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Home > News > Report

Tharoor blasts US lawmakers over letter to PM

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 09, 2007 09:47 IST

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Former United Nations Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor has slammed the group of influential US lawmakers who warned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week that the United States-India civilian nuclear deal would be in jeopardy if India's 'strengthening relationship' with Iran continues.

The lawmakers, Dr Tharoor, said, lacked imagination.

After he addressed the US-India Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce on 'The Ascent of India and the Opportunities for America: A Look Ahead' on Tuesday, he said, "I am not one of those who is particularly offended by the affrontry that some in India have seen in that letter."

"I am a bit surprised at that position because it seems to me to reveal a certain lack of imagination on the part of those who are suggesting that a country like India should in every one of its actions be pleasing to its good friend and partner in this wonderful capital."

"First of all," Dr Tharoor said, "to put it very bluntly, a country like India will never, by definition, ever do something principally because it is in the interest of a relationship with another country."

"When I hear people -- including in think tanks in this city -- talk about India being a counterweight to China, I feel sorry for them because India will never see its international policies as a function of its relationship with a third country -- and that is normal."

"You wouldn't expect that of any large country you dealt with," he told the packed audience of leading company CEOs, representatives of think tanks, senior Congressional aides and Bush administration officials attending what was billed as an exclusive luncheon.

"But the second thing is that it is probably in America's interest to have a good friend, a democracy, a country with several strategic interests in common, having a good relationship with a country it can't otherwise talk to," he added.

"I mean, surely, the United States is going to need friends to talk to Iran and to deal with Iran in other ways. Why would you get your friends to stop talking to a country you don't have any other access to talk to?" Dr Tharoor argued.

"So it seems to me the policy prescription embedded is fundamentally flawed in that approach," he said.

Dr Tharoor said he believed "...that (United States) Congressmen are showing a certain lack of imagination."

"To be very honest with you," he recalled, "I happened to be in Delhi when the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee was visiting, and a couple of people that knew me said, would I talk to them over lunch, and I did and this very question came up."

The AIPAC is the most powerful Jewish American lobbying group in the US, reputed for getting lawmakers defeated in Congressional elections if they do not toe a pro-Israeli line.

Dr Tharoor said this was in January, "...well before the Congressmen's letter said what about Iran. And, when I told them, wouldn't you like to have friends in Delhi, you can turn to occasionally who can talk to people in Teheran, they turned right around -- at least the ones who were at the lunch. I don't want to say it's an official position -- but many of them turned around and said, 'I guess you're right."

"And," he reiterated, "I do believe strongly that I am right," and while jokingly saying that "this may come from too many years of working at the United Nations," he added, "but having channels of communication open to people whom you don't like is almost as important as maintaining them with people you do."

Later, on Tuesday evening, Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen hosted a reception and dinner in Dr Tharoor's honour at his home and conferred on him the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman -- the highest honour Indian confers on Non Resident Indians -- in the presence of several members of the Indian-American community and the two co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, US Representatives Jim McDermott and Joe Wilson.

In his remarks, after thanking Sen for hosting the ceremony, Dr Tharoor said, "In fact, the award was given to me in 2004, but I was unable to accept it under the rules of the United Nations, which prohibits officers from receiving any decorations or honours from governments."

"I made the mistake of asking for permission," he joked, "and was promptly denied."

But Dr Tharoor said he had no regrets because if he had accepted the award then, "I would have missed the opportunity to have this extraordinary occasion hosted by the ambassador and in the presence of all of you. So in some ways, I feel doubly fortunate to enjoy this moment twice over."

"I wear this badge with pride and honour and I am delighted to have been able to receive this from your hands Ronen," he said, and added, "For me this evening is very special."