Key US Senator clears decks for MQ-9B drones for India

Washington, Feb 3 (IANS): A senior US lawmaker, whose approval paved the way for the Joe Biden administration formally notifying US Congress of the proposed sale of MQ-9B Sea Guardian drone, has said he has in return extracted a commitment from the administration that India will fully cooperate in the investigation of the murder-for-hire case in which an Indian official is alleged to have tried to kill a Khalistani activist.

The decks are clear now for the smooth passage for the deal through Congress, which has 30 days to either do nothing and let the administration take it to the next stage, or kill it though a “hold” by leaders of the foreign and armed services committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives; the former is controlled now by the Democrats and the latter by the Republicans.

The administration notified the US Congress on Thursday that it proposes to sell 31 MQ-9B drones made by General Atomics to India for nearly $4 billion.

The deal was announced way back in June last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden.

The US Department of Justice then unsealed an indictment in November accusing Nikhil Gupta, an Indian businessman, of trying to hire a man -- who turned out to be an official of the Drugs Enforcement Agency -- to kill proscribed outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) chief Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Ben Cardin, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Friday that he has been in talks with the Biden administration for “months” to extract this commitment of India cooperation.

“My approval of this sale was the result of months of painstaking discussions with the Biden administration,” he said, adding, “While I’m fully aware of the significance of this sale for US 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 US soil."

He further said: “I have been assured by the administration that the Indian government is committed to thoroughly investigating the situation and fully cooperating with the US Department of Justice investigation so that there is credible accountability in this case. As the Chairman of this committee, I fully intend to hold the administration to these commitments.”

Democrats have been outraged by the Department of Justice’s allegations about the Indian plot to kill the Khalistani activist.

“The disturbing news of a foiled assassination plot against a US citizen involving Indian government officials further underscores the importance of shedding light on efforts by governments to silence dissenters abroad,” Senator Cardin had said after the unsealing of the DoJ indictment in November last year.

Democratic Indian-American members of the House of Representatives -- Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ami Bera and Shri Thanedar -- went as far as to issue a statement which warned India that its reluctance or failure to cooperate in the US investigation could damage ties between the two countries.


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Title: Key US Senator clears decks for MQ-9B drones for India

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