The United States says it took so much time to provide India access to Pakistani American David Headley to make sure that the key Mumbai terror attack plotter would be willing to talk.
"I mean, these are very sensitive matters, that we wanted to make sure that Headley would be willing to talk, and so a number of things had to be worked out," US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake told reporters Monday.
A four-member team from India National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been in Chicago for over a week, was allowed to question the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, who has confessed to his role in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, after Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna made a public plea for access to him.
"And again, let me just say that this in no way hijacked the strategic dialogue," he said disputing a suggestion that the Headley issue had diffused the focus of the first ever India-US strategic dialogue here last week.
"This didn't even come up in the strategic dialogue," Blake said in response to a question. "Actually, it really wasn't a topic of great conversation. It was not a focus of our discussions," he said in reply to another.
Fending off all questions on the issue, he referred to a statement by US National Security Adviser James Jones that India has been granted access to Headley. "And I think I'll just leave it there. I'll leave it to the Department of Justice to offer further comment, because they're the ones that are the lead agency on this.
But as US Ambassador to India Timothy "Roemer and many others have said, our two countries have been engaged intensively on this, and this is another good area of cooperation between the United States and India."
Denying that there was lack of clarity and candour on the issue, Blake said: "Well, let me just say that there's been a great deal of transparency and close cooperation between our two governments. For obvious law-enforcement reasons, there are many things that we can't share with the press.
"But again, I think we've had very good and close cooperation on this particular issue. And I think our Indian friends would confirm that."
Asked what would happen if Headley doesn't cooperate fully with Indian investigators in violation of his plea bargain agreement with US authorities, Blake said: "Again, I'm not going to comment on Headley. I'm neither a lawyer nor a Department of Justice expert, so anything I say will probably not be well placed.