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'Where was the breakthrough N-deal announcement during PM's visit?'

December 09, 2009 12:09 IST
American Congressman Ed Royce, a ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the senior-most minority member on the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, who was part of the Congressional leadership that met with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his recent visit to Washington, is disappointed that the United States-India civilian nuclear deal wasn't completed to make it the signature highlight of the summit between US President Barack Obama and the Prime Minister Singh.

In an interview with rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa, Royce, who is serving his second stint as the Republican's co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said he had 'high expectations' that there would be 'a breakthrough announcement' on the completion of the nuclear deal and believes the Obama administration should have made it happen to add real substance to the prime minister's visit.

The lawmaker, who was also at the luncheon co-hosted by US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in honour of Dr Singh at the State Department, and later at the State Dinner at the White House, said, much of the discussion with PM Singh had also focused on terrorism, and specifically the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and their plotting, to launch attacks against the US and its allies and also India.

Excerpts:

You were part of the Congressional leadership that met with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when he visited here. How did the meeting go and are there any specific issues you brought up as the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and also the co-chair of the India Caucus?

The Prime Minister was very interested in finishing the nuclear framework agreement and he led with that. And, that is one of the three or four issues I spoke at length to the Prime Minister aboutÂ…

I believe at the outset he once again thanked all of you for getting the bill through the Congress?

Yes, he did, and when I had met with him in May in New Delhi, he said that as a result of this agreement, the relationship was now irreversible -- the India-US relationship -- and the momentum of that relationship can only accelerate. But, you know, I had high expectations -- and yes, some amount of announcements were made out of this trip on issues like agriculture, and health and education -- but where was the breakthrough announcement on the next step in the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement? The Prime Minister said how important this agreement was in his meeting with myself and other members of the Congress, and he raised it again when I attended the State Department luncheon the following day, and I recall that that was one of the arguments that he was making there as well. So, where was the push on this by the Obama administration and also the discussion on defense cooperation or trade? These were issues I raised with the Prime Minister, but my disappointment was that we did not, in my view, submit the final step in the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal and make it the signature event of the summit between the president and the prime minister.

But, I believe they are now talking about hopefully completing the reprocessing negotiations in the next couple of weeks, after which the implementation of the deal could begin?

Yes, they are talking about it, but the time to have done it in my view and announce that 'the whole deal is now completed' was as part of this summit. I think that the United States and India should be leading in all fronts. So, my take-away from the visit is that nothing can be taken for granted in this relationship. It will require constant attention and hard work and so, I raise my concerns about why I think it was perhaps not achieved or not yet achieved at this summit.

I believe terrorism was a permeating issue that was discussed during your meeting?

Absolutely. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to the need for greater intelligence cooperation. He mentioned that the United States has the ability to put enormous pressure on Pakistan. As a matter of fact, he mentioned it in response to a question I asked him. I mentioned the role that Congress had played in conditioning aid to Pakistan to make certain that Pakistan in the future takes action against the LeT. We talked about the LeT at length. We talked about the damage that had been done in India and Mumbai, and he mentioned his concerns about future attacks from the LeT. And, his words as I remember them, was that Pakistan must be dissuaded from using terrorism as a state policy, and that part of the engagement with Pakistan (by the United States) should be focused on that result. So, that was a good part of the conversation that I had with him. Some of the other members raised the issue of Iran and Â….

That's something I wanted to ask you about in terms of Congressional concern over India's relations with Iran?

PM Singh said he couldn't put that much pressure on Iran and went into some of the details, although he didn't stress the (India dependence on Iran) oil issue. But several members were focused on Iran. I think Iran will strain the US-India relationship unless we find a solution on the Iranian front. So, that's an observation I would make.

That's an issue I brought up with the Prime Minister during his news conference with us at the end of his visit that some of India's best friends on Capitol Hill are concerned over India's close relations with Iran, but he pointed out that that India was against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, and also that India would abide by whatever sanctions the United Nations Security Council imposes on Iran if it continues on that path. And, just on November 27, India joined the US in voting against Iran in a resolution spearheaded by the US at the International Atomic Energy Agency censuring Iran over its controversial nuclear program and demanding that it halts its uranium enrichment. So, isn't this a positive development in alleviating Congressional concerns on India's position on Iran's nuclear program?

I believe the actions that India has taken in the United Nations has been very supportive recently with respect to Iran's rush to develop nuclear weaponry and these are very positive.

During your meeting, was there an appreciation of India's role in Afghanistan, because Pakistan has been complaining to the US about India's role in that country and also accusing New Delhi of fomenting the insurgency in Balochistan?

The issue was discussed and India's attempts to help with stabilizing Afghanistan were discussed, and, I myself have seen that first hand. I've been in a number of hospitals in Afghanistan where Indian doctors and nurses were caring for Afghans, and I've also been to schools in Afghanistan where Indian teachers have been helping to educate Afghan children. So, it's generally acknowledged and members of the Congress who have traveled to Afghanistan, have seen first-hand the assistance that India is providing -- especially Indian civil society, physicians, teachers and development agencies. It's impressive work that is being done by India at the community level throughout Afghanistan to assist the people of that country.

Getting back to the deep concern the Prime Minister Singh had expressed to you all about Pakistan and the terrorism emanating from its territory and Pakistan's continuing to hedge in bringing the Mumbai terrorists to justice. Can you speak to that because you and several others in the Congress have also complained of in terms of the US administration not putting enough pressure on Pakistan on this score?

Obviously for PM Singh, the most important issue was the issue of bringing the LeT to justice and especially foreclosing the option for the future of additional LeT attacks carried out against India from Pakistan. And, one of the things I discussed with him was the fact that the LeT had now been caught training in the United States and conspiring in the US to mount attacks against other allies and India, as we have seen with the arrests in Chicago, and that this was indeed becoming a worldwide problem.It necessitated news steps in intelligence cooperation and that we need to be focused on taking down the LeT cells, which of course, the Prime Minister knows better than me. I serve on the International Terrorism Subcommittee, but he's more aware than anyone of the fact that the LeT right now have operatives that are attempting to cross that border and carry out future attacks.

Did any of you in the Congressional leadership team bring up any concerns on the trade front that you had mentioned to me in earlier interviews and in a run-up to the Prime Minister's visit here?

Not in detail, because of my desire to focus on the civilian nuclear deal and how important it was to complete it and begin implementation of it and the terrorism issue. It (the trade issues) was brought up in passing, but we didn't get into detail that I would have liked to and that perhaps I can in the future. As I told you earlier, I had an opportunity in May when I met with him in Delhi to get into some detail on this. My strategy has been that the United States give ground on agricultural subsidies and get Europe to go along with us on that to make it easier in the developing world led by India to get agriculture moving in the Doha Round and getting the negotiations to go forward, and then in exchange, get an agreement in terms of reducing manufacturing tariffs by India and others.

And, my other thought, which I have raised in the past with the Prime Minister, was the idea of a South Asian initiative on the past of the United States, where we would do something like what Congressmen (Jim) McDermott (Washington state Democrat) and myself did with the African Growth Opportunity Act. The two of us have been co-sponsors of the legislation that had liberalised trade with the African continent based on certain conditionalities.

And, my thought was a trade agreement with South Asia, but again conditioned on the rule of law, whether it's Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nepal and so forth. All of South Asia, would be included and would be very beneficial to India and it could liberalise the trade and investment cross border in order to create more employment across South Asia. But, like I said, it would be conditioned upon responsible behaviour in terms of these countries advancing democracy and rule of law so that the likes of Pakistan would have an incentive as we have found these governments now have in Africa to move forward. If they don't move forward, they lose the preferences, they lose the tariff-free entry into US markets, and so forth. So, this is something to discuss because it has potential for the future in terms of creating economic growth in South Asia and here in the US -- it would be a win-win.

You were also at the State Dinner that President Obama and the First Lady hosted for the Prime Minister, his wife and the Indian delegation, and now the story seems to be all about the gate-crashers and the serious breach of security that took place. What's your take on this?

The Secret Service has apologized as it should. (But) I am going to wait the investigation so that we can learn more. But, it was indeed a security breach -- getting all the way to the President and the Prime Minister. That was the part that surprised me. Initially, I believed that they'd only reached the reception area. But they made it all the way in to meet the Prime Minister and the President which is astounding to me. But, I'll wait for the investigation to disclose how this all transpired.

Image: Ed Royce

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC