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Forget Iran or friendship's over: US lawmakers to India
Rajya Sabha plunged into turmoil during Question Hour on Friday on the issue of a letter written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by a group of US lawmakers questioning India's relations with Iran, as the entire opposition as well as the Communist Party-Marxist strongly condemned the US interference in India's foreign policy matters.
The strong-worded letter from Capitol Hill came from senior lawmakers like Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, who is the Chair of the House Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, and others.
Cutting across party lines, members, including United Progressive Allaince allies CPM, demanded the US be categorically and in "very strong terms" conveyed that India would not accept any outside interference in its foreign policy matters nor compromise with its sovereignty and national integrity.
The letter to the prime minister asking India to 'sever' military ties with Iran and "terminate" all cooperation in the energy sector.
As soon as the House assembled for Question Hour, members were on their feet demanding suspension of the Question Hour and a discussion on the subject. Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, however, said the matter could be discussed after Question Hour.
Members' persistence later paid off and the first 25 minutes were devoted to the subject.
Bharatiya Janata Party member Yashwant Sinha, who spoke first, said it was a matter of India's sovereignty and should be discussed in the House. He criticised the government for not taking the House into confidence on the issue when it was in session, especially on the recent visit of Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to the US and his discussions with Bush administration officials.
"This is a dangerous developmnent. But the government has not thought it fit to take the House into confidence," he said while accusing the government of "buckling" under US pressure.
Brinda Karat (CP-M) demanded that US Ambassador to India David Mulford be called to the Foreign Office and conveyed in "very strong terms" that India would not allow any interence with its sovereignty.
She said the US should be told categorically that "this country is not for sale." Both Sinha and Karat demanded that the House be taken into confidence on the ongoing negotiations on the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Karat said the prime minister should give a statement in the House on the issue.
Digvijay Singh (Janata Dal-United) claimed that the foreign secretary was "insulted" in the US recently when he went there for negotiations on the deal.
The foreign secretary was in the US From April 30 - May 2 for discussions on further movement on the agreement.
Digvijay Singh said India would not "bow" to US dictates and would continue its friendship with Iran.
The House witnessed further turmoil when Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, while making a statement, accused the NDA of "bending on its knees" when they were in government.
This was strongly objected to by the BJP members who demanded that the minister withdraw his remark.
The minister said the government would make everything transparent on the issue and would not hide anything.
He refuted the opposition charge that the government had buckled under US pressure and compromised India's sovereignty.
He said he would urge the prime minister to give a statement in the House on the issue.
The Question Hour could be taken up only after 25 minutes.
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