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August 5, 1998


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Controversy erupts over Solarz's lobbying firm

A new controversy has cropped up, involving former Democratic congressman Stephen J Solarz and his lobbying firm which represents the government of India in Washington.

Solarz had testified before the senate foreign relations committee in May on India's recent nuclear tests during which he wanted the United States to welcome India into the world's official club of nuclear powers instead of punishing it with sanctions.

But, at that time, according to The Washington Post,he and his lobbying firm, APCO Associates Inc, were actively bidding to represent the government of India. Several weeks later, both APCO and the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand signed significant contracts to help improve India's image in Washington, according to recently-released disclosure forms.

The daily quoted Amar Sinha of the Indian embassy's press information wing, saying that APCO and other firms had begun bidding on the new lobbying contracts several weeks before Solarz testified before the senate.

''He is a very well-known friend of India,'' Sinha said. ''If you look at his testimony over the past ten years, I think he's been very consistent.''

Solarz chaired the house foreign affairs committee's Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee before he lost his seat, after nine terms, in a 1992 Democratic primary.

Although Solarz then sought the ambassadorship to India, the Clinton administration ended consideration of his candidacy in early 1994 because of concerns about efforts to obtain an US visa for a Hong Kong businessman who had retained his services.

The daily quoted Common Cause legislative director Meredith McGehee, who questioned why committee aides did not scrutinise Solarz's credentials more closely given his position as a registered lobbyist, argued that Solarz should have revealed his negotiations with India before advising the panel.

Senate foreign relations committee ranking Democratic member Joseph R Biden Jr had asked Solarz to testify. Solarz did not indicate he was bidding for a contract with India, according to Biden spokesman Chris Madison, who added that he didn't consider that a problem.

In his testimony on May 13, Solarz argued that sanctions against India would not deter other rogue nations from developing nuclear weapons.

He had suggested that instead, the US could invite India to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a declared nuclear power while simultaneously asking the Indians to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Missile Technology Control Regime and a new treaty restricting fissile-material production. That way the US could set limits on India's ability to proliferate nuclear technology, he said.

''In this case, by eschewing an unachievable perfection, we may be able to achieve a demonstrable good by bringing India largely into the international non-proliferation regime in a way that would justify, after they took these actions, a decision to waive these sanctions, thereby avoiding a totally counterproductive and perhaps quasi-permanent downturn in Indo-American relationship,'' he said.

The daily says that federal disclosure forms filed with the justice department indicate that Solarz was a key reason that India retained his firm. The forms, which show APCO will receive a free of 25,000 dollars a month, note that the firm ''shall create a team of professionals in order to carry out the functions of this agreement. Central to this team is APCO senior counsellor Stephen Solarz.''

The agreement with APCO, which is nearly identical to the 50,000 dollars-a-month deal signed between India and Verner Liipfert, calls for ''the projection of a fair and accurate image of India's vast economic resources, increasing business for American firms, excellent tourist attractions and dynamic modern social structure.''

It also calls upon each firm to help convey to key decision- and opinion-makers ''a detailed, correct and balanced understanding of various political issues in India today, including human rights matters, nuclear non-proliferation matters and the current state of affairs in various regions of India.''

Sinha said the decision to retain additional lobbying firms -- the country paid the Washington group and the American continental group a total of 380,000 dollars in fees last year -- was not prompted by the nuclear testing controversy.

But he acknowledged that the country's Washington representatives would be devoting a great deal of time to the subject. ''The US policy-makers have to understand why India did what it did. That has to be conveyed,'' he said.


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