What are your big takeaways from your conversations with the Prime Minister and external affairs minister today?
They were enormously successful. I wanted to get here as quickly as I could, because it presents an enormous opportunity for our countries. There is a long history where people thought we would do better together. We haven’t maximised it. These two leaders, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, have a chance to execute it. I feel a real responsibility and know Jaishankar feels the same, to deliver. We will protect our own interests, but we will work together. That was my takeaway. We have challenges on trade, on S-400, I see them. We will work through those. But if we can focus on the big opportunities, we can grow our two economies and be two important partners in two different parts of the world.
What opportunities do you see?
We are doing them in energy, in space, with business. We must understand that not only is the US important to India but India is very important to the US. Then we need to open the aperture to say we are now going to go and work on projects together, whether they are defence or commercial projects and when we come across technology… don’t view data localisation as an obstacle, view it as a chance to be standard setters across the world.
On data localisation, where does the resolution lie?
There will be technical people who will resolve this but we will resolve it with a set of principles that will look something like this — Indian citizens have a right to protect their data, so do American citizens. India needs to have the capacity so that when it has law enforcement needs, it can have access to the data to do that. The US needs to make sure we freely execute our economic plans the same way that Indian companies can operate with data that comes out of the US. I am not naive, it could be the case where we won’t get perfection for either party but we will get to a really good place for 1.7 billion people on how we handle data, how we protect it, how we transit it, how we deliver economic values.
Do you see a world that functions on two exclusive technology domains where India would be asked to choose?
Here’s how I see it. There will be trusted networks and there will be all other space. Trusted networks will be made by several companies across many nations, it won’t be American networks or Indian networks. But an Indian citizen in Bangalore or Hyderabad can know that their data won’t be in the hands of the Chinese PLA or the Chinese communist party. An American citizen sitting in Iowa or Kansas can engage in activity on that network and know that their data won’t be in the hands of the Chinese communist party. There are ways that this can be achieved. This isn’t about a particular company. The digital economy is driving change and value creation across the world. Countries and citizens have a right to demand that networks operating in or around them are being used appropriately and not in ways that are grossly inconsistent with India’s democratic values.
Despite FATF’s tough stand on Pakistan’s terror financing, US allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar — are bailing out Pakistan. How do we get Pakistan to learn the lesson we want?
America has done a 180-degree turn with respect to Pakistan. We’ve done so because we’re trying to get Pakistan to cease terror campaigns in India, or supporting insurgents in Afghanistan. We can talk to these other nations — you saw what the FATF did. America worked hard to make sure that happened. We’ve worked hard also on the IMF programme, we wanted to make sure that if IMF moves forward, it doesn’t use the money to bail out China. This is a great place for US-India cooperation, where we have shared interests, in countering terrorism and those who underwrite it.
Are we heading towards an Iran-US confrontation in the Straits of Hormuz?
We’re doing everything we can to prevent it. In the end, it is up to the Islamic Republic of Iran. We will continue to take every action we can to signal that our mission set is to negotiate a solution to their terror campaign, their missile programme, their programme to develop a nuclear capability that puts them in a position to develop a weapons programme. We’re committed to preventing those things, through negotiations. If the Iranians choose a different path, I don’t think anyone should underestimate President Trump’s preparedness to respond and deter.
In Afghanistan, could you be giving in to the Taliban?
Our mission is clear — achieve reconciliation. We’ve been there 18 years. We have diligently worked to build up civil society, support civil institutions, support Afghan national security forces. India too has given $3 billion to Afghanistan. The Afghan people are going to have to stand up and take control of their country. President Trump has said he wants to end the endless wars, he is speaking about Afghanistan. Our mission is to drive down violence, risk, create an opportunity for Afghans to come together.
Is our friendship with Russia going to make our friendship with you difficult?
We work with Russia in certain places. As CIA director, I worked on counter-terrorism with the Russians with great frequency and significant success. But Russia doesn’t share India’s value set. It operates in a very different way than India. There is long history between India and Russia — I know the history well. So be it.