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'Nothing can be taken for granted in Indo-US ties'

December 29, 2009 21:07 IST

Ed RoyceCalifornia Congressman Ed Royce, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and senior member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, is disappointed that remaining paperwork on the United States-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement wasn't completed in time to make it the lead highlight of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to Washington.

The lawmaker, who was part of the Congressional leadership that met with Prime Minister Singh, said he had high expectations of a 'breakthrough announcement' about the deal, and believes that would have made the state visit monumental.

Royce, one of the most vocal lawmakers to demand that the Pakistan-based conspirators behind the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai be brought before an international tribunal to stand trial for crimes against humanity, told rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa in an interview that it was imperative for the US to bring maximum pressure to bear on Islamabad, to compel it to completely eradicate the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- words that have had a prescient ring in recent times, following revelations of the activities of Headley and other LeT cadres in the US.

On the basis of privileged information acquired thanks to his position in the terrorism subcommittee, Royce then said: "If you go to the (LeT) headquarters there, it is a 75-acre campus, and there's an Islamic university and two schools and a hospital. So, they have turned it into an open door for young jihadists from all over the world who are interested in exploring militant Islam and interested in joining the LeT to go there and get the training. It has also opened up fund-raising arms in the Gulf -- in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait -- and also in Western Europe."

Could you talk us through your meeting, as part of the Congressional delegation, with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his state visit?

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 about.

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

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 to have announced 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 not yet achieved at this summit.

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

Absolutely. The Prime Minister 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 (Lashkar-e-Tayiba). 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.

Congress has expressed considerable concern over India's relations with Iran.

The Prime Minister said he couldn't put that much pressure on Iran, and went into some of the details, although he didn't stress the (Indian 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.

When I brought up the issue of Iran at the media interaction the Prime Minister had with us at the end of his visit, he said 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 November 27, India voted against Iran in a resolution spearheaded by the US at the International Atomic Energy Agency, censuring Iran over its nuclear program and demanding that it halt its uranium enrichment. Wouldn't you say this is a development that allays Congressional concerns?

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

Was there an appreciation of India's role in Afghanistan – did you get that sense during the meeting?

The issue was discussed, and India's attempts to help with stabilising Afghanistan was discussed, and I myself have seen that at 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 Congress who have travelled 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 concern the Prime Minister expressed to you the terrorism emanating from Pakistan territory, and its continuing to hedge about bringing the Mumbai terrorists to justice – could you speak to that issue?

Obviously for the Prime Minister, the most important issue was the one 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 Britain and other allies and India, as we have seen with the arrests in Chicago, and that this was indeed becoming a worldwide problem and so, it necessitated new 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 has operatives that are attempting to cross the border and carry out future attacks, and that was the issue he spoke to and was focused on principally. It's the magnitude now of the attacks too. It's the fact that after the Mumbai attacks, the realization in terms of the magnitude of civilian casualties that can be caused by these terrorist attacks.

Did the members of the Congressional delegation bring up any concerns on the trade front that you had mentioned to me in earlier interviews?

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 part 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 liberalized 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 liberalize 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.

Your colleague, the New York Congressman Peter King, has called for hearings on the gatecrashers at the state dinner, and the breach of security that it underlined. You were there – what is your take on this?

The Secret Service has apologised, as it should. I am going to wait for 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.