Nepali Times
"I was never for a royal revival"


At the end of his three-year tenure America's outspoken ambassador to Nepal, James F Moriarty talked with Nepali Times about being misled by the king, his continued mistrust of the Maoists, and the need to get Bhutani refugees out of camps.

Nepali Times: In hindsight, do you think you and the international community gave the king too much benefit of the doubt in February 2005?
James Moriarty:
At the beginning after he took over, we all hoped he would move back towards democracy and he didn't. I myself, the British ambassador, and the Indian ambassador did everything possible to tell the king that this was a very ill-advised move. He warned us in November [2004] that he was thinking about it, but we all said it was a horrible idea. In December he assured us he wasn't going to do it.I want to make the historical record clear: we did everything possible to turn him away from that [move] and that's why we all had a pretty harsh reaction to his takeover.

We were all willing to say, 'Well, you've done this, now figure out where you go from here.' Unfortunately he never did, despite our continually stressing that he had to bring the parties back into government.

Did this affect your relationship with him?
I'm a diplomat, I'm used to people telling me things that aren't completely true. It always had to be something I had to consider. I think it also had a big impact on other countries' views of his reliability, including India's.

There's a perception that before February First you sided with the king and not the parties, and that your remarks about the Maoists pitched a hard line.
I don't think in the run up to the takeover anyone thought I was siding with the king against the parties. The king told me he had plan, which subsequently proved to be wrong and I advocated the king's reaching out to the parties. Maybe I wasn't quick enough to say it should be the king doing the reaching out, maybe I'll find a bit of fault there. But I really did not do or say anything to welcome a royal revival.

You have always been very outspoken against the Maoists. Why were you so certain about where they were going?
I'm a China hand and the Maoists are, from my perspective, Maoists. From a lot of Nepalis' perspectives, they are just another political party going through teething problems, pointing to insurgencies and murderous tactics used by other parties in the past. That never made sense to me. I saw an insurgency that had made huge progress, was committed, and was using roadmaps handed down by Lenin and Mao. Mao always said tactical flexibility is fine, but never lose sight of the end goal. Until I begin to see something that indicates that they are willing to abandon those roadmaps and that end goal, absolute power, I have to consider them Maoists.

If you could do it over, would you be more diplomatic?
No. I think your country is going through a huge, huge transition. The outcome is still uncertain. It could end up being very positive but if I felt that my lack of doing something let it drift in the wrong direction, I'd never forgive myself. The downside of not proclaiming the dangers is much greater than that of some people saying I'm not very diplomatic.

Have you considered that the [Maoist] leadership may be trying to move into the mainstream, but is having a hard time controlling a radicalised cadre?
That's the hope. If people want to see a few nice words as an indicator that they've made that leap, I can quote you just as many tough things they've said that make it clear they have no intention of settling for anything less than power. We're hoping they will eventually recognise that "Oops, we've gone as far as we can go with this revolution, our best bet is staying within the system and over time seeking electoral support to become the dominant party." They don't become a mainstream party by saying a few nice things and signing a lot of documents, none of which they've implemented. This should be about Nepal having a process in place which, if implemented in good faith, will inevitably convince them to come into the mainstream.

How important has your coordination with India been in the outcome so far?
I think it has played an important role. India has a heck of a lot more influence here than the United States does. It's much closer, the ties are much greater. If India has some view in the same direction that makes it a lot easier. Most of the time I've been here, that's been the case.

The US is ready to take 60,000 Bhutani refugees, but doesn't this let off the Thimpu regime scot free?
Bhutan's regime has been let off scot free for 16 years now. Nothing happening now is holding them accountable, and that's the second-most important issue. The humanitarian tragedy has to be addressed first. I've been down to the camps a lot and you don't want to be second generation, born in a camp where you have no future. I tell the refugee leaders that if their real concern is keeping the issue the focus of international attention, the best way to do that is to get 40 or 60 or 70,000 refugees in the United States and elsewhere, writing to their congressmen and senators saying they were victims of ethnic cleansing. Then you get congressmen asking what the government of Bhutan is doing to rectify the situation. I also want to stress that the 60,000 figure is not a cap. We will consider anybody who wants to come.

How seriously do you take the sometimes violent activism against resettlement?
It raises a big question-to what degree do the Maoists influence particularly the more violent of the pro-repatriation types. I think most Bhutanese in the camps can be worked with, but I worry that there might be a hardcore of total rejectionists. I hope we can steer them away from violence and into letting the other refugees exercise their freedom of choice.

What are your parting thoughts on leaving Nepal?
I'm very sad, particularly because I hope and I pray that the November election is going to come off. It will be the most important step forward on the road to democracy. The thought that I'm going to miss that brings me a lot of regret.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)