Question Hour was suspended in the Rajya Sabha on Friday to accommodate concerns by agitated members who alleged the government had compromised India’s sovereignty in pursuing the civil nuclear deal with the United States. Raising the issue of US senators writing a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging India to scale back its engagements with Iran, members sought a statement from the Prime Minister.
Only when Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunshi categorically assured members that the government would "never compromise" India’s sovereignty and that the Prime Minister would make a statement on the issue after the Question Hour, were members pacified.
When the Rajya Sabha met this morning, Yashwant Singh (BJP), Brinda Karat (CPM) and Digvijay Singh (JD-U) were on their feet terming the letter as an "open threat" and interference in the country's internal affairs.
They were referring to a letter from senior American law makers including Tom Lantos, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman who is the Chair of the House Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, and others.
"Regarding Iran, we are deeply concerned by India's increasing co-operation with that country, including the exchange of visits between high-level officials, enhanced military ties, and negotiations of agreements to establish closer economic relations," they said in the letter to Singh, going on to list the kind of interactions New Delhi has had with Tehran.
Asked to comment on the issue at a function outside Parliament on Friday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee refused comment, saying Parliament was in session. At a lecture he said the two governments "remain committed to implementing the understanding expeditiously in a way that it adhered as closely as possible to the framework of the July 2005 Joint Statement and the March 2006 Separation Plan".
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said they had not seen the letter written to the Prime Minister on the likely fallout on the civil nuclear deal of New Delhi's ties with Tehran. The Bush administration, he said, had already raised the matter with the Indian government.
"We have not seen this letter and I'm not sure whether the Indians have had a chance to look at it and react to it. I know that we have raised Congressional concern about their (India’s) cooperation with Iran and we continue to encourage the Indians to use what influence they have with the Iranians to press them to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions and to behave responsibly in a wide variety of areas," Casey told reporters.
"As strong proponents of closer ties between the United States and India, we are deeply concerned that the developments outlined in this letter have a significant potential to negatively affect relationship between the US and India in general and consideration by Congress of the 123 Agreement in particular," the Congressmen said.
"Mr Prime Minister, we urge you to provide assurances that India will cease illicit procurement activities in the US, sever military cooperation with Iran and terminate India's participation in the development of Iran's energy sector. By taking these important steps, you can ensure that the positive evolution of our bilateral relationship continues," they said.
In his comments, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said that what New Delhi did with Tehran was no different from what other countries did.
"Nothing that India does with Iran is in any way contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Much of what we do is normal between states and done with Iran by several other states," he said at a press interaction at the Embassy of India on Tuesday.