The issue of access to Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley barely figured during the first US-India Strategic Dialogue, according to a senior American official, who also said that the access to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative was “ongoing”.
During a digital video conference on Monday, US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O Blake said, “It was not a topic of great conversation. It was not a focus of our
Last Thursday, while delivering his opening remarks at the beginning of the Dialogue process, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had alluded indirectly to the issue of Indian investigators, who had reached Chicago, getting access to interrogate the Pakistani-American, considered by India to be one of the main plotters behind the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Krishna, while lauding counter-terrorism cooperation after 26/11, said that access for Indian authorities to persons involved in those attacks and who had been apprehended by the United States as “perhaps the next logical step.”
In fact, before he headed to the State Department for a reception in his honour where US President Barack Obama was also present, Krishna went to the White House to meet US National Security Advisor General James Jones. Later, it was Jones who was the first American official to formally confirm that the four-member National Investigation Agency team in Chicago had been granted access to Headley.
But Blake asserted that the issue had not had an impact on the Dialogue that had covered a range of matters of mutual interest between the two countries. He said, “This, in no way, hijacked the Strategic Dialogue. This didn’t even come up in the Strategic Dialogue.”
Blake also said that “the access is still going on”. The NIA team remains camped in Chicago. That team is headed by Inspector General rank officer Lokanath Behera.
Blake also disputed the assertion from certain quarters in India that access to Headley had been delayed and may have hampered Indian investigations. He said that US authorities “wanted to make sure that Mr Headley would be willing to talk and so a number of things had to be worked out.”
He also said that while this matter had not been addressed in public there was a “great deal of transparency and close cooperation” on it between India and the United States. “As (US) Ambassador (Timothy) Roemer and others have said, our two countries have been engaged intensively on this and this is another good area of cooperation,” the State Department official pointed out.