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'India will have to live with Mulford'

The State Department has been clear that the Bush Administration talks of the nuke deal with India in the same breath as it does Iran.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2006 20:48 IST

Indians might be upset with US Ambassador David Mulford's linking of New Delhi's Iran vote with the Indo-US nuclear pact, but he was only articulating the official US position.

It is not the first time David Campbell Mulford has been attacked. It happened when he suggested a plan to get Argentina out of its debt burden in 2001.

This time, the ambassador can at best be faulted for a diplomatic faux pas.

When he said that the US Congress might find it hard to pass legislation making civilian nuclear cooperation with India possible if New Delhi did not vote with Washington on sending Iran to the UN Security Council, he was asking for a backlash.

But because the blunt speaking came from Mulford's mouth, it led to cuss-words going by the political reaction in India.

And that too at this tense juncture in US-India relations as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets in Vienna to refer Iran to the Security Council.

But it's doubtful if the Bush administration would call Mulford back for what he said, notwithstanding the clamour from a section of political India.

The State Department has been clear that the Bush Administration talks of the nuke deal with India in the same breath as it does Iran.

On Wednesday, the State Department's spokesman Sean McCormack repeated what he has been saying for a few days on the Mulford issue.

"Well, he himself has spoken to this issue. Ambassador Mulford is a distinguished ambassador. He's doing a good job on behalf of the US government in India... There are certainly realities in the Executive Branch.

"We view these issues as separate issues (Iran and civilian nuclear cooperation with India) but we certainly talk about them in the same conversations.

"As for the Hill, there are views on this matter and they don't centre necessarily on India but on the seriousness of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, not only to the region but to the world."

Mulford's remarks led to allegations that he was trying to interfere in New Delhi's internal affairs. The Indian foreign ministry lodged a complaint, while some opposition parties demanded his recall.

While all this hullaballoo is understandable, one cannot get by the reality of what Mulford said even if he, may be, should not have said it.

Ultimately, it is not Mulford's words but rather India's vote on Iran's nuclear programme that is going to make or break the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal.

Like in India though, Mulford's history with the Republican Party has an influence on his politics and on the actions of the Bush administration.

It might help to know the man, a financial expert with Credit Suisse First Boston on the one hand and a Republican with a big purse for the Grand Old Party.

In November 2003, President Bush nominated Mulford to be US Ambassador to India. Mulford was sworn in January 23, 2004, after being confirmed seamlessly by a Republican controlled Congress.

Being a political appointee, Mulford's nomination was natural considering the amount of donations he had given to the Republican Party.