Indian media right?
Timothy Roemer: I love the Indian media, the vibrancy, the aggressiveness, and even trying to slip in the questions about WikiLeaks or Pakistan. Those are absolutely you're right to do, and that's what makes your system so much like our system in America. We have so many common values and common interests. That's the people to people tie that will continue to make this one of the most profoundly important relationships on the face of the globe.
Prannoy Roy: Well, congratulations on your two years here, too short from both points of view I'm sure, and best of luck in 2012.
Timothy Roemer: Thank you. Always a pleasure.