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On January 28, I had reported in The Hindu how the U.S. had handed over an aide memoire to the Ministry of External Affairs demanding that India back out of the purchase of an oil field in Syria. Well, some Members of Parliament thought this was pretty scandalous and asked the Prime Minister whether this was indeed so. Not true, his foreign minister replied in the Lok Sabha.
Well, a day after The Hindu pointed out the government was misleading Parliament, the same minister told the Rajya Sabha the U.S. had “informally” asked India to cancel the deal. The CPI is now threatening a privilege motion against the minister.
23 February 2006
Lok Sabha misled on U.S. demarche on Syrian oil deal
Minister denies any such communication
New Delhi: The Manmohan Singh Government on Wednesday misled the Lok Sabha on the question of whether the United States asked India to reconsider its purchase of an oilfield in Syria.
In an unstarred question, the Prime Minister was asked whether the U.S. “has asked the Union Government to cancel the proposed investment in buying a stake in a Syrian oilfield in partnership with China.” The two-word answer provided by E. Ahamed, Minister of State for External Affairs, was: “No, Sir.”
Question asked by 6 MPs
The question was raised by M.P. Veerendra Kumar, Nivedita Mane, Eknath Gaikwad, P.C. Thomas, Kirti Vardhan Singh and Ganesh Singh. They wanted to know what reasons the U.S. had advanced against the deal and whether the Government “had agreed to the said suggestions.” To all of these related questions, Mr. Ahamed replied: “Does not arise.”
The Minister’s statement, delivered on behalf of the Prime Minister, is at variance with the facts as reported in this newspaper and subsequently confirmed by U.S. embassy spokesman David Kennedy.
On January 28, The Hindu reported that senior U.S. embassy officials had handed over to the Government a one-page aide memoire, in which concern at ONGC Videsh Ltd’s purchase of a Syrian oilfield was raised and the blunt demand made that India cancel the deal.
It said: “We ask that you reconsider this decision to extend such a significant amount of investment in Syria.” A copy of the note is in the possession of this newspaper.
When news agencies asked the U.S. embassy whether such a message had indeed been passed on to the Indian Government, Mr. Kennedy confirmed that this was the case.
“Our views on Syria are well known,” Mr. Kennedy was quoted by IANS as saying on January 28 itself. “A communication was made from our side to the Indian Government [in] early December conveying our objections to the oil deal.”
PTI also confirmed the same. “When contacted, U.S. Embassy spokesman David Kennedy said the American `views’ were expressed as part of [the] overall dialogue between the two countries witnessing growing and deepening relations,” the agency reported on January 28.
“Mr. Kennedy said the U.S.’ views on Syria were well known — that the country is on the `wrong side of history and [the] Middle East. So there should be no economic cooperation with that country till it improves its behaviour’,” it added.
© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu
The retraction — and threat of privilege motion
24 February 2006
CPI plans privilege motion
Charges Ahamed with misleading on Syrian oilfield issue
NEW DELHI: Communist Party of India (CPI) is planning to bring a privilege motion against Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed for misleading the Lok Sabha on Wednesday on the question of whether the United States had asked India to reconsider its purchase of an oilfield in Syria.
This was announced by CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta at a briefing here on Thursday, shortly after the Government gave an entirely different answer to a similar question in the Rajya Sabha. While the Government had answered in the negative in its written reply in the Lok Sabha, its response to a similar question in the Rajya Sabha by Congressman Motilal Vora was that the matter had been “raised informally by the U.S.”
Mr. Ahamed is learnt to have written to the Lok Sabha Secretary-General stating that a correct picture was not presented on the issue because of an inadvertent lapse in handling of papers in the External Affairs Ministry. As a result, an uncorrected version of the answer was sent to the Secretariat.
The Ministry has submitted a corrected version for the records of the House. Seeking the indulgence of the Chair, Mr. Ahamed also sought permission to apprise members of the House in person of the correct position.
Given the negative answer to the question in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Ahamed’s reply to all related queries was “does not arise.” However, on Thursday to a related question in the Rajya Sabha, he said the Government had rejected “any such objection” raised by the U.S. and added that companies engaged in oil production would be allowed to purchase oil fields in Syria.
Though in both cases the question was put to the Prime Minister — who holds the portfolio of External Affairs — the answer was given by Mr. Ahamed. Citing newspaper reports — which quoted from the one-page aide memoire handed over to the Government by the U.S. embassy expressing concern at ONGC Videsh Limited’s purchase of a Syrian oilfield and made a blunt demand for cancelling the deal — Mr. Dasgupta said the Minister’s response in the Lok Sabha was at variance with facts.