By Arun Kumar
Washington, Aug 20 (IANS) A top US official at the centre of a controversy over remarks purportedly linking the Bhopal gas disaster with India-US investment ties has asserted the US does not seek to interfere in resolving the issue.
"Resolving the Bhopal issue is for the Indian people to decide. The US does not seek to interfere in this process," Deputy National Security Advisor Mike Froman said in statement Thursday in response to an Indian news report.
The report suggested that Froman had in an email to the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia sought to link the Bhopal gas tragedy with India-US investment ties by suggesting a "lot of noise" over the issue could have a "chilling effect".
"With regard to recent reports about my private correspondence with Mr. Ahluwalia, I want to make clear that I was not making any link between what are two separate and distinct issues nor issuing a 'threat' of any sort - any assertion to the contrary is absolutely wrong, both in intent and in fact," Froman stated.
"I am dismayed to think that anything I wrote could be interpreted as minimizing the toll of the Bhopal disaster. The human suffering as a result of Bhopal is a terrible tragedy," he said.
Froman said he valued "the opportunity I have to work with Mr. Ahluwalia and others in India to strengthen and deepen the ties between our two countries, both bilaterally and through the G20."
"Such efforts are key to building our strategic partnership and facing our common challenges together for the benefit of both our peoples."
At the State Department, spokesman Phillip Crowley also rejected the suggestion that Froman's e-mail to Ahluwalia had any connection with the Bhopal issue.
"We don't normally comment about internal e-mails," he said. "However, I believe the Indian official involved in that e-mail exchange has, himself, indicated that the subject of the e-mail was an upcoming issue of importance to India and that there was no connection to any other issue."
"Obviously, we have interacted with the Indian Government on the Bhopal issue," Crowley said. "On an ongoing basis going back many years, we have expressed our sympathy and concern about the impact that this had on the people of India. But this exchange, the link that was suggested is not there."
According to the Indian news report, responding to Ahluwalia's request for US support in getting World Bank loans, Froman wrote: "While I've got you, we are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemicals issue. I trust that you are monitoring it carefully."
"I am not familiar with all the details but I think we want to avoid developments which put chilling effect on our investment relationship," the e-mail added.
The plan panel chief had apparently asked Forman to speak with his colleagues at the US Treasury for supporting New Delhi as India had hit the limit set at the World Bank that would force it to cut its credit line to New Delhi drastically unless the limit was relaxed.
On the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, at least 3,500 people were killed instantly and thousands more later after a deadly gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. Union Carbide was subsequently acquired by Dow Chemicals.