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Interview with John Kerry from Rediff.com

by Pamela Leavey

While visiting India last week, John Kerry gave an exclusive interview with Rediff.com. Here’s the interview:

‘This is a big step we are taking with respect to India’

Had he won three million more votes than he did 14 months ago, he would not have been sitting in the Bell Tower suite at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel last Friday, taking questions on the India-United States nuclear accord which he surprisingly endorsed during his visit to New Delhi.

It is uncertain if indeed such an accord would have been signed had President John F Kerry — not George W Bush — had been in the White House. The United States senator has been one of America’s aggressive champions of non-proliferation — the campaign against the spread of nuclear weapons — and some Indian strategic analysts had predicted rough times for India had he been elected President in November 2004.

In the event he did not become President and the man who defeated him — as National Security Adviser M K Narayanan told us last August — has made it his personal mission to take the India-US relationship to a new high.

With the nuclear accord — which has unfortunately become a symbol for the transformed India-US relationship — confronting rough passage in the American parliament — the US Congress, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate — the Manmohan Singh government was no doubt anxious to win an influential Senator like Kerry over to its side to enhance India’s case before Congress.

Senator Kerry may have backed the accord at a press conference in New Delhi last Thursday, but as he told Nikhil Lakshman India needs to do much more before Congress ratifies the nuclear agreement. A frank, exclusive interview with rediff India Abroad. Photographs: Dominic Xavier.

‘India has behaved better than some countries that have signed the NPT ‘

Senator Kerry, as one of the Senate’s most vocal voices against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, your support for the India-US nuclear accord came as a surprise. Could you spell out the reasons for your support?

Let me make it clear. What I said at the press conference, what I have said every time, what I said to the prime minister, to everybody else, that I support the basic direction of the agreement, but the t’s have to be crossed, the i’s have to be dotted, the agreement has to be put in full language and in that regard Secretary Burns (Under Secretary Nicholas R Burns, who is supervising the progress of the agreement for the Bush administration) is coming here to discuss the separation of civilian and military (nuclear) facilities.

That is important. I want to see that and see that is clearly done. I want the final structure and language of the agreement to make certain that we are strengthening the non proliferation agreement. Let me give you an example. Non proliferation is not just passing fissile material or technology to another country, it is also building additional nuclear weapons, it is not growing your nuclear arsenal. So it is important for India to make very clear where we are headed in the long run here.

Does that mean that you can’t have an agreement? No. But I think it is important to have a framework where we understand where we are going.

In principle, this agreement is good because it takes a State that has a nuclear programme, that is outside of the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) and brings a majority of it (nuclear programme) inside the IAEA. On the face of it, that is a positive step.

Secondly, by doing so, it encourages, I think, other countries to recognize that there is a respect for the IAEA process.

India has, in fact, behaved better than some countries that have signed the NPT (Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty). It seems to me that it would be irrational for us not to recognize that kind of good behaviour and to turn our backs on bad behaviour by people who signed the NPT. That just doesn’t make sense in my book.

I think there is a way to make this (the nuclear agreement) positive with respect to the non proliferation effort I care about but positive also for the India-America relationship.

‘The prime minister made it very, very clear about the limits of India’s ambition’

Was this your position before you came to New Delhi?

Yes! Well, this was the position in my head and I haven’t talked about it as much publicly. I talked to Secretary Burns before I came here, I spoke to Joe Nye at Harvard, I talked to Bob Einhorn and people who are opposed to it. I did my homework. It is my judgment that all in all it is better that we move in this direction.

But I still would like to see the agreement in its final form to reach a little further to accomplish the clarity I talked about.

What did Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh tell you that convinced you about India’s bona fides?

I think the prime minister is very articulate, a person whose bona fides don’t have to be tested by me or by anyone else. He is a man of honour and he speaks very clearly of India’s record and India’s determination to live up to the highest standards. I am confident they will.

I also recognize — as I think it is important for us to — that India faces a different set of circumstances from other countries, with China and Pakistan; Pakistan having also developed its military programme and having violated the NPT in doing so without recourse.

I think we are dealing with a different world here. The NPT has not been sufficiently enforced and not been sufficiently defined for these modern times. I think this (the India-US nuclear agreement) is in many ways a first step in doing that.

The prime minister understands that. He made it very, very clear about the limits of India’s ambition in this regard. I accept that because the record of the last 50 years speaks to that. I think we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that.

‘Perhaps more could be contained within the agreement that speaks of the need to restrain the growth in nuclear weapons’

What must the Indian government do for the agreement to be ratified by the United States Congress?

The first most important thing is to meet the most rigorous requirements and standards with respect to the separation of civilian and military (nuclear) facilities. That has to be very clearly understood, the methodology, the enforcement, the clarity of it. That has got to be very clear. I don’t think it is, yet.

Secondly, I would like to explore ways — and I am going to speak to Secretary Burns about it — that perhaps more could be contained within the agreement that speaks of the need to restrain the growth in nuclear weapons. Some people have suggested holding back some fissile material. I don’t think that is going to work and I understand why.

India has passed a law internally with respect to IAEA standards and it is possible that that might be incorporated in the agreement so people see more clearly, precisely what kind of standards are going to be lived up to and what India has already done in order to do that. There may be different ways to approach this and we need to look at them.

Your colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar told our newspaper India Abroad that the Indian plan must be ‘credible, it must be transparent, it must be defensible from a non proliferation standpoint.’ Would you agree with Senator Lugar in this regard?

Broadly, I agree with that. That is precisely, that is exactly the same kind of approach I am taking to it. I will talk to Senator Lugar when I get back. Maybe we can work together, even help do that in a constructive way. He wants to be constructive. I want to be constructive. I can’t tell you until we see what’s in the final agreement. I can’t pass on the hypothetical.

You haven’t seen the Indian plan?

Well, I have seen the plan. You have to see more than a plan. You have to see what’s the agreement on the separation of facilities, what is the full measure of transparency, what is the full measure of accountability. These are the things that we need to see.

Has the Indian government not shared that plan with you?

I haven’t seen that language. No. And I am not sure that kind of language is there yet, to be honest with you. I think it is being worked up on at this moment. Secretary Burns is coming here in a week or so and he will pursue that. But I am confident that people of goodwill can find a way to do this.

What is important to remember is what I said: While the agreement itself has not been properly held accountable as to China, Pakistan, other countries, the fundamental thrust is to reduce the building of nuclear weapons in the world, and to reduce the number of people who are nuclear and have access to it.

Now this is a big step we are taking with respect to India. It is a fundamental change in the entire post-Cold War and even Cold War articulation of nuclear States. So I think it is important to get it right.

‘India and the US are strong enough to withstand a negative outcome’

Your fellow Democrat from Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives that the India-US nuclear accord has ‘grave security implications for South Asia and the world.’ Congressman Markey’s argument, which is shared by many in the non proliferation camp, is that you cannot have dual nuclear policies, where India can and Iran can’t.

He is right in a sense. I disagree with him with respect to some of the applications of this agreement. I don’t disagree with him on the broad principle that he’s articulating — which is exactly what has to be addressed in this question of the future and where we are headed with respect to more nuclear weapons.

Iran is in a different state however. Iran did sign the NPT, is a signatory and is breaking its international agreements, breaking the law. That is a different standard. India stayed out (of the NPT), didn’t break those standards, but has lived by them all of these years.

If you were to ask anybody in the world who you trust — the answer is going to be India, not Iran. I think that affects how you approach it.

Does this mean the NPT needs to be redefined where the world is classified into ‘reliable’ nuclear powers (India, Israel, South Africa) and ‘unreliable’ nuclear powers (Iran, North Korea)?

That is not what I am talking about. There are certain realties we understand which have not yet been acknowledged by the global community. We are living a fiction. The fiction is there are only five nuclear States in the world. Everybody knows it is a fiction. I don’t think we strengthen ourselves by setting up agreements that are based on fiction.

There is an inherent fiction in saying you are going to have a duality of programme and not acknowledge the reality.

What I am trying to do is figure out how we deal more effectively with these new realities. And we need to look at how we are going to proceed forward here in a way that enforces the fundamental principle of the NPT — which is: the world is better off with fewer nuclear weapons and fewer States possessing them. That is the fundamental principle.

Now what happened years and years ago is a reality we have to deal with today. That should not change how we feel about States that are not nuclear today and trying to be. If we strengthen the fundamental direction of this effort then we are in a better position to be able to stop every other State — whoever they may be — from becoming nuclear at this point.

Do you believe the failure to ratify the agreement in Congress will affect the India-US relationship?

With the expectations raised and with the stakes being what they are it would be better for the relationship to have it ratified. But I think India and the United States are strong enough as democracies, as partners in many other endeavours to withstand a negative outcome.

But you should not look at it that way. Obviously the answer would be better it is (the agreement) is ratified by Congress but the framework has to be in the framework that I described, where it is not perceived as setting back the entire non-proliferation regime.

‘It is very much in India’s interest to know that there is a fail-safe structure in Pakistan’

Senator Kerry, you were one of the first American lawmakers to speak out against A Q Khan’s nuclear bazaar, one of the first to identify the threat to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities if anything happened to General Musharraf and the administration of that country passed into hostile hands. Are you satisfied that the Bush administration has done enough to protect the world from Pakistan’s bombs being controlled by renegades?

I am convinced they haven’t.

What does America plan to do about it?

Well, that is an executive privilege to negotiate. We in the Senate do not have the privilege to negotiate. So I raised those questions and continue to raise those questions because I think it is one of the dangerous prospects in the world.

I think it is in the interests of India, the United States and all of us to make sure that a fail-safe mechanism is in place to deal with the worst potential realities, not just with respect to Pakistan but anywhere.

They (a fail-safe mechanism) are not in place in my understanding today, and that is a risk.

During your run for the Presidency, you mentioned that India and the US need to work together on this issue. What did you mean by that?

It is essential for India to be in a partner in that. Obviously 50% — maybe more – of the motive for India pursuing a military (nuclear) programme is the threat of Pakistan and the counter threat. To the degree we can work together to defuse that, I think, is very, very important.

It is very much in India’s interest to know that there is a fail-safe structure in Pakistan.

But what if the Musharraf regime were to collapse and forces hostile to India and the US came to power?

If it were to happen and we don’t obviously (want it to happen), we hope it doesn’t? it is more likely that you will have the emergence of some strong arm from the military. But there is the other potential at some point and you have to guard against that.

‘What is killing Americans and Iraqis today?’

Your fellow Democrat from Pennsylvania, Congressman John Murtha, has called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

No, he did not.

An almost immediate withdrawal.

No, he did not. He asked for the almost immediate redeployment (of American troops). He talked about leaving a certain number of them at the border and some of them in Kuwait. But he clearly envisons them being involved in the provision of security.

So when should American troops leave Iraq?

Here is what. What Congressman Murtha is talking about is being successful in a different way. And that is what I am talking about. I believe the withdrawal of American forces in a sensible process is an essential part of gaining success in Iraq.

Because as (Commanding Officer, Multi National Force) General (George W ) Casey has said the large presence of American forces in Iraq is not only contributing to the sense of occupation he made it very clear — this is General Casey speaking — it delays the readiness and willingness of the Iraqis to stand up on their own.

Now if our commanding general in Iraq is telling me that the large number of forces is delaying their (the Iraqis’) willingness to stand up on their own, my inclination is to say let us reduce the number as rapidly as we can, to force them to accept more responsibility. And they are all kinds of tasks in Iraq that if indeed the administration is correct in saying 200,000 have been trained they could be doing what we are today doing for them.

I’ll give you an example. What is killing Americans and Iraqis today? Two principal things — IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), which are roadside bombs by and large, and suicide bombers. You don’t need your elite combat troops patrolling the streets, inviting a target, driving on the street, looking for an IED, while somebody who lives in the country and whose country it is who wants to accept responsibility could certainly be driving that same truck.

There are a lot of different missions, I think frankly, that have worn out their usefulness. So I am in favour of putting our troops in a more rear garrison status, withdrawing some of the number as the Iraqis stand up and take over and pushing them (the Iraqis) to do that.

I think that is the way ultimately you are going to be successful. The longer you stay there in a large number taking over the major responsibilities, the more you are going to be targeted, the more we invite the targeting, the less capable they (the Iraqis) will be.

4 Responses to “Interview with John Kerry from Rediff.com”

  1. Amazing to fully appreciate the two men today, Gore and Kerry, and to think these exceptional and visionary thinkers were elected president, if all were allowed to vote, or votes counted.

    With all the right-wing media, think tanks, fundies, GOP congress, we’d still have power to do good things.

    I remind that Kerry lost by 60,000 difficult to find votes because of Ohio politics (not 3 million), and no recount or discovery on those machines to this day.

  2. I’m so proud of these gentlemen. And of our country, that can produce leaders like this.

    All types prevail and the pendulum keeps swinging. I’m glad I’m on the side of Albert Gore and John Forbes Kerry. They will triumph.

  3. Me too. These two should have been in the White House. Nuff said.

  4. Finally getting the chance to read this over. Very proud indeed… now on to Gore’s speech for me. (very busy day)