US senator links drone deal nod to Pannun probe | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

US senator links drone deal nod to Pannun probe

By, Washington
Feb 04, 2024 09:16 AM IST

Cardin took over the committee after the last chair, Bob Menendez, a Senator from New Jersey, was charged with corruption allegations

Ben Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), has said that he lifted his hold on the proposed sale of 31 MQ-9B drones to India after the US administration assured him that the Indian government is “committed to thoroughly investigating” the situation stemming from the allegations that implicate an Indian government official in an assassination plot on US soil.

In November, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against a Nikhil Gupta, who, it was alleged, was deployed by a serving government of India official to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (AP)
In November, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against a Nikhil Gupta, who, it was alleged, was deployed by a serving government of India official to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (AP)

On Thursday, after obtaining the first-tier clearance from the relevant Congressional leadership including Cardin, the US administration announced that it had formally notified the Congress of the proposed foreign military sale, a key milestone in the India-US defence relationship. If there is no objection from a member of the Congress in the next 30 days, the deal would be seen as having legislative clearance.

Unlock exclusive access to the latest news on India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now! Download Now!

While SFRC ranking member Republican James Risch, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) chair Republican Michael McCaul and ranking member Democrat Gregory Meeks had given their nod to the proposed deal, Cardin, a Senator from Maryland, took longer to sign on, a fact that administration officials say is a part of a regular process of consultations.

In a statement on Friday, Cardin said, “My approval of this sale was the result of months of painstaking discussions with the Biden administration. While I’m fully aware of the significance of this sale for U.S. national security and strategic interests, I have consistently conveyed my concerns regarding the timing of this sale to administration officials in light of the alleged murder-for-hire plot involving Indian officials to attempt to assassinate an American citizen on U.S. soil.”

In November, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against a Nikhil Gupta, who, it was alleged, was deployed by a serving government of India official to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual Canadian-American citizen, in New York last June. The US administration sent a clear message to India that this was unacceptable; it publicly sought accountability; and it privately warned India that this must never happen again. India clarified that this was not government of India policy; it set up an investigation committee to examine the allegations and American inputs; and it shared the broad composition of the committee with the US. Both countries have however made a conscious effort to ensure that the broader strategic relationship remains on track and high level engagements have continued.

Cardin added that the US administration had assured him that “the Indian government is committed to thoroughly investigating the situation and fully cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation so that there is credible accountability in this case”. He said that he intended to hold the administration to account on this issue.

At the same time, Cardin reiterated his support for the wider relationship with India. In the same statement, he said, “The U.S.-India partnership plays a key role in Indo Pacific stability, including through regional mechanisms such as the Quad. I support deepening our bilateral relationship with India as long as that partnership is based on mutual trust and respect.”

He, however, added that one of his top priorities was championing democratic values and human rights abroad and that progress on these issues required “difficult conversations” both within US and with allies and friends. “. I will continue raising human rights issues with the Administration, as well as our Indian counterparts, because I believe that our shared values are fundamental to the growth and longevity of our partnership.” Among Democrats on the Hill, there is a widespread view that there has been an erosion of democratic values in India under the current government, a charge that India has rejected.

A person familiar with the issue told HT that while Cardin’s position was a reminder that the Pannun issue was still a factor, it would be wrong to see this as Cardin blocking the deal, but must be viewed as a part of the wider consultations that take place between the administration and the Hill on foreign policy issues. The fact that the Congress is keeping a watchful eye on the administration’s actions in West Asia and is seeking a role before the administration takes specific actions in the region provides the wider context for these discussions.

For India, what is relevant is the fact that the administration has formally notified the Congress and the government-to-government deal is proceeding as per the bilateral understanding and according to US domestic processes. But it is also a reminder that as the judicial process takes its course on the Pannun issue in the US, it will continue to be a factor in the US public sphere.

Cardin took over the committee after the last chair, Bob Menendez, a Senator from New Jersey, was charged with corruption allegations. Cardin doesn’t intend to contest elections later this year and this is his final year in the Senate.

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok Sabha Election 2024 Live, Delhi Election 2024 Live, Election 2024 Date, Weather Today along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, May 25, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On