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N-deal: Indian-American activists slam opponents
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 07, 2007 10:00 IST
Leading Indian-American political activists, who constitute the US-India Friendship Council, which was catalytic in pushing through the enabling legislation to facilitate the India-United States civilian nuclear agreement in both Houses of Congress by overwhelming margins, are "utterly frustrated and disappointed," over the opposition to the deal in India.
But the core group of about 20 influential activists, who convened last week to map out their strategy under the leadership of North Carolina entrepreneur Swadesh Chatterjee, said they stood ready at a moment's notice to mobilise and lobby the Congress as soon as the 123 Agreement is submitted by the Bush Administration to the lawmakers.
However, before the agreement can be submitted, India has to negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US has got to go to bat for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group to convince this 45-member body to endorse the US-India deal by consensus.
However, all of these moves have been thwarted by the opponents of the deal who have prevailed on the Manmohan Singh [Images] government to put a hold on operationalising the deal until their concerns are alleviated.
While the board of governors meeting of the IAEA doesn't have the envisaged discussion of the India safeguards agreement on its agenda, Administration sources said that they hoped that before the year was out India could resolve the controversy over the deal internally and negotiate the safeguards with the IAEA.
They said if that happens, Washington can call for a special consultative session of the NSA in Vienna in order to seek its endorsement so that the agreement could finally be submitted to Congress for an up or down vote.
Meanwhile, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns -- the chief US negotiator of the deal -- who was to make his first public appearance on September 18, after his press briefing immediately after the 123 agreement was finally nailed down in Washington on July 20 has cried off saying he has to travel during this time.
He was to discuss the 'US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement -- Next Steps for Congress and the US,' at a briefing co-hosted by the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, the US-India Business Alliance, and the US-India Political Action Committee.
The rumor that Congressman Ed Markey, Massaschusetts Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Nonproliferation, and a vehement critic of the deal who has opposed it at every turn would also be appearing on the same forum, was also scotched by the organisers who told rediff.com that although there was a suggestion to invite him, it has been immediately knocked down.
They said that in the absence of Burns, an effort was now being made to get another senior Administration official either from the State Department or the National Security Council to brief the attendees to the meeting to be held on Capitol Hill, but that nothing was confirmed as yet.
Chatterjee told rediff.com: "We are utterly frustrated and disappointed over the opposition to the deal in New Delhi." But he hoped that the controversy will be resolved soon so that the agreement can be submitted to the US Congress.
While acknowledging that at this point, it is between the two governments, Chatterjee complained that "as Indian Americans, after all our efforts and our own time, money and energy we put into this, we are so disappointed over the opposition to the agreement in India."
"We are doing so much for India, but the people who live in India (who are opposed to the deal), they don't seem to think about the people," he said.
Chatterjee said, "We Indian-Americans -- the US-India Friendship Council, strongly believe that this is a minor setback, but we hope it can be resolved soon, because time is of the essence -- the clock is running out and we strongly feel that it is very important to get it done before the end of the year. So we hope that the Indian parties -- both the Left and the other parties realise what is happening in this world."
"So this is why we have to make this happen. We should not bury our heads in the sand but have the vision to see what is good for India and good for US-India relations," he said.
Chatterjee said, "We are not involved in the politics of India, but we are very disappointed (with the opposition to the deal) because in the history of this country (the United States) -- and I have been here for 30 plus years -- we have never seen the community so united for one common cause. And, that cause is better US-India relations, which is better for the people of India because without power (that can be generated by the civilian nuclear reactors as envisaged under the agreement), India cannot move forward.
"All of this 9 percent growth and the economy cannot be sustained and have non-polluted energy and less dependence on foreign oil -- which are all important for the growth and to maintain the GDP of India -- unless this deal is consummated."
Chatterjee reiterated, "So we are very disappointed and frustrated with what is happening in India because we expected India's politicians to go beyond the party lines for the well-being of the Indian people."
He asserted: "We strongly support Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's position in this regard and we still believe it can be resolved soon, and so we are ready to mobilise and we have been meeting in Washington to start working with the lawmakers in Congress to make sure it goes through as early as possible (when the agreement is submitted to Congress)."