US Will Oppose Maoist Takeover of Nepal: Boucher

In a brief but newsy press conference at the end of his less than 24-hour whirlwind visit to Kathmandu, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, on Wednesday 3 May outlined the cardinal features of America’s Nepal policy in the current situation.

His exposition of US policy was conducted at a press conference held at American Ambassador James F Moritarty’s residence, at which occasion former DCM Ms Elizabeth Millard, currently a high ranking official at the National Security Council in Washington, was present as was Moriarty.

Among the key features of America’s policy, as explained by Boucher, is that “the US will oppose a Maoist takeover” of Nepal. That was indicated in his categorical response to a query “whether the US would welcome or oppose a Maoist takeover of Nepal”. He added the caveat: “Nobody is going to takeover” and emphasised the Maoists needed to “lay down their arms.”

In answer to a query whether the US would now consider dropping the Maoists from its “terror list”, Boucher said that the US could not “forget their history of violence in the villages, even when there was a cease-fire in Kathmandu.” Hence, “our removing them from the terrorist list – that’s not going to happen.” He repeated the mantra that the Maoists would have to “lay down their arms” and prove through their behaviour that there was a genuine “change of heart” on their part.

He stated he did not think that the Maoists would get many votes. However, he added, “that’s for the people to say.” He went on the declare that it was necessary for them to lay down their arms so that there was no possibility of their “going back to the jungles” if the vote did not favour them. That is why, he once again stressed, it was necessary to ensure that there would not be any resumption violence, following elections to a constituent assembly.

Questioned whether the US was in favour of a ceremonial monarchy, the senior State Department official, he began his answer by saying that there could be some “virtue in that.” However, he was quick to add: “That decision is up to the people.”

Boucher also indicated that the US was prepared to “support” the new government in “the political, economic and security” areas. A resumption of arms supply would depend on a request from the present civilian government, he disclosed. As far as any role for the international community in the disarmament process is concerned, he admitted that it “might” play a role but it depended on “how the political leaders and the Maoists put it together.”

In answer to a query whether US expertise in the drafting of a new constitution might be forthcoming, Boucher observed “if someone asks for it, we can do it.”

In response to another query, Boucher stated that during the current transition period “political reconciliation is very important.” He believed that the transition period “can go peacefully” if the “changes that the people have asked – for a cease-fire and a constituent assembly – are met.”

The US “still” plans to “coordinate” her Nepal policy with India, Buocher explained: “We will exchange views with quite a number of other countries, including India” where he was flying to an hour after his press conference.

He repeated the necessity for the Maoists to disarm “before the constituent assembly” saying it was necessary to “put arms beyond use.” That would be “relevant at some point” and should be decided by the political leaders. He posed these counter questions to a reporter: “Have the Maoists genuinely given up violence? Can people be confident that they will not go back to the jungles” – if they cannot get what they want through peaceful political means?

Tackling a query whether in India the US would ask for the release of Maoist leaders in detention, Boucher answered: “I’ll see what India has to say on this question when I’m in India this afternoon.”

In answer to a question from a British journalist on what the US would do if “the parties slip and go back to their bad old ways”, Boucher stated rather enigmatically that there were “lots of things we can do to push for progress.”

Questioned by an Indian correspondent why he thought it necessary to have met the RNA COAS during his short visit, Boucher categorically stated that the Army had a “very important role” to play, including “to help implement the cease-fire.” The Army was vital for security and to “defend the nation” he affirmed.

Even in the current situation the Army would “continue to have an important role.” He added that during his “good” meeting with the Army chief, Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa yesterday, he was assured the RNA “will support the political process and would respect civilian authority.”‘

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.