Full transcript of the speech by Ambassador Richard Rahul Verma, at the India-US 2015: Partnering for Peace and Prosperity Conference.
Ambassador Verma: General, thank you very much for the introduction. Let me thank the Atlantic Council, [Viva Canunda], CII, all of the friends that I see out here. There are a lot of them from Washington that have traveled. If I start to name them I will certainly miss somebody, but it’s really great to see so many of you that came out. Governor Huntsman in particular, it’s great to see you.
I got to know Governor Huntsman when I was the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs and he was nominated by the President to be our Ambassador to China, and I was told to make sure that he got to China and he got to China quickly. And everything was moving along well. It came to a Thursday when the Senate was going to break for a fairly long break and his nomination was supposed to go through and it was supposed to go through very smoothly. I got a call from a Senator, I don’t know if you’ll even remember this story, it’s still etched in my brain. I got a call from the Senator saying, I’m sorry to tell you that because of some other problems we’re having, Governor Huntsman’s nomination will not go through the Senate today and we’ll deal with it in a few weeks.
There I was, wondering what I should do, having been given this direct order to get the Governor’s nomination through. We had a long discussion in my office, who was actually going to call Governor Huntsman to tell him that his nomination was not going to go through, and I was that lucky person.
I remember calling Governor Huntsman and I said, Governor, I just wanted to tell you, the nomination is not going to be confirmed by the Senate today and here’s why, and he listened very politely. There was silence at the other end of the phone and he came back with a voice that sounded a lot like Clint Eastwood from that “make my day” kind of line. He said, Richard, you’re a nice young man, but that’s not going to work for me. I’m actually moving out of the Governor’s mansion, we’re having a going away party, there’s a new Governor moving in and we’re planning to go to China. So why don’t you get back to the Senate and let them know. Thanks for calling. [Laughter].
So that was, then I had to communicate that message back and lo and behold the Senate did the right thing and we had a great Ambassador in China. And again, it was one of my parting memories of Ambassador Huntsman. But it really is great to be here with so many of you tonight.
A couple of people have asked me if I have been around India. I gave a speech last week in Calcutta and said I had done nine trips in nine weeks, and this is actually my night off and I’m here with all of you at this good event. But it did give me a sense of how much excitement there is about the relationship, how much promise there is, and really, you feel the energy across India — north to south, east to west. You just feel a change in what’s happening. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about that tonight and what we’re thinking about from the embassy’s position.
Indian society has a long and rich history of thinking deeply about global affairs. And as I said, all I have to do is look around this room. But really, all I have to do is look out of my window at the embassy. As many of you know, the U.S. embassy is located in Chanakyapuri neighborhood of Delhi which translates as City of Chanakya. But don’t test me on my Hindi any farther than that because Chanakya was a renowned strategist and minister during the great Maurya Dynasty that ruled most of India almost 2000 years ago, but many of his observations are still relevant today.
For example, Chanakya said that the welfare of the state depends on an active foreign policy. He also said that the definition of a true friend in international relations is someone who shares a common objective and is helpful.
Now more than ever India and the United States are recognizing that we share not only democratic values, but that we also share common objectives that will be best realized becoming the true friends Chanakya wrote about. Indeed, as President Obama said, the United States doesn’t want to just be India’s partner. We want to be India’s best partner.
President Obama and Prime Minister Modi also made clear their priorities for the relationship in the Declaration of Friendship they articulated during the President’s recent Republic Day visit. And in this Declaration our leaders agreed to elevate our longstanding strategic partnership.
We now have what I would call strategic plus, a strategic plus relationship with India. So what does strategic plus actually mean?
The United States and India relationship is not merely defined by a limited number of converging interests. We now share a common vision. A vision of a more peaceful, prosperous and stable world. How we work to achieve this common vision is what defines our strategic plus partnership. Indeed, we have upgraded our relationship as the Prime Minister and President have said.
And tonight I just want to highlight three examples of our strategic plus partnership: regional cooperation, space science cooperation, and defense cooperation. We are not working together on these issues in an ad hoc manner, one based on short term aligning interests. Rather, we are cooperating in a long term, comprehensive way, one that underscores our new partnership.
First, regional stability. The United States and India both recognize that regional integration is essential to security and prosperity. For the United States, our relationship with Mexico and Canada was strengthened by NAFTA and that’s one example. For India I would note the longstanding Neighbors First policy, and the increased emphasis on engagement in SARC including the Foreign Secretary Jaishankar’s SARC yatra, and of course the Prime Minister’s recent travels this week in the Indian Ocean.
But as our friend Chanakya said, a true friend also tries to be helpful. In this vein we are not here simply to applaud the Indian government’s forward-leaning approach toward its neighbors, we are here to help. Whether it’s by together promoting a stable Afghanistan, together encouraging regional economic integration, or together bolstering good governance.
While the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is over we will continue to be strong and reliable partners for the Afghan people who have benefited from India’s and our own generous assistance over many years. Acting under Resolute Support mission, U.S. forces in Afghanistan will have two primary missions in the coming years. Working with NATO counterparts to train, advise and assist Afghan National Security Forces, and maintaining a counterterrorism capability. We recognize India as the key partner in Afghanistan’s future and cooperation and consultation between the United States and India and Afghanistan will continue to be close. And in that respect we continue to have high level discussions with India on the future of Afghanistan.
In their joint statement, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi underscored the importance of enhancing connectivity and enabling a freer flow of commerce in the region. We strongly support efforts by India and SARC to continue its pursuit of a South Asian free trade area, SAFTA. A fully implemented SAFTA would represent one of SARC’s most significant achievements. The recent deal brokered between the United States and India to ensure implementation of the Bali Accord has also paved the way for a trade facilitation agreement which can bring tremendous benefits to the region by helping to harmonize customs regulations and procedures and reduce costs for small businesses to access regional and global markets.
But the United States and India also recognize that economic connectivity by itself is not enough to create enduring peace and prosperity for the region so we will work together with India in the region to strengthen transparent and accountable governance. We welcome India’s efforts to promote decentralization and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and support continuing efforts to encourage stable, democratic governance in Bangladesh and Nepal.
Moreover, I know both our countries’ respect for the rule of law as a standard for resolving international conflicts. In this regard India recently demonstrated great leadership in promoting regional norms by respecting the July 20, ’14 ruling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that delimited the maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh’s favor. The President and Prime Minister also recognized that India and the United States, their shared interest in promoting peace, stability and security in the winder Indo-Pacific neighborhood as well, and they memorialized that vision in a joint statement on the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean that called for our two nations to work with like-minded partners in the region on a number of shared goals. These include supporting regional economic integration, promoting accelerated infrastructure connectivity and supporting a rules-based order throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Thus while for years India’s Act East policy and our rebalance to Asia were simply shared objectives, they are now part of a shared vision and one that defines our strategic plus partnership.
Second, space science cooperation. The United States and India don’t just see global issues through the same strategic lens, we see the universe through the same strategic lens. The United States and India have long had a successfully history of space cooperation demonstrated best by the successful Mars Orbiter mission carried out last fall. And bear with me as I try my hand at some Hindi linguistics, but it’s too meaningful to ignore. So [Mungal] means Mars in Hindi, but is also used to describe something auspicious. And auspicious would be a good way to describe the cooperation between India and the United States on space science.
We’ve been working together on space science since 1963 when the first sounding rocket — a Nike Apache carrying instruments for conducting ionispheric experiments over the earth’s equator was launched from [Karila], and the cooperation continues to this day. Thus we are applying the strategic plus principle to this area as well. And last September NASA and the India Space Research Organization signed an implementing agreement to conduct a joint synthetic aperture radar mission in 2021. The mission’s two radars will use advanced imaging technology to provide a detailed view of the earth by taking measurements of some of the planet’s most complex processes which will improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change and advance our knowledge of natural hazards. We’re also working together on space navigation, communication and weather monitoring systems, and the first session of the U.S.-India Mars Working Group was held in Bangalore this January, and both our countries just convened the first Space Security Dialogue last week. These are just a few of the ways our science-based space cooperation will increase scientific knowledge, promote global interconnectivity and bolster international security.
Third and finally, just a word on defense cooperation. So back here on earth during Aero India I had the unique opportunity of observing members of U.S. and Indian Special Forces complete a combined freefall jump from a C-17 airplane as part of a joint parachuting demonstration. As I’ve said before, perhaps the truest test of a friendship between countries is the degree to which their armed forces trust and collaborate with each other, and as a former Air Force officer I can tell you that if we can trust each other while rapidly freefalling towards the ground our relationship is moving in the right direction. But this parachuting demonstration was just one very impressive display of what our robust defense relationship has become and where it can lead.
No example better illustrates the new course of our collaborative relationship than the decision by U.S. and Indian defense establishments and private sectors to pursue co-development and co-production of defense articles — the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI. DTTI aims to strengthen capabilities that are needed for the sustainment and modernization of our military forces and the growth of our economy. As many of you know there are four Pathfinder projects, plus working groups on aircraft carrier cooperation, and the exploration of jet engine technology. We also collaborate with each other through joint exercises such as our Malabar naval exercises, officer exchange programs, and training programs. This is the type of defense collaboration the United States has with its closest partners and Ash Carter, our new Secretary of Defense, was a driving force behind DTTI. We all look forward to working with him as we continue to build a military relationship that can help both sides promote and protect our shared democratic values.
So in closing, let me circle back to Chanakya. In Chanakya’s treatise on statecraft he asks, “Which is preferable? An immediate small gain or a large gain in the future?” Chanakya asserts that a large gain in the future is preferable if it is like a seed yielding fruit in the future.
This is how we must view our strategic plus partnership. If our strategic visions are aligned and if we are patient and reliable partners, if we continue to engage in the hard work our leaders envision, there will indeed be large gains in the future. Not just for India and the United States, but for global peace, security and prosperity.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
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