Against the backdrop of terror strikes in Jammu, India’s concerns over continued activities of LeT emanating from Pakistan and freedom to JuD chief Hafiz Saeed are expected to figure in the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama in Washington on Friday.
Giving this indication, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao on Friday said India will articulate its concerns over continued cross-border terrorism, particularly since LeT is now a part of global terror network and endangers more than one country.
“We haven’t let this matter go off the radar... This issue concerning LeT and activities of Hafiz Saeed are very much on the agenda of discussions that we have with the US at every given opportunity,” she said in her pre-meeting briefing to reporters.
LeT, Hafiz Saeed issue
She was responding when asked whether the activities of LeT and Hafiz Saeed would be raised by the Prime Minister during the talks with Mr. Obama considering that the US had declared a reward of $10 million for him and the meeting is taking place against the backdrop of Thursday’s twin terror strikes in Jammu.
Denying any dilution of its stand on LeT and Hafiz Saeed, Ms. Rao said, “The issue of cross-border terrorism and the threat we continue to face in our homeland on this issue is a very great concern.”
The former Foreign Secretary said she believed that the U.S. is aware of the “depth” of India’s concerns.
“The fact is that LeT is not confined in its activities to the sub-continent. They have become virtually global terrorist group combine now and their activities are felt and endanger security in more than one country. I think the U.S. is aware of that and is concerned,” she said.
To a question about Mr. Obama going to host Mr. Nawaz Sharif later this month, Ms. Rao said there was no need for unnecessary concern over it as the U.S. has its own relations with Pakistan and its democratically-elected Prime Minister. India’s relations with the US stand on their own, she said.
Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama will discuss, among various things, cooperation in the field of homeland security, maritime security, defence cooperation and situation in Afghanistan and other parts of the region.
Speaking in the context of trade and investment ties, the Ambassador said the issue of proposed changes in the U.S. immigration laws will be raised amid India’s concerns over it.
“Trade grew rapidly in the recent years, touching USD 100 billion. Services is the engine of growth. This is why the ongoing discussion Comprehensive Immigration Reforms Bill and that aspect of the reforms that touches the skilled IT professionals from India has been receiving our close attention. So this will be flagged,” she said.
Ms. Rao said, “Probably, the US side also has some issues that it has raised from time to time, related to investments and economic reforms process in India.”
The Ambassador said India has sought to address US’ concerns in “a candid manner, open and transparent manner. We would like US to understand the development challenges that India faces, the situation in which we live in terms of the environment around us.”
Strategic partner, says Manmohan
Earlier on his arrival, the Prime Minister said the U.S. is one of the most important strategic partner of India. “And during President Obama’s regime, we have taken several steps to widen and deepen this partnership in diverse fields,” he said.
“And during the present visit, we will review the progress that has been made and also what further can be done to give added meaning and content to this partnership,” Dr. Singh told reporters immediately after landing at the Andrews Air Force Base.
“The United States is one of India’s most important trading partners, important provider of investment and technology support for India’s development and we need the United States on our side as we move to give new added trust to our development programmes,” he said.
“We will also review the international situation particularly with reference to international economic situation and other important areas like South East Asia, Middle East and West Asia,” Dr. Singh said.
H1-B visa issue
The Obama-Singh meeting would not only review the progress made in the relationship but also set the pace and scope of the ties between the two largest democracies of the world and help accelerate the momentum of the co-operation, Ms. Rao said.
With regard to the proposed changes in the non-immigrant visa rules that would affect H1B visas, Nirupama Rao said though the issue is “still work in progress”, the Indian side has voiced concern with US lawmakers.
She said if these restrictions become a reality, then the Indian IT professionals will be affected considering the kind of business module Indian companies have.
“We have been candid. Our concern is understood by our interlocutors but don’t know what will happen... We don’t know what the final shape will be,” she said.
On snooping issue
On the issue of snooping by US spy agencies, Ms. Nirupama Rao said the issue has been raised with the U.S. by India which wants to know “why these things happen” particularly “given the level of friendship and cooperation“.
She said she was not sure as to whether this issue will come up during the talks between Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama.
At the same time, she said reactions won’t depend on media reports and the two governments will need to sit down and discuss the matter.
The two countries already have cooperation in cyber security.
On nuclear liability law
When referred to the civil nuclear deal, she denied that it had been put in the “cold storage” and mentioned that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and US firm Westinghouse were close to “fruition” and “closure“.
She said negotiations on such issues are bound to take time as these are “painstaking” but expressed confidence that the outcome will be good. “The progress is slow but going on,” she said.
Noting that it was an early works pact, she asserted that there was no question of the Nuclear Liability Act being contravened or “going beyond the four corners of the law“.
Asked whether bureaucratic hurdles were holding up progress on civil nuclear deal, she gave a diplomatic reply, saying bureaucrats have their own way of working but there is “a political will” and the matter is headed in the right direction.
On Afghanistan and Syria
On Afghanistan, Ms. Rao pointed out that India has a trilateral dialogue involving U.S. on the issue as they share concern over the situation in the country and India would like to see Afghanistan free of terrorism and secure.
She said next year will be crucial as there will be drawdown of US-led forces “but the calendar does not end in 2014. There will be 2015, 2016 and beyond. We have to see what happens.”
Asked about differences between India and the U.S. on Iran and Syria, the Ambassador said “friends do not need to agree on everything“.
She reiterated India’s position on Iran, saying Tehran has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. However, the questions that have been raised over its nuclear programme by the international community, need to be “fully explained”, she said.
These problems need to be solved through dialogue, she added.
On Syria, she said India had maintained its opposition to the use of chemical weapons and was in agreement for their eradication.