August 2001 News

India should accept mediation on Kashmir, says US senator

24 August 2001
The Dawn
Masood Haider

NEW YORK: An influential US Senator Robert G. Torricelli has said that India should accept mediation from the international community possibly from the United States to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. In an interview with a New York-based Indian journal published on Friday, Torricelli, a ranking member of US Senate''s Foreign Relations Committee said, ''I think it is a mistake for India not to seek some international assistance in resolving the Kashmir problem. ''The Kashmir issue cannot go on for another generation and as we''ve experienced with the Middle East and then Northern Ireland, sometimes the good offices of the United States can help bring things to a resolution,'' he said. Torricelli, who is from New Jersey where there is a large concentration of Indian and Pakistani community, was among the many US lawmakers who at one time recommended to the then president Bill Clinton that he appoint a US troubleshooter on Kashmir. India has refused any foreign mediation, including offers of help from the former US president Bill Clinton and the UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan saying that Kashmir problem should be resolved on bilateral basis between New Delhi and Islamabad. Pakistan on its part has accepted offers of mediation time and again. However, the international community including Mr Clinton and Mr Annan stated that unless India agrees they would not be able to use their good offices. Torricelli observed that ''India does not have to abandon its position that this (Kashmir) is an internal matter. The British certainly have not surrendered their view that Northern Ireland is an internal matter. I hope they (India) will reconsider their position.'' Former US Senator George Mitchell undertook a peace mission to Northern Ireland which resulted in an agreement between the Irish Catholic and the Protestants. Senator Torricelli also debunked the idea of United States seeking strategic alliance with New Delhi so as to position it against China. While saying that there had been a definite improvement in the US-India relations over the past couple of years, Torricelli, said ''I don''t think it is in anybody''s interest to have strategic partnerships. That simply would renew Chinese-Indian or Indian-Pakistani rivalries. India''s best position is its well-founded neutrality.'' Although Senator Torricelli is considered to be more pro- Pakistan than pro-Indian in the US Senate, yet the Indian lobby says that it has been able to persuade the senator to temper his position on India. NEW SANCTIONS The US energy giant Enron corporation on Friday issued a veiled threat to India that it could face new US sanctions unless the company and its partners get back the full US$1bn costs incurred building a power plant there. In an interview with the Financial Times, Kenneth Lay, the Enron chairman, said ''There are US laws that could prevent the US government from providing any aid or assistance or other things to India going forward if, in fact, they expropriate property of US companies.'' The threat according to London-based Financial Timescomes at a sensitive time as the Bush administration is trying to improve its long- strained relations with India. Two weeks ago Richard Armitage, US deputy secretary of state, predicted an early lifting of sanctions imposed in the aftermath of India''s nuclear tests in May 1988. The FT points out that Enron launched arbitration proceedings earlier this year after its US$2.9bn Dabhol power plant in India was closed. The plant''s sole client, the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB), failed, and later refused, to pay bills that now total about US$45m. It said Enron''s tariffs, four times greater than those levied by domestic power producers, were too expensive. But Enron says the basis for calculating the tariffs was in the contract and asked the Indian government to buy its stake earlier this month. Mr Lay''s demand for full-cost compensation is regarded as optimistic by some bankers in Bombay. One executive of a foreign bank said a more attainable solution would be one ''that allows Enron to get out at 70 cents to the dollar,'' suggesting a significant writedown by Enron. Mr Lay said in the interview ''If they try to squeeze us down to something less than the cost then it basically becomes an expropriation by the Indian government, and that would send an incredibly damaging signal to the international capital markets and investment community as to making any future investments in India.'' His threat is likely to irritate the Indian government, which is eager to reach a face-saving compromise amid a strong domestic anti- Enron lobby, without disturbing warming bilateral ties with Washington, FT said. Mr Lay is known to have warm relations with the Bush administration, which has its roots in the company''s home base of Texas. Mr Lay said the Indian government had indicated it wanted to solve this problem quickly and amicably. Both sides are working with an international reconciliation team. But Mr Lay said the alternative of continuing with arbitration remained. ''We have very, very tight contracts, and we''ll enforce those contracts,'' he said.


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