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US: Royce, Crowley to co-chair India caucus

December 23, 2010 09:43 IST

United States Congressmen Ed Royce, California Republican, and Joe Crowley, New York Democrat, have been both unanimously selected to co-chair the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

This will be the third time for each at the helm of this bi-partisan group in the US House of Representatives that focuses on furthering US-India relations as well as developing and maintaining close ties with the Indian American community.

Since a co-chair's term is for two years (with Royce returning for a consecutive stint), at the end of their third term in 2012, Royce and Crowley between the two of them would have been at the helm for 12 years in the history of the 19-year-old bidy.

The caucus that was founded by Congressman Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, who chaired it for nearly five years, before new co-chairs were selected with the advent of several GOP members to the caucus, which had been dominated by Democrats in its early years.

Today, the caucus at any given time has over 160 members, and has been the largest country caucus in the House for more than a decade.

Royce, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was also named chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade by the new chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, who replaces Democrat Howard Berman of California after the Republican take-over of the House following the mid-term elections in November, said, he was once again "honoured to serve as a key promoter of US-India relations."

He said, "As we saw during the consideration of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, Congress plays a key role in building this relationship, and I'm looking forward to seeing how strong we can make our economic, military and political ties," who was the GOP sherpa of the debate in the House in Congress in 2006.

Royce noted, "The US-India relationship has made great strides since the caucus started, but nothing can be taken for granted," and charged that "the Obama administration has been spotty on relations with India."

"I don't think it fully appreciates India's importance of the threat it faces," he said, and declared, "The caucus will keep pressing to make that case."

Former GOP co-chair, Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, said, "Ed has been a fantastic leader of the caucus and I look forward to working with him in the next Congress."

"He has been an important voice for the relationship and the values that bind the United States and India," he added.

Crowley, who takes over from Congressman Jim McDermott, Washington state Democrat, also declaring how "honoured," he was to once again return as caucus co-chair, said, "The bond that links the US and India are stronger than ever and as co-chair of this important caucus, I hope we can continue to help build and expand our nations' relationship."

Crowley, who is also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and belongs to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, was also a key proponent of the US-India civil nuclear deal and has visited India eight times and represents the Queens and Bronx constituencies in New York which has the largest South Asian American population in New York comprising Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.

Recently, Crowley hosted Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar in Jackson Heights, Queens to celebrate India's independence day.

The lawmaker said, "As relations between our two countries grow, so does the role played by millions of Indian Americans living throughout the United States," and pledged that "the Congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans will work hand-in-hand with the Indian American community to help broaden our outreach and further solidify the friendship between our two nations."

Meanwhile, Royce speaking to his subcommittee agenda, predicted that "South Asia will figure prominently in the Subcommittee's agenda, whether it is exposing illicit proliferation networks, the growing menace of regional terror groups like Lakshar-e-Tayiba, or growing US-India trade links."

Earlier in his blog posting, immediately after he was appointed to chair this influential panel by Ros-Lehtinen, Royce wrote, "The subcommittee faces three daunting challenges -- the far-reaching spread of terrorism and ideology; the proliferation of nuclear weapons and material; and a stalled trade agenda hampering US economic growth," and pledged that "the subcommittee will delve into all of these issues, seeking to make Americans more prosperous and safe."

He argued that "terrorism and proliferation should be linked. The threat of a terrorist using weapons of mass destruction is deadly serious. While today's terrorist attacks are mainly suicide bombings, terrorist groups are looking to get WMDs."

Expressing particular concern over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, Royce said, "We desperately need new strategies to combat this spreading technology, and I am gravely worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal."

He bemoaned that "in Washington, we've backtracked since the 9/11 Commission identified Islamist terrorism as the threat we face. Many don't even want to touch this, referring to the generic 'violent extremism.' (But) Better know thy enemy."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC