Sanctions must go before Vajpayee's visit: U.S. lawmakers

WASHINGTON, JULY 12. Senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for the removal of existing sanctions against India with one suggestion being that the punitive measures should be got rid of before the visit of the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, to the United States this September.

``Continuing to keep India under a sanctions regime despite the power given by Congress to the Executive to waive it... is a myopic policy. We have to replace this myopia with enlightened vision... Our aim, I believe, should be to remove the sanctions regime before Prime Minister Vajpayee visits Washington in September so that some genuine and lasting progress in our relations with New Delhi can be achieved,'' said Mr. Gary Ackerman, Democrat member from New York in the House of Representatives.

Participating in a panel discussion organised by the Indian American Forum for Political Education on U.S.-India relations in the 21st century post-Presidential visit, the Co- Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India reiterated that the focus should not be held hostage on getting New Delhi's signature on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. ``Because of this obsession... I am afraid we may end up losing many other promising opportunities in U.S.-India relations,'' he said.

In his luncheon address, Mr. Sam Brownback, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee on near east and south Asia, said the issue of sanctions ought to be part of the package in the discussions; and that he had been constantly urging the administration to lift the punitive measures. The Republican from Kansas, who had been instrumental in the removal of sanctions, said a move in this direction would be a ``very positive and good sign'' in bilateral relations.

``If we could remove economic sanctions against North Korea, can't we lift them against India,'' Mr. Brownback asked and pointed out that the contrast in the administration's posturing on the subject was there for all to see. By the same token, he said the President, Mr.Bill Clinton's, lead legislative item on Capitol Hill was the Permanent Normal Trade Relations Bill for China. ``Can't we do the same for India,'' the lawmaker wondered.

Mr. Brownback also said that his Committee in the Senate would hold a hearing on the issue very soon, especially on the impact of the sanctions. In the context of India, he said, the continuation of sanctions could alienate a potentially very strong relationship.

On the visit of the Prime Minister to the U.S., Mr. Brownback said it would be appropriate for Mr. Vajpayee to address a joint session of Congress; and also hoped that the Indian leader would be able to stop in Kansas to see ``the real America''. The trip, according to Mr. Brownback, comes at a most auspicious time in bilateral relations which is now much more positive and strong; and the new relationship which sees India as an equal partner has the elements of a broad economic and strategic engagement.