Singed by WikiLeaks, Indian official says U.S. cable a lie

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:22 am IST

Published - December 30, 2010 11:45 pm IST - New Delhi:

A former Indian official criticised for making unauthorised contact with the United States embassy and angling for a junket in order to “feed” American views on Iran into the Indian system, has accused a senior American diplomat of fabricating the contents of the confidential cable — published by WikiLeaks earlier this month — which “outed” him.

“I cannot answer for what [the former U.S. Charge d'Affaires Geoffrey] Pyatt might or might not have reported and if he did send such a cable, why he should have done so,” K.V. Rajan, a former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and a former member of the Prime Minister's National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) told The Hindu .

In the cable titled ‘Iran manipulating Indian elite opinion makers' of May 4, 2007, Mr. Pyatt — who is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia at the U.S. State Department — said Mr. Rajan sought an urgent meeting to discuss a Tehran-sponsored visit to Iran by Indian opinion-makers. According to the cable, Mr. Rajan said he had turned down the invitation but gave a list of the other invitees to the U.S. Embassy.

“To counter this new and worrying effort to reach out to Indian opinion makers, Mr. Rajan proposed a visit to the U.S., starting May 14, in his NSAB capacity, for five to seven days, to talk to officials, think tanks, and the intelligence community to discuss ways to understand better the U.S. assessments of Iran. He would expect this to feed into NSAB discussion of Iran policy options,” the embassy cable said. “To counter this insidious new Iranian effort, we recommend Rajan receive meetings, if possible, with xxx,” the cable concluded.

WikiLeaks redacted the names of the senior U.S. officials Mr. Pyatt wanted Mr. Rajan to meet. But The Hindu has been able to establish that the U.S. embassy sought meetings with four senior intelligence officials: Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, National Intelligence Council (NIC) Vice-Chair David Gordon, NIC Deputy South Asia Officer John Dister and CIA Director of Intelligence John Kringen.

Mr. Rajan, who coincidentally travelled to Washington D.C. shortly after the cable was sent, denies meeting these or other officials during that trip.

The Hindu published details of the Rajan cable on December 18. Mr. Rajan, who was travelling at the time and could not be reached for comment, said upon his return: “It is true that an invitation was addressed to me by the Iranian government in my capacity as member, National Security Advisory Board.' After checking with the Ministry of External Affairs, I declined as it would have been inappropriate to have accepted such an invitation. I have no idea about what happened subsequently and certainly have no recollection about discussing the matter with any foreign diplomat, apart from conveying my apologies to the Iranians. I can emphatically confirm that I have never discussed the Iran non-visit with U.S. officials.”

Asked why Mr. Pyatt would fabricate a conversation which never took place in a confidential cable that was not meant to be read by anyone outside the U.S. system, Mr. Rajan said he could not answer for what the U.S. diplomat might or might not have reported.

He admitted travelling to the U.S. in May-June 2007, but denied that visit was arranged by the U.S. government. “I visited the U.S. and some European countries during that period in connection with seminars and conferences. The U.S. government/Embassy were in no way involved,” he said.

The U.S. trip “was for a conference and celebration of the silver jubilee of Washington Times ,” Mr. Rajan said, when asked for details of the visit. “I did not meet a single one of the persons you have mentioned. Indeed, I can confirm that I did not meet any other official of the U.S. government either, before during or after the visit to discuss any other subject pertaining to foreign policy,” he added.

Describing himself as “not a particular favourite of the U.S. embassy,” he said: “My only guess as to the sudden affection they developed later is a gross misunderstanding of the reasons for my declining the Iran invite.”

With the State Department advising its missions and posts abroad not to engage with any questions stemming from the leaked cables, attempts to clarify matters with the U.S. embassy drew a blank.

Speaking on background, however, MEA officials said it was unlikely the U.S. embassy would invent a conversation or meeting which never took place. Indeed, South Block has been struck by how accurately the leaked cables have captured the contents of sometimes complicated meetings between senior American and Indian officials on a whole range of topics. “I think I'm going to go with Mr. Pyatt on this one,” a senior official said. “Look at the people Mr. Pyatt wanted Mr. Rajan to meet. Even if the meetings never worked out, a career diplomat would be mad to get State to pitch for top guys at the NIC and CIA on the basis of some made up story.”

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