- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

India’s new lobbyist

The Indian Embassy is expected to sign an agreement with a Washington lobbying firm headed by a former U.S. ambassador to India to help win congressional approval to supply India with civilian nuclear technology.

After consultations with Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen, the Indian government selected Barbour Griffith & Rogers to help persuade Congress to approve a nuclear power agreement signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July, according to the Indian Express newspaper.

The firm’s president is Robert Blackwill, who developed close ties with the Indian political leadership while he was ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003. He later served as a top presidential adviser on Iraq and as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning.

However Mr. Blackwill did not negotiate the contract with India because he is still legally prohibited from using his contacts from government service for private benefit.

Indian Embassy spokesman Venu Rajamony yesterday said the government expects to complete the deal with Mr. Blackwill’s company soon but declined to discuss details of the contract.

“It is our intention to engage the firm for advice and consultations,” he said.

India last year terminated its contract with the firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, which was paid $600,000 a year. The termination came after the Bush administration’s decision to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, India’s regional rival.

On his return to New Delhi, Mr. Singh told the Indian Parliament that the deal he signed with Mr. Bush will help India secure a desperately needed supply of nuclear energy without affecting its nuclear-weapons program.

“There is clearly an urgent necessity for us to enhance nuclear-power production rapidly,” he said.

“What we have now agreed with the United States should open up the possibility of our being able to access nuclear fuel and nuclear-power reactors and other technologies from outside to supplement our domestic efforts.”

Iraqi theocracy?

Advocates for religious freedom and a prominent Muslim group that supports a secular democracy in Iraq yesterday denounced Iraq’s proposed constitution for relying too much on Islamic law.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed its “grave concern” that the United States “conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion” and that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad “supported the stricter, Shi’ite-led position on the role of Islam.”

Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie warned that “Iraq’s new democracy risks being crippled from the outset” if Islamic law takes precedent over human rights and religious liberty.

“Without the right to religious freedom guaranteed in law and observed in fact, Iraqi non-Muslim minorities will be persecuted and driven out, and Iraqi Muslims, particularly women and dissident reforms, will be stifled and suppressed,” he said.

The Free Muslims Coalition was stronger in its criticism, calling for a rejection of the proposed constitution and new elections to a constitutional assembly.

“If the existing Shi’ite proposal becomes law, Iraq would resemble more of an Iranian type theocracy rather than a democracy that respects individual liberty and freedom,” said Coalition President Kamal Nawash.

“Approximately 2,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died since the invasion of Iraq. To allow the proposed draft constitution to become law would mean that those courageous people have died in vain.”

Mr. Nawash said the coalition wants Iraq to be an example of “freedom, tolerance, democracy, prosperity and individual liberty for the entire Middle East.”

The proposed constitution declares Islam “the official religion of the state” and its “main source for legislation.” However, it also guarantees “complete religious rights for all individuals to freedom of beliefs and religious practices.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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