Kuensel reporter Tshering Palden spoke with the US Ambassador to India Richard Rahul Verma on his second visit to Bhutan in two years. Excerpts of the interview.
Q&A: What is the purpose of your visit?
It is good to be in Bhutan. As you probably know we administer some programmes from the embassy in New Delhi in the areas of education, clean energy and cultural preservation. It is good to come back from time to time and see how we are doing and what we can do more. To meet with the government leaders and people here and learn about what is happening and how we can work together in the future. So that was really the purpose of the visit.
We had a terrific visit with His Majesty The King and the Fourth King and with the Prime Minister.
What were some of the pertinent discussions you had with our leaders?
We were talking about what is happening with the US and our policy in Asia. How our Act East rebalance policy is going with our collaboration with India and the bilateral relationship. We talked about some of the programmes we are doing here and how we can do more. So we talked about our Fulbright Programme for example, our educational exchanges, work in renewal and clean energy, specifically on hydro and what we could do in this area. The discussions were on how do we deepen our relationship across a range of areas.
We are also here to thank Bhutan on its leadership on climate, conservation and the strong signal it sent at the Paris Convention.
Tell us more about the education exchanges?
We have certain number of faculty and student exchange programmes. We also have something called the international visitor leadership programme (IVLP). So we would like to do more in each of those areas. We think this notion of academic exchange is really important because we get to learn a lot from the people of Bhutan. Bhutanese, whether it is government officials going as part of the programme or young people going to study I think that it will benefit not only for those people but also for us as well.
How do you see Bhutan’s journey with democracy so far?
Well this is what we have also been saying to the Prime Minister and government officials. In the past we worked on a parliamentary training programme so we have been talking about other ways that we can work together again. These are technical in nature where in other countries we help build the capacity of lawmakers or institutions. We have been so happy to be a partner and to see the progress that has been made. We have been working on this for 275 years so democracies are so critical to the people and we want to do what we can to help Bhutan.
What can Bhutan learn from US democracy?
I think we can learn from each other. Every country is different and you can adapt your democracy to the demands of the people. It has been interesting to learn that the Prime Minister has been all over the country meeting people to make sure that democracy delivers. That is an important message whether in Washington, here, or somewhere else.
What do you think of initiatives in addressing climate change?
We look at Bhutan as an example. What you have done for conservation, the commitments made to reduce carbon outputs and use of advanced technology. When you use hydropower you do it in a way that does not have a huge impact on the rivers so we can all learn from that. We are really grateful to His Majesty The King and The Fourth King for setting such an example on environmental protection and being great stewards of the environment.
Most people outside think of Bhutan as a happy country. What is your view?
I think that the fact that the US had the highest number of tourists coming in for the last several years reflects a strong interest in the American people to come here and learn about Gross National Happiness. Bhutan has again made an example that gross domestic product is one measurement that a lot of countries use but one has to take a look at all the factors. Again there we can learn a lot from what you are doing in Bhutan.