New Delhi: US Senator John McCain on Thursday said that a strong US-India-Japan relationship can strengthen our ties with the entire region and work together to reduce tensions in the region. In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN, McCain said, "We have very high expectations as I think that the people of India also do. This is very decisive election, we have a very strong leader, and we think that this is an opportune time for, renewal and reinvigoration of relations between United States and India. We have also been discussing the increasing need for partnership between United States, India and Japan."
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Smita Sharma: He was Barack Obama's formidable challenger in the 2008 election as the republican presidential candidate, he is a war veteran and a long standing senator from Arizona and we are joined by John McCain this evening. Its a pleasure to have you here on Network 18.
Senator John McCain: Thank you very much.
Smita Sharma: You are coming here at a time when there is a new government in India and the priority of the government seems to be neighbourhood as far as foreign policy is concerned. There is also this look-east policy focusing on China and Japan.
You have had a series of talk with some top leaders in New Delhi? What really was the crux of those meeting, what are your expectations as far as New Delhi govt is concerned?
John McCain: We have very high expectations as I think that the people of India also do. This is very decisive election, we have a very strong leader, and we think that this is an opportune time for, renewal and reinvigoration of relations between United States and India. We have also been discussing the increasing need for partnership between United States, India and Japan. As this part of the world assumes the preeminent position in the entire world because of the economic situation, of the movement of the world economy to this part of the world.
Smita Sharma: You spoke of renewing the India-US relationship really but do you think that the high that we saw in the relationship when president George bush was there, Is that high a thing of the past now? The government's focus seems to be the neighbourhood, the neighbouring countries and also the look-east policy focusing on China, Japan featuring more prominently?
John McCain: I understand that there was a high point in the George W Bush's and this nuclear agreement which sort of a capstone but it isn't so much that we have had bad relations, Its just that we haven't had the kind of improvement that we would like to see and more co-operation in a number of areas, so... we understand that Prime Minister's first priority is the domestic situation getting the economy going again. But I am very pleased that he is going to Washington DC very soon. I believe that he should address the joint session of Congress, he should be given a state dinner... and that certainly not only recognition of our relationship but substantive discussions should take place about the future of our relationship and how we can act in close co-ordination. This world is very dangerous and unsettled place today; it requires the leadership of the world's two largest democracies.
Smita Sharma: Its interesting that you suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should address the joint session of the US Congress but it was your party led govt in 2005 which boycotted him following the Gujarat riots which put in place a ban on his visas. On hindsight, do you think that there was a case of overreach as far as the US govt was concerned?
John McCain: I think that the time now is to put that issue behind us. The people of India have spoken and as far as I am concerned, we should treat the Prime Minister with respect and the authority that people of India have given him.
Smita Sharma: But is there a thinking that possibly the matter should have been left to the Indian courts to really settle whether he was guilty or not?
John McCain: I don't know because we have a certain criteria... that we are supposed to act on by law but I think the important thing and clearly the Prime Minister's desire to come to the United States to meet with the American people. By the way I would love to see him stop in Silicon Valley where there are many Indian Americans who have done very well...
It is time for us to move forward. There are too many things happening in this world that require a strong US-India relationship.
Smita Sharma: So, as you prepare to meet Mr Modi, the Prime Minister. What are your expectations really and what is your view on Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister?
John McCain: My view particularly is that we can act together for example right now there are thousands of citizens of India that literally risking their lives in Iraq because of the ISIS situation. A number of Indian citizens are now missing. There are so many areas that we can work together on but what I would like to see and this is my personal opinion, I would like to see us make progress on a free trade agreement between our two countries. I think it will benefit the economies of both the countries. I would like to see more and closer military to military relationship. I would like to see us work together when we face issues sometimes of aggressive nations. There is no doubt that China is acting in a way which is unsettling its neighbours. I think that India-US and Japan partnership can be a strong force and an influence towards peace.
Smita Sharma: Should I interpret as saying that India could be a possible strategic ally for the US to contain china?
John McCain: I wouldn't put it that way. I think a strong US-India-Japan relationship can strengthen our ties with the entire region and work together to reduce tensions in the region.
Smita Sharma: But, you spoke of free trade agreements and also there was this nuclear agreement which was historic, which was inked between Manmohan Singh and George Bush. But nuclear commerce really hasn't taken off between the two nations. Is that a disappointment especially to the Republicans?
McCain: Its been a disappointment but it's also been a disappointment - the law that was passed concerning liability... cause private companies and corporations that will be involved in this nuclear construction... are subject of liability that frankly they are not going to take that risk and come here. I don't pretend to tell the Indian government what they should do and not do but I do think it's appropriate for me to tell them that that law has to be changed if we are going to encourage the kind of nuclear reactor development that India needs given their dependence on foreign energy.
Smita Sharma: But as you said, its time to move forward. To move forward, one would perhaps have to forget the incidents of the past and especially if we were to talk of recent incidents like the arrest of Devyani Khobragde, the Indian diplomat. Do you think that the Obama regime and the administration in a way misplayed that card, mishandled that issue?
McCain: I think the entire issue could have been handled in a much more co-operative fashion and sometimes these things happens between countries and it's always regrettable...and I understand the outrage of the Indian people, there's a free press here...
Smita Sharma: So if you have been in power you would have done things differently?
McCain: Well, I would have like to have taken action to prevent the kind of sequence of events that happened but you know it's easy for me in hindsight to say that I would have done it right. These things are unfortunate incidents, they sometimes hurt the lives of people but the key to is... a strong enough relationship such as the eavesdropping that we can overcome those issues for the greater good of our relationship. We're two huge and great countries and there is bound to be friction of some kind or another from time to time.
Smita Sharma: Well I am glad you mention eavesdropping because that was going to be my next question. Infact, your trip here to India seems to be over shadowed by those documents which have been put out by the Washington post suggesting that there was authorization to NSA to snoop into not just 193 countries but also in specific BJP which is in power now? How embarrassing is that?
McCcain: It is not that embarrassing because we know that these things happen because of intelligence collection...It is very embarrassing tough because we are friends now but we know that these things go on but it seems me now that BJP is in power, and we don't have to do that anymore. We are friends now, we can speak openly and honestly with each other and again everybody has their opinion of Mr. Snowden I think he's a traitor, he betrayed an oath that he took when he began that work that he will not reveal that information.
Smita Sharma: Sir, but you mentioned that we don't have to do this anymore because BJP is in power...but was that snooping done then?
McCain: I don't know...because I was not involved obviously as I am the member of the senate I was not involved in it. But I do know that all kinds of information gathering goes on and whether that goes too far or not, in my view is something we in Congress are supposed to have an oversight of. So I will take some responsibility for some of these overstepping actions that would have angered our friends.
Smita Sharma: Because in the recent speech in Carnegie, you did say that the values of human rights, individual liberty and democratic limits on state power are important foundations for the bilateral relationships. So you do think this is a case of overstepping which might have begun of issues of counter terrorism but now is a clear violation of civil liberties?
McCain: In the business we are in with relations with other countries, we do gather intelligence, now wheather that was overstepping or not, I can't specifically say because I don't know what was going on at that time, or what the rationale for it was. But what I do know is that in all of these cases, one thing we have learned we need stronger judicial as well as congressional oversight and did things that shouldn't have happened, yes but for me to point out a specific case that shouldn't have happened, I know that the effect of it shouldn't have happened because it has hurt our relations with other countries not just India
Smita Sharma: Infact the office of the director of national intelligence have released a transparency report on Friday stating that in 2013 the US govt targeted nearly 90k individuals and organistions under the foreign surveillance...under this program. So if you say that this is the case of overstepping, If the Republicans were to return to power, would you have a changed approach on this entire snooping business?
McCain: I can guarantee you that there are some countries that I would do everything I can to gather intelligence in any way I could, without causing the war. I mean using any technical means that I can. I would like to know whether Vladamir Putin is going to continue to fomenting unrest in Ukraine, whether he intends to annexing further amounts of it. I would love to know what Assad's capabilities are. There are many dangerous places in the world and we need to collect all the intelligence and information we possibly can. So to say we are going to stop all eavesdropping that would be crazy...That will be a betrayal of our obligation to the security of our people.
Smita Sharma: But there will be pick and choose and hopefully not for friends like India.
McCain: That's why we need judicial oversight and congressional oversight for these agencies to come to us and say we want to do the following and get approval. I think it is pretty clear that in past they were getting blanket approval without proper scrutiny of the individual acts they were taking. But don't get me wrong. I fully support trying to find out what people are doing that are trying to destroy United States of America.
Smita Sharma: Ofcourse American interests will be at the helm as far as this is concerned...Now on the issue of counter terrorism, where we see increased India and US cooperation, you praised former PM Manmohan Singh for Questionshowing restraint post Mumbai attacks. You called him a statesman. God forbid, if there was to be another horrendous attack in days to come, would you expect Mr Narendra Modi also to show similar restraint?
McCain: I understand the limitations to the patience of any country that is why after 9/11 attacks we told the Taliban and Afghan govt either turn these people over or we are invading, people forget why we went to Afghanistan, it was because of 9/11. So I cannot tell or even advice or council the govt of India to sustain these kind of attacks and not do anything in retaliation. But I do believe that former PM Singh was very statesman like by not escalating and causing a real huge... what could have escalated into a very serious situation
Smita Sharma: Right. But as far as the Mumbai attacks are concerned, India considers Hafiz Saeed as the mastermind of those attacks, what really does the purpose of an American bounty on Hafiz Saeed serve if he is able to move around freely in Pakistan. Some reports suggest that he was recently spotted very close to international border in Jaisalmer. What purpose does it really serve to have such a bounty?
McCain: I think that we have to carefully engage not only our ability to capture that individual but what impact that has on the sovereignty of the country we are going in and the circumstances surrounding that. We would love to see other people capture him and turn him into us, that would be the ideal situation. But I also believe that putting bounty on the heads of people who are responsible for the deaths of American citizens is entirely appropriate and has had some benefit.
Smita Sharma: Before, I turn my focus into the situation in Iraq, one quick question on Afghanistan. You have mentioned that India possibly sees it as a source of tension as long as bilateral issue is concerned because incase of Americans leave with their job unfinished, it will lead to a huge problem. Do you also see perhaps more terror being exported to Kashmir after troops pullout there?
McCain: I am absolutely convinced that if we don't leave a residual force we will see the same situation in Afghanistan that we are seeing now in Iraq. I predicted that if we didn't leave a residual force in Iraq that we will see what's happening today. And ofcourse now, this begins to become a very serious matter, Afghanistan becomes a national security interest of the Indian govt
Smita Sharma: How do you really view, coming to the Iraq situation, the threat from ISIS or ISIL and this entire renaming into caliphate? How serious a threat is it today?
McCain: I think we are left with no good options because of this decision and it was the President's decision and no one else's not the Iraqi's, it was just his to withdraw our troops from Iraq and now we are paying the price for that. It is a very serious price and we still are not acting. We should be conducting air strikes right now against ISIS in the open territory, we are not doing that. So what's happening, Russian airplanes are coming and Russian pilots would be conducting air strikes, Iranians, the head of the revolutionary guard are coming into Iraq and while we sent only 350-400 advisors. We are now looking at a caliphate of India, Iraq and Syria, the richest and largest terrorist base in history that are not only causing enormous difficulties in Iraq but also in Syria. They are moving back and forth in Syria, I met with the Syrian freedom fighters, Free Syria Army yesterday and some of the equipment that ISIS captured in Mosul is now coming back into Syria to kill the Free Syrian army.
Smita Sharma: But coming to those meetings, you had those secret meetings sometime back and infact now there are some pictures of your meetings with the free Syrian army leaders are being circulated on social websites and ISIS themselves are using it as a PR tool, saying that you actually met with the likes of General Idris, Moaz Mustafa when you were in Syria who were supposedly then a part of the Free Syrian Army but are now very much a part of ISIS? how do you make that distinction?
McCain: They are not part of ISIS...General Idris is a man know today, there is nothing wrong with General Idris He left Assad and still is an advisor to the Syrian national council. All I can say is that your information is totally false.
Smita Sharma: So you wouldn't say that what you call a legitimate opposition in Syria is a part of the ISIS in Iraq?
John McCain: Ofcourse not. There is no connection. Infact Assad is not attacking ISIS, Assad is attacking Free Syrian army, he leaves ISIS alone. Now these Free Syrian Army, these brave courageous people, they are fighting and dying for three years... are now fighting a two front war, both from Assad and from ISIS. These are brave people and we have abandoned them and not assisted them when we could have won that conflict. So please if anybody is telling you that Free Syrian army is part of ISIS, they are lying to you because it is not true, I know them and I have met them when I have been in Syria. So you should not make allegations, or ask me a question about something that is absolutely false.
Smita Sharma: So you deny all these allegations. One final question.
McCain: I don't deny...you shouldn't be asking this question because whoever told you this is false. I don't waste my time responding to false allegations, where you question me with misinformation.
Smita Sharma: One final question. As you talk about aerial strikes in Iraq, does that also not lead to collateral damage? There are Indians who have been abducted in Mosul, there are nurses who are holed up in Tikrit. Couldn't they be used as human shields... in a face of a possible attack?
McCain: ISIS is moving from one place to another in large convoys in many vehicles... they could be taken out while they are moving from one place to another. What is happening now is that the lives of more Indians are at risk right now because to our failure to respond to ISIS and so we have the responsibility for more citizens of India going in the harms way is because we have failed to act.
Smita Sharma: Finally sir, Do u see any Indian origin candidate coming up for next round of election in America as republican candidate, anytime soon.
McCain: No...I think elections coming up in 2014 will be very interesting and I am optimistic that my party will do well.
Smita Sharma: Thank you so much... We wish you all the best and thank you so much for sparing time to talk to Network 18.
McCain: Thank you...You asked very tough questions. Congratulations...
Smita Sharma: Thank you so much. Humbled.