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Comments on Iran
No finger-pointing at India, says US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Stung by criticism from India over a state department spokesman’s comments on Iran, a Bush administration official on Wednesday clarified that the spokesman was not “pointing the finger at India.”

Earlier this week, state department spokesman Tom Casey said India should call on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to heed the United Nations Security Council directives on suspending its uranium enrichment activities and cease helping terrorist groups in Iraq.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit New Delhi on April 29 where he will is expected to brief the leadership on the standoff with the West over his country’s nuclear programme.

US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, said, “I don’t think he (Casey) was in any way pointing the finger at India.”

“I do understand that people want to make their own policy and decide their own choices,” Boucher said, adding, “I don’t think this is that big an issue, that big a disagreement between us.”

External affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna had reacted sharply to Casey’s comments, saying India did not need “any guidance” on how to conduct its relations with Iran, and that both nations were “perfectly capable of managing all aspects of their relationship with appropriate degree of care and attention.”

Casey was responding to a question from a reporter about whether the US had any concerns about New Delhi’s invitation to Ahmadinejad. The spokesman pointed out that it was “up to every country to determine for itself how it’s going to organise its bilateral relations.”

Casey noted, “Many countries, including some of our strong allies in Europe, have diplomatic relations with Iran.”

India’s relationship with Iran has been a cause for contention in the past.

Last summer, undersecretary of state R. Nicholas Burns told The Tribune the US had no intention of giving advice to India on how to deal with Iran.

Acknowledging that India is a “sovereign country,” Burns said, “India, like all sovereign countries, will decide what is in its best national interests.”

“India does not need me or other state department officials to give public advice, and we have too much respect for the Indians to do that,” he added. Burns retired from the state department in March.

On Capitol Hill, congressional sources say India’s ties with Iran are a cause of deep concern among some lawmakers, including staunch friends like New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who are concerned about plans to build a gas pipeline that would link Iran, Pakistan and India. The India-Iran relationship could also hurt support for the civilian nuclear agreement from some US lawmakers.



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