Tom Lantos, co-author of the contentious US enabling law on the India-US civil nuclear deal, "a true friend of India and a strong supporter of closer India-US relations" is dead. He was 80.
Lantos, current chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs died Monday morning due to complications from cancer at the Bethesda Naval Medical Centre in Washington.
First elected to office in 1980, Lantos had, after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late December, announced Jan 2 that he would not seek re-election in November.
It was Lantos, then Democratic ranking member of the House panel, who together with its Republican Chairman Henry J. Hyde, had shepherded the landmark Hyde Act through the Congress in December 2006.
Saddened at the death of Lantos, Indian ambassador to the US Ronen Sen said, "We have lost a champion of democracy, a true friend of India and a strong supporter of closer India-US relations.
"His leadership was invaluable in the passage of the enabling legislation in the US Congress for India-US civil nuclear energy cooperation," he said offering "our deepest condolence to his wife Annette Lantos and his family".
Though Lantos was a key supporter of the India-US nuclear deal, he was also sharply critical of India's relations with Iran and many a time warned New Delhi of the consequences of pursuing a military relationship with Tehran.
Lantos' death comes less than three months after Henry Hyde, the other author of the US law allowing the Bush administration to carry out an agreement to supply India with nuclear fuel and technology, died in Chicago Nov 29 due to complications from heart surgery.
Describing Lantos as "a man of character and a champion of human rights", President George Bush appreciated "his efforts to protect our environment, alleviate the sufferings caused by HIV/AIDS, and strengthen our friendships and alliances around the globe.
"After immigrating to America more than six decades ago, he worked to help oppressed people around the world have the opportunity to live in freedom.
"As the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men," Bush said.
"America has lost a most eloquent voice and a true foreign policy leader. And I have lost an inspirational mentor and a dear friend," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, describing Lantos as "a genuine American hero".
"He came to America as a refugee from totalitarianism, and he became a remarkable contributor to American political, civic and cultural life," she said. "Tom spoke to the best of American ideals. He was a staunch defender of freedom and an implacable foe of tyranny."
Expressing its deep sorrow, US-India Business Council (USIBC) described Lantos as "a good friend of USIBC, a steadfast supporter of the US-India relationship, and a powerful moral authority on US foreign policy.
"He was a moral compass on foreign-policy issues and a staunch advocate of a closer US-India relationship. His leadership, moral courage, and remarkable intellect will be terribly missed," said USIBC president Ron Somers.
By his instrumental support for the Hyde Act "Lantos helped to remove the cinder from the eye of the US-India relationship, aligning the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies in a partnership that will change history," he said.
Lantos was "a leading champion for the Henry Hyde Act, which ends India's nuclear isolation, and sets India on a course for developing its internal energy security."
Noting that the Hyde Act passed in 2006 through "Lantos' vital leadership" with the resounding bipartisan majority of 359 to 68, presently awaits endorsement by international bodies and a final nod by the US Congress, USIBC said: "It would be fitting if Congress would consummate the historic initiative this year in memory of Congressman Lantos."
Describing Lantos as "an extraordinary colleague and patriarch of a magnificent family," US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar said, "His fellow members of Congress held deep respect for his remarkable life story, his legislative accomplishments, and his love for the United States."
The only survivor of the Shoah ever elected to Congress, Lantos was in his 14th term.
Announcing his decision not to contest again in January, he had said: "It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress."