Washington: Ahead of his visit to New Delhi next week, senior US Congressman Gary Ackerman has said he looked forward to Indian government completing its “internal processes” on the historic nuclear deal so that the accord can be approved by the American Congress.
Maintaining that it would be foolish to squander away the gains in the bilateral relationship of the last decade, especially over the last three years, the New York Democrat, who is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Middle East and South Asia, said he strongly supported the 123 Agreement, which will operationalise the nuclear deal.
“...I strongly support the 123 agreement and I look forward to the Government of India completing its internal processes so that the US Congress can give final approval to this historic deal,” he said.
However, he said “there was much more to the July 2005 joint statement (between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush) than civil nuclear cooperation and there is much more to US-India relations than just the 123 agreement.”
“In fact the 2005 statement covered a broad range of issues among which civil nuclear cooperation was just one,” Democratic Congressman Ackerman said at a hearing titled ‘More Than Just The 123 Agreement: The Future of US-Indo Relations.’
Ackerman, whose remarks came amid the UPA-left deadlock over the nuclear deal, will be in New Delhi between July 2 and 4 even as sequencing of his overall five-nation trip that will also take him to Egypt, Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan is still being worked out, sources told the news agency.
He is expected to exchange views with the leadership in New Delhi on the Indo-US nuclear deal and other issues of mutual interest.
At the hearing, Ackerman said on Wednesday the various initiatives were not just pronouncements made by heads of government and forgotten, but “they’ve been matched by follow-up and demonstrable success.”
“One area of long-standing cooperation I haven’t mentioned is counter-terrorism. India has been victim of terrorism for far longer than have we.
“Their experience with terrorism is deep and is as recent as the bombings last month in Jaipur, in which a series of seven blasts occurred in twenty minutes at crowded markets and near Hindu temples,” said Ackerman, who has been the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans in the House of Representatives.
The “terrible attack serves as another gruesome reminder of how much in common the United States and India have when it comes to the global fight against terror and how we must redouble our efforts to develop effective tools to defeat terrorism and violent religious extremism,” he said.
The senior Democrat, however, maintained that differences with New Delhi would also have to be pointed out -- the major one being that of India’s relations with Iran.
“I hope that India’s officials will hear and understand the US view of Iran: that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony is a serious threat posed to international peace and stability in the Middle East and the vital national security interests of the United States.
“I believe Indian officials understand the US perspective on Iran and I know that India shares US opposition to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. Their courageous IAEA votes demonstrate that,” Ackerman said.
He said he had “a very difficult time understanding why Government of India continues to pursue a pipeline with Iran and Pakistan at a time when other nations ... are not just implementing UN approved sanctions... but are going further by cutting off access to banking services and discouraging other economic interactions with Iran.”
Ackerman made it clear that he was not suggesting that India abandon its historically independent foreign policy. “What I am suggesting is that India join the other nations who are doing more than just implementing UN sanctions in an effort to economically isolate Iran...,” he said.
Senior Republican from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, also argued that the US ties with India went beyond 123 agreement.
“The United States and India need to continue to be fair and willing partners on economic, energy, and national security issues. I hope the political difficulties that have stalled movement on the civil nuclear agreement can be overcome. I also hope that we cooperate with India on advancing research into new energy sources.
“With their rapidly expanding economy, the people of India will increasingly need access to affordable energy as will the people of the United States. This will be mutually beneficial,” he said.
Walter Andersen, Associate Director of the South Asia Studies Programme at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, said a collapse of the initiative will not jeopardise the larger aspects of the bilateral relationship. “India is too large, too prosperous, and too strategically located for this to happen,” he said.
Maintaining that there was only a slim chance of the deal coming through in the face of strong opposition from the Communist parties, Stephen Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued that the next administration must see the process through.
The nuclear deal is “the most powerful tool the US and India have for putting our partnership on a strong footing,” said Teresita Schaffer of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.