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Iran shadow on Indo-US N-deal
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

  • Concern over recent joint exercises involving Indian and Iranian navies

  • The nuclear deal is a very complex one to which only a few people know the ins and outs, says Congressman Tom Lantos

  • Much work still to be done on N-deal acceptance, Congress Ackerman tells Shyam Saran

A senior member of the US Congress on Thursday cautioned India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran that "occasional episodes of conflict" might undermine vital Congressional support for the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.

In a meeting on the Capitol Hill that lasted close to 25 minutes, Congressman Tom Lantos, California Democrat and co-chairman of the House International Relations Committee, expressed concern about recent joint exercises involving Indian and Iranian navies.

Ms Lynne Weil, Mr Lantos' spokeswoman, told The Tribune the Congressman was concerned about reports that Iranian troops were receiving "training" from India.

“Such episodes would undermine Congressional support,” she said, echoing a sentiment the Congressman had expressed to Mr Saran.

On March 8, the Iranian Navy completed a five-day training programme at the Indian Naval Base in Kochi.

Two Iranian Navy ships stayed in the southern Indian city for nearly a week and around 200 cadets underwent training.

The Indo-Asian News Service reported that the IRIS Bandar Abbas and IRIS Lavan anchored in Kochi on March 3.

Bandar Abbas was termed a modified training ship while Lavan was described as an amphibious assault vessel.

During their stay, the Iranians visited professional training schools of the Southern Naval Command.

Practical training was also imparted to the trainees on waterman ship and on the ship-handling simulator, according to reports.

Mr Lantos, who has in the past been critical of India's relationship with Iran, cited New Delhi's initial wavering on the question of referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear weapons programme.

Ms Weil said Mr Lantos told the Foreign Secretary that "at a time when gestures from allies are significant — not symbolic gestures alone but substantive gestures — the Indian Government should look for opportunities to make gestures that underscore the strength of the bilateral friendship" and reassure members of the US Congress about the depth of India's relationship with the US.

Ms Weil said the Congressman believed the nuclear deal was a very "complex" one of which only a few people really knew the ins and outs.

"There are many issues that still need to be resolved," she said.

Earlier this month, Mr Lantos, his counterpart on the HIRC Congressman Henry Hyde and Senator Richard Lugar, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced in the Congress an "enabling legislation" on the deal at the request of the Bush Administration.

Many members of the Congress are not fully on board with the administration's plan to overturn a 30-year policy and share nuclear technology with India which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In Washington, Mr Saran met with a handful of Congressmen in an effort to win support on the Capitol Hill for the nuclear deal.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve changes to US Law before the civil nuclear cooperation can be enacted.

In a meeting with Congressman Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Mr Saran reiterated the Indian view that the deal was only one aspect of the much broader relationship between the two democracies.

Mr Ackerman noted that members of the Congress should consider the context of the US-India relationship when considering the agreement but emphasised that many lawmakers bring their own context to the discussion of the issue.

Mr Ackerman also told Mr Saran that much work still needed to be done for the agreement to be approved by the House and the Senate.

While supportive of the agreement, like Mr Lantos, Mr Ackerman has been critical of US President George W. Bush's efforts to sell the deal to members of Congress and explaining it to the American people.

Ms Weil said Mr Lantos was satisfied with the administration's efforts.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will brief members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the deal next week.


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