Chidambaram seeks to defuse tension ahead of Obama’s India visit

Chidambaram seeks to defuse tension ahead of Obama’s India visit

New Delhi: Five days before US President Barack Obama’s visit, home minister P. Chidambaram sought to defuse tension between India and the US over the sharing of intelligence from jailed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley Coleman and whether enough warning had been given to India regarding the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

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“I think the issue is being blown out of proportion. The US did share intelligence with us in the months leading up to 26/11 though Headley’s name wasn’t mentioned," Chidambaram told reporters on Monday. “The name was shared only in October 2009."

He said the US was reviewing “what they knew and when they knew about Headley vis-a-vis 26/11. They will share it with us once the review is over".

Chidambaram said he was not aware when the US instituted the review.

According to Indian and US investigators, Headley had conducted a survey of the sites that were attacked by 10 LeT terrorists in Mumbai on 26 November 2008, killing at least 160 people, including six American nationals.

Headley, said to be a double agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, was arrested in the US in October 2009.

According to Indian officials, even after 26/11, Headley visited India on many occasions to survey other possible sites for terror attacks. He also surveyed Pune’s German bakery, where a blast in February this year killed nine people and injured many others.

The war of words broke out between the two countries last week when home secretary G.K. Pillai, in an interview to the CNN-IBN television news channel, said India was “disappointed" with the information shared about Headley.

“Yes, we could say that we were disappointed that the name of David Headley was not provided, if not pre-26/11, at least post-26/11. So that when he came subsequently in March 2009 to India, at least at that time we could have nabbed him here," Pillai said.

Timothy Roemer, US ambassador to India, countered that statement, saying the US government has shared intelligence on a “regular" and “consistent" basis with the Indian government.

Also, the US had allowed Indian investigators to question Headley, presently lodged in their jail. India has used the same interrogation report to build pressure on Pakistan, asking it to take action against terrorists hiding in the neighbouring country.

When asked if the newly set up National Investigation Agency (NIA) will move for the extradition of Headley, Chidambaram said: “Extradition of David Headley is an option that India will continue to pursue. Chargesheeting Headley is for NIA and prosecuting agencies to decide." He also said there was no issue in the home ministry that could be taken up at Obama’s level.

Chidambaram, who had a 45-minute meeting with Roemer on Monday, said the ambassador was satisfied with Obama’s security in India.

Roemer said after the meeting that Obama was looking forward to his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during which they would discuss ways to strengthen India-US strategic and global partnership.

Obama was keen to renew his “very intimate ties and friendship" with the Prime Minister during his three-day visit beginning 6 November, Roemer said.

The home ministry has issued an advisory putting New Delhi and Mumbai on high alert before Obama’s visit. Delhi Police and the home ministry will review security at Parliament and coordinate with their US counterparts on this. Obama will address Parliament when he arrives in New Delhi from Mumbai.

PTI contributed to this story.