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Blackwill back, on business

Washington, Jan. 8: Robert Blackwill, former US ambassador to India, former White House aide to President George W. Bush and India's 'best friend' in the Bush administration in its first four-year term, is preparing to encash his IOUs in New Delhi.

Blackwill travelled to India this weekend, sources at Barbour Griffith & Rogers International, his new employers, said.

The talk on K Street here, home to the multi-million-dollar lobbying business, which is at the core of the American political process, is that his trip is linked to the vacancy since November of a lobbyist for the Indian government on Capitol Hill.

India's $600,000-a-year contract with the Washington lobbying firm, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, expired at the end of April last year.

Between April and November, Akin, Gump was working for the Indian embassy on a month-to-month basis since the mission wanted to wait and see which party would occupy the White House after the US elections on November 2.

Intense lobbying for the Indian account began as soon as it became clear that President George W. Bush would have a second term at the White House. Meanwhile, Blackwill lost his job at the White House.

According to reports in the American media, an incident at Kuwait airport when Blackwill verbally abused a woman employee at the US embassy in Kuwait and twisted her arm, triggered his exit from the administration.

There has been no love lost between Blackwill and the state department, which is said to have prepared the ground for his sudden and unlamented departure from the White House, according to media accounts here.

Soon after his departure from the Bush administration, Blackwill joined Barbour Griffith & Rogers International in a newly-created job of president.

The company has got the account of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Blackwill's main responsibility in the White House was to advise the President on Iraq.

Judging by the money in the lobbying business here, the Indian government account is a mere pittance for most lobbying firms, but it has prestige. Many lobbyists here carry the can for some of the worst dictators in the world, and India's democracy and its emerging economy could help wipe off some stains in the lobbying business associated with promoting dirt among US politicians.

Barbour Griffith & Rogers was founded in 1991 by the current governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, and was ranked by Fortune magazine as America's top lobbying firm.

Barbour, who served two terms as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, is expected to make a bid for the White House in 2008. Political pundits say he may not get the party ticket, but his aim would be to wind up as the vice-presidential candidate instead.

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