In an exclusive interview to NDTV, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said today that "relationship between India and US has never been stronger in our eyes". In her 16-minute-long interview, Ms Haley, who is on a two-day visit to India, talked about the "2+2 dialogue", India's ties with Russia, US' funding to Pakistan and the possibilities of her running for the presidential office in the United States.
Here is a full transcript of Nikki Haley's interview with NDTV:
NDTV: Good evening. It would appear that the world has turned upside down. The Trump administration walked out of a crucial nuclear deal with Iran. It has also recently walked out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Earlier, President Trump rejected the Paris climate accord and has somehow managed to set off a global trade war. But in all of this, the one thing that has remained constant is the India-U.S. relationship. By and large that relationship has remained steady. However, some irritants have cropped up in recent months, whether it's been about trade, tariffs, visas, sanctions related to Iran, Russia etc. Here with us to talk about this and much, much more is one of the rising stars, the leading lights of the Trump administration, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley. Great to have you on NDTV ma'am. And you are of course the proud daughter of Indian parents and happen to be the first Indian American to hold a Cabinet post in any U.S. presidential administration. It is wonderful to have you on NDTV.
Nikki Haley: Thank you very much, it's great to be back in India.
NDTV: I'll ask you straight off, because the one thing that sort of hit all of us during your visit was the announcement that a crucial dialogue between India and the United States scheduled for next week was suddenly put off by the U.S. You have said that it didn't have anything to do with India. Why did it happen?
Nikki Haley: There is a very good reason. Prime Minister Modi as well as the foreign minister know exactly why. And I think the rest of the world will know why soon. But it had nothing to do with India at all. It is something that the U.S. administration sees as a priority. This will be the first time we've had the 2+2. So, it's something that they are putting urgency behind. They're already talking about where and when and in the process of rescheduling it.
NDTV: I ask you that because it was seen in many quarters this morning as somewhat of a snub to India, because the dialogue was postponed in April, when Rex Tillerson had to step down as Secretary of State, that India is not really a priority in the way that we think it is.
Nikki Haley: Well, first of all I wouldn't be here if India wasn't a priority, so they very much want to make sure that we're building on the relationship, strengthening the relationship and making it better. Things happen, it will come to light why this has been rescheduled, but the relationship between India and the U.S. has never been stronger in our eyes anyway. I hope in the eyes of India it's the same way. I had a great conversation with Prime Minister Modi. We talked about so many different things. And overall, we have so much in common. Both of our democracies share so many values and so many traits and we have a vision that's very forward thinking and so we're going to continue to go in that way. In no way is India on the back burner; if anything, I think India is a closer friend to us than they've ever been before.
NDTV: So, let's talk about the tricky stuff because that's always more fun and I'll begin with Iran. As you know India has tremendous interests with Iran. We are one of the largest importers of oil from Iran. And it has been reported that you told Prime Minister Modi, when you did meet him, that India should reduce its dependence on oil from Iran. Is that true and can you share with us what he said to you?
Nikki Haley: Well, I think, first of all, you have to look at the situation with Iran. The United States sees Iran for the threat that it is and the rest of the world joined into an agreement with Iran that they would abide by the rules. And what we've seen is violation after violation, which was reported by the United Nations and reported by the Secretary General that Iran wasn't following the rules. And what we have said is we're not going to play by a deal that's a farce of a deal, we're going to work on something when it's real. Iran was violating its use of ballistic missiles. It was continuing to support terrorism. It was continuing to give arms to the Houthis in Yemen and a list of other violations. So, all of us have to rethink who we choose to do business with. And I think that, as a friend, what India should also decide - is this a country that they want to continue doing business with. And so yes, I had that conversation with Prime Minister Modi. No, I'm not going to go into details into what that was, but it really was a very constructive conversation where we both talked about the situation that is Iran. The fact that India can't change its relationship with Iran in a day, but we did encourage India to start to look at who they do business with and whether that's a country that they can depend on in the future.
NDTV: But there is then clearly a divergence isn't there, in the way India looks at Iran and the way the U.S. looks at it? India has a strategic interest in Iran as well through a port that we're building. So how would you sort of address the differences, those divergences?
Nikki Haley: You know I think Iran changed the situation. Iran was the one that started doing the ballistic missile testing. Iran was the one that started violating different U.N. resolutions. Iran is the one that started to support terrorism in multiple places. If you look at all of the areas, whether it's Syria or Lebanon, you look at Iraq and everything that all of the conflicts have in common is Iran. And so, they have changed the playing field. And when a country changes the playing field, and starts to go in the wrong direction, the rest of us have to go back and say, do we want to change the relationship. The U.S. has had to look at that and I think India is going to have to look at that. I understand the port, understand the essential part of the port, but I also think of the future of India, the future of being able to get resources and who they're dependent on. I think we would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran.
NDTV: What about India's defence relationship with Russia? That's been another area of concern as far as India is concerned. There is an air defence missile system that the Indian Defence Minister has said, India is very keen to go ahead with its end in the final stages of negotiations. But that could possibly invite U.S. sanctions. As for a law, that your country has enacted, do you see any merit in India's position that there should be an exemption from sanctions on this particular deal?
Nikki Haley: Well we certainly understand the long relationship India has had with Russia. That's not anything that we take lightly. We understand it's there but the United States had to act on issues that we thought were a problem. The election meddling was a problem. Their invasion of Crimea, the idea that they had the Skripal incident on British soil, multiple things have continued to happen with Russia that Congress decided to act and put sanctions on. We can't help that it is now a law, so anybody that any country that does business with Russia, with their intelligence communities or their defence communities, there are sanctions. That is just part of the U.S. sanction efforts and I think that the way the administration is looking at it is to really look at what can be done and what are the options. That exactly is the reason they're having the 2+2 dialogue, to be able to discuss things like this so that we can work it out together.
NDTV: You made that curious statement in Delhi when you came yesterday. That freedom of religion is as important as freedom of rights and freedom of speech. Can I ask you the context of that, because there's also been a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal commission that's actually critisised India for its record on religious freedom in its report, talking particularly about right wing nationalists and their use of violence etc. Does your administration share that view with the Commission or was there a different context in which you made those comments?
Nikki Haley: So, I believe that, human rights is very important for the stability of any government and part of human rights is being able to respect the freedoms of multiple things, freedom of religion has to be respected in order for a government to continue to have a diverse community and continue to respect its community. India has multiple religions. India has a diverse community within its country. India needs to respect the freedom of religion as does the United States. It's something that we continue to do. And so, you know, you've got a great culture, great heritage of so many different religions and we toured them all morning to see the different faiths and the different ways that people find God, and we think that it's important for all countries to remember that that needs to be protected and that needs to be restored.
NDTV: It's interesting that you thought that India needs to be reminded about that.
Nikki Haley: I don't know. I don't think India needs to be reminded. I think every country needs to be reminded this is something that as we're seeing divisions happen and as we're seeing countries fall apart. I think it's very, very, important that for strong stable democracies. Freedom of religion always has to be there.
NDTV: Would you say that that's a piece of advice that the U.S. could also keep for itself, because you have this controversy, for instance, over the travel ban which the Supreme Court has upheld, which is seen by many as a Muslim ban. And you yourself said it, said in the past, that you would not support a Muslim ban. You don't see it like that, but many people do, because most of the countries affected are Muslim majority countries. How would you look at that?
Nikki Haley: It's not a Muslim ban, because there are many countries that have Muslims that are allowed to come into the United States, and of the travel ban, there are countries on that list that don't have anything to do with the Muslim community. This is about safety. This is about terrorism and what the United States security agencies did was, they looked at every country and any country that we don't have enough information on the people that want to come into this country, where it's our sovereign right to say we should take a step back and make sure we have all of the information. We need to protect the people. It has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with the changing world that we're in today, and the fact that terrorism has been on the rise.
NDTV: How do you see the trade war playing out, particularly between India and the United States? I mean we've been seeing it between the United States and China, now your allies in Europe. But how do you think this could potentially impact the relationship?
Nikki Haley: We don't see it as a war. We very much see the fact that India and the U.S. are continuing to do more and more business together. And we see that as a positive thing. The U.S. wants to invest more in India. The U.S. wants Indian companies to invest more in the United States. We want to see the trade grow. What the President is doing with every country is, saying we have deficits across the board in multiple countries; we need to make it more fair. We need to make it more balanced. Doesn't mean we want to stop trade. The President would prefer that we not have any tariffs on anything. The United States has a few tariffs. India has a lot more tariffs. China has the most tariffs. But what we're going to do is work in a friendly way to make sure that we can continue to do trade in which it doesn't seem unbalanced. We don't expect a trade war with India. The talks already have started and they're going in a very good direction and we know that this is only going to lead us to doing more business together.
NDTV: Okay, so you say you don't expect a trade war, let's see how those talks pan out. I have so many questions. But let me ask you; you know this whole immigration migrant policy in the U.S., the separation of families that we saw, as a mother yourself, how did you feel when you saw children being separated from their parents in the way that they were?
Nikki Haley: No one felt good about what was happening. I think that the United States, as many countries are, are having to deal with the migration issue that we're seeing that's happening because of so many conflicts in the world. Immigration has been an issue that the United States has not paid attention to for years and suddenly now is the time where we have to start paying attention to who is coming in legally, and who is coming in illegally. What we are trying to do is, put safeguards in place, and see what we need to do at the root of the cause and why they're coming in the first place, and then what we need to do to make sure that our citizens are protected. The one most valuable role that the United States has is that, we do believe we are a country that respects the rule of law. And we can't, under no circumstances, can we ever condone breaking the law.
NDTV: And what was it you felt? Was it cruel to break children away from their...
Nikki Haley: I think that everybody felt bad about the separation of families, which is exactly why President Trump went forward with the executive order and made sure that we put a stop to that. But it still means we've got to deal with the immigration issue, we have a lot of migration that's coming in through the southern border. And what we're trying to do is, find a way so that they can at least approach it in a good humane way.
NDTV: Let me turn my attention to Pakistan now. The Trump administration has talked very tough on Pakistan and you yourself have as well. You accused Pakistan in the past of playing a double game by harbouring terrorists. But do you really see a fundamental change in the Pakistani position? There is a significant amount of American military aid that has been suspended. There doesn't appear to be any change in Pakistan's support to, for instance, militants in Afghanistan, also to me, their policy towards terrorists who operate out of Jammu and Kashmir in India. So how far is your administration willing to go to ensure that Pakistan acts decisively?
Nikki Haley: Well, first of all, I think it's important for India to understand that this administration has taken the strongest stance on Pakistan than any previous administration and this was about accountability. This was about the fact that we are trying to partner in countering terrorism and we saw that Pakistan was continuing to harbour terrorists throughout this process. We didn't just talk about Pakistan, we cut off most of the funding that goes to Pakistan and so it sent a very strong message. We've continued to keep the pressure on. We have seen small changes, but we're looking for significant changes were it not enough what they're doing. It's the reason why we still are giving the funding, we need to see that they no longer harbour terrorists. We need to see that they're actually being a partner with us. India has been a great partner in how we've dealt with Afghanistan. But what we're not going to do is continue to fund a country that harbours terrorists that kills Americans and kills our allies. And so, until that changes, our stance on Pakistan will not change. They have been a good partner in the past. We hope they'll be a good partner in the future, but for right now, because of the counterterrorism efforts, we're talking domestically and internationally, we're going to continue to keep the accountability on Pakistan.
NDTV: And finally, Ambassador Haley, let me ask you the question I think you must be sort of bombarded with quite frequently, which is whether we are going to see you run for office. There's a lot of speculation about that it might be 2024, that it might be even around in 2020. But are you interested in running for office?
Nikki Haley: You know I think everyone else likes to talk about it. What I'm really focused on is doing my job. My parents always said whatever you do, be great at it and make sure people remember you for it. That's what I'm focused on. I don't think about the presidency. I don't think about 2020. I don't think about 2024. I understand why people ask the questions, but it's not something that I put thought into. Right now, I am trying to serve this administration and serve the people of the United States in the best way that I can. I hope that I am working in a very good way to strengthen U.S.-India relations. That's a personal goal of mine. I think that would be amazing to continue to see that bond strengthened. And I'm just focusing on doing the best that I can.
NDTV: I guess, I guess part of the reason people think you would run for office is this is someone who really holds your own. I mean you know when they say you forgot something at the White House, you said I didn't forget. And you know a lot of people applauded that and said that's great. You know you're clearly someone who has a mind of your own. Why not run for office, I know, think about it?
Nikki Haley: I have always, I believe in telling the truth. I believe in standing up for myself and standing up and defending American values and whatever comes along with that. And so, when there are issues yes, I do clarify the issues. But I think it's important. I think that's important for every person. I think it's important for any situation that you're in. So yes, I can be tough. And yes, I can clarify. But it's always with a service mind intact and it's never with any ambitious motivation.
NDTV: Ambassador Haley, thank you very much for speaking to us on NDTV, thank you so much.