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Shut-up signal from America

Washington, Feb. 20: The US has sent a very subtle message to India that it must shut up and put up with Washington’s plans for Iraq.

In announcing penalties on an Indian company, NEC Engineers Pvt. Ltd., and its president Hans Raj Shiv for “knowingly and materially contributing to Iraq’s chemical/biological weapons programme”, Washington is telling New Delhi that it cannot have it both ways at a time when the Bush administration is looking for international support, even if it gets backing only from the Maldives or Andorra.

In recent months, India has stepped up its efforts to get equipment and technology from the US for some of the very weapons systems which are prohibited for Iraq under UN resolutions.

Simultaneously, there has been a rising chorus of protest from New Delhi, including from the Prime Minister himself, against a US invasion of Iraq.

Yesterday, the state department announced penalties on the Indian entity pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which mandates US sanctions and encourages global sanctions against countries that use chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law.

As a result, “the US government shall not procure or enter into any contract for the procurement of any goods or services” from NEC Engineers Pvt. Ltd. Or Shiv.

“The importation into the US of products produced by the sanctioned entities and their successors shall be prohibited,” a factsheet issued by the state department said.

The sanctions were imposed on February 4, but the state department chose to make it public on a day when anti-US sentiment on Iraq rose in Parliament. Usually, such announcements are made either as soon as a decision is taken or when the penalties are published in the Federal Register. The latter has not yet happened.

In the last fortnight, India has become increasingly strident on the question of a second Gulf war led by the US.

Apart from the gap between decision and announcement and the timing of the announcement, the sanctions on NEC Engineers Pvt. Ltd. are redundant. Shiv is already under US penalties since July 9 last year under the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-proliferation Act of 1992 for the same ‘offences’, and therefore, he cannot do business with the US in any case.

But by drawing public attention to the case now, when war hysteria is on the rise in the US media and on Capitol Hill, the administration is signalling that India is not innocent on Iraq.

Unlike yesterday, the state department was extremely discreet when it announced sanctions on the Indian entity in July 2002. Then it had clubbed the announcement along with sanctions on a Chinese firm. Besides, it did not name the Indian company owned by Shiv.

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