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'India has important role in Central Asia'

Ambassador Richard Boucher, who replaced Christina Rocca last month as the new Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, says the expanded bureau with the addition of Central Asia, has opened up new opportunities and that India has a "very important role to play" in this region.

"The thing people need to remember is, there is a strategic change on the ground, it's not just our bureaucratic reorganization," Boucher, who traveled with President Bush to India, told Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa in an exclusive interview--his first after assuming his new position.

The former State Department spokesman, who holds the record of being spokesman for six different Secretaries of State, said that among other things, the issue of ending cross-border terrorism in South Asia "is certainly very important to us."

Almost immediately upon your confirmation, you were aboard Air Force One, traveling with the President to India and South Asia. While you were a State Department spokesman for years and also a China specialist, you were never a South Asia hand. How did you prepare for this trip, and more broadly, how do you intend to tackle your portfolio, now that the bureau has been expanded to include Central Asia too?

That's a big question. The first thing to say is that all of us with a lot of foreign affairs experience have in bits and pieces of this area -- have known something about it and actually I tracked with Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice, [former] Secretary [of State Colin] Powell, and [former] Secretary [of State in the Clinton Administration, Madeleine] Albright. I did eight different trips to South and Central Asia, met and counted 72 meetings with foreign ministers, went on repeated occasions [to the region], and we've been through a lot in the last four years of this part of the world and it's no surprise that the spokesman had, what I would call exposure rather than an experience.

Second of all, I did spend a lot of time reading and preparing and talking to experts. But more than that -- now we've got experts in this bureau - my job if I can is sort of guide them in global priorities. Look for the big opportunities and then I've got a tonne-and-a-half of experts around here who can help me on the specifics and that means not just the government experts, but also looking to people on the outside who can help, who have ideas, who have initiatives that help bring the region together or move it forward in new ways.

I guess through your spokesman years too, the tonnes of guidance you would receive from the bureau on South Asia, in that sense also probably prepared you in terms of your new portfolio?

Yes. On a lot of specific issues -- you know what's a PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team, combining both security and reconstruction by US-led coalition forces) in Afghanistan -- I know from talking about them or from NATO meetings or other things like that.

Reiterating Kashmir policy too over and over again, I guess?

Yes. Kashmir policy. But I have to say there is a difference between talking about things and doing things and now my job is to figure out how to make things happen, how to get things done, and that's different than just understanding or talking about them.

Photograph : Manny Ceneta/AFP/Getty Images

Also See: A Date with History: president Bush in India

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