In a first indication of Myanmar emerging as an issue in the civil nuclear deal, two top Democrats in US Senate have told the Bush administration that it must make an open linkage between finalisation of the initiative and India's help in resolving the crisis in Yangon.
"I would hope that we can connect the dots here and say, 'Look, if we're going to show the confidence in you to do this, then you need to help us here (Myanmar).' Have you made those reach-outs to India in that direct a way?" Senator Barbara Boxer of California asked Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific of the State Department.
"I know there have been a number of high-level discussions with the Indians. I don't know if it's been put in exactly that way, but we have made it very clear to India that we felt that, particularly as a democracy, it needed to step up and use its influence with the regime to press for exactly the things that everyone here has talked about," Boxer said.
Senator Boxer, who was chairing the Senate Sub-Committee on East Asia and Pacific hearings on Myanmar, was joined by the top Democrat from Massachussetts Senator John Kerry, the presidential nominee in 2004, who went on to make the linkage between support of tightening of sanctions from countries like India in return for the civilian nuclear deal.
"Do you believe that, if China joined in sanctions, together with Thailand and with India, that there would be a legitimate squeeze on Burma?" Senator Kerry asked the senior state department official to which the response was in the affirmative.
"So why isn't that the strategy? Why aren't we declaring that that must happen, in exchange for a nuclear agreement with India; in exchange for any number of things with China?" Senator Kerry posed.
"Our own sanctions are a part of our strategy, but they're not the whole strategy," Marciel responded.
Lawmakers cutting across party lines during the course of the Senate sub-committee hearing called on India to step up to the plate with the top Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell expressing surprise that New Delhi has not done so.
"China and India are the two biggest players in Burma. Their attitude seems to be largely it'd be bad for business to start siding with the pro-democracy forces.
That's not entirely unexpected from a country like China, but from India, the world's largest democracy, right next door, it is really kind of surprising, the ambivalence with which they apparently observe things like are depicted in the pictures that we have here in front of all of you about the events of the last few weeks," Senator McConnell said.
"The Europeans I think have been somewhat better, but a sanctions regime is only going to work to the extent the Chinese, the Indians and the Thais are deeply involved in this. And so I think the path is clear, although it's not easy to get there, which is to continue to pressure our friends in that part of the world to take this matter seriously.
I wager that if Burma had nuclear weapons we'd be really interested in this. I mean, they are a pariah regime like Iran and like North Korea. We focus on the other two, or at least have until the recent events focused on the other two because of our concern about the nuclear problem," the Republican lawmaker from Kentucky said.
"This (Myanmar's) is an outrageous regime. The good news is, there are not many of these pariah regimes left in the world. But this is clearly one of them. So I'd be interested in hearing later any suggestions any of you have. But I think, as each of you have suggested, the only way this is ultimately going to make a difference in terms of sanctions that bite is with China, India and Thais as well brought into the strategy to bring about change," Senator McConnell said.
Arguing that unilateral sanctions do not work, another senior Democrat from California Senator Dianne Feinstein, called on the State Department to "pull together" countries like India to shake off their "non-confrontational" attitude.
"I think that state department really ought to pull together India, China, the other major powers of the region, and encourage Association of South East Asian Nations to come off of this impartial kind of non-confrontational stance of theirs, and join us in both an investment and an import ban, with sanctions, if sanctions are to work, or else achieve a compromise with the government that involves the release of (pro-democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, the stopping of the killing, and also the release of those political prisoners," Senator Feinstein said.
But in one of the panels, Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington Advocacy of the Human Rights Watch, slammed India for its attitude on Myanmar.
"There's a lot of cross-border trade with China. There's a lot of Chinese investment. The Indians just did a gas deal. The Indian oil minister was in Burma doing this deal in the middle of these protests, which is just shameful. And I hope you all, in the spirit of a good relationship between the United States and India, point out how harmful that is to our relationship," Malinowski said.