The Cable

Top Republican Denies Association With Banned Hindu Supremacist

In 2005, the U.S. State Department banned the controversial Indian politician Narendra Modi from coming to the United States for his bigoted views and his role in riots that claimed some 1,000 lives. Earlier this fall, Modi was invited to participate in a Capitol Hill event anyway.

A flyer for the event displayed the official seal of the House of Representatives and identified "the House Republican Conference" as the host. The top congressional Republican in charge of that conference, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), says the flyer is a fraud drafted without the permission of Republicans. But correspondence between the congresswoman and Modi suggests the two politicians had a recent falling out after anti-genocide groups protested Modi's participation.

Scheduled for this Tuesday, the event billed as "India Day on Capitol Hill" boasted the attendance of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) McMorris Rodgers and other top Republicans. The flyer was created by the National Indian American Public Policy Institute (NIAPPI), which also sponsored the event as a way of bringing more Indian-Americans into the Republican fold. The flyer noted that Modi, now a leading prime ministerial candidate, would attend "via Satellite video."

After The Cable obtained a copy of the flyer, it raised the issue with representatives for McMorris Rodgers. Despite repeated requests, no one from her office was willing to speak on-record. One aide familiar with the situation denied the congresswoman's involvement in the event. "She did not invite him to participate in any activity that took place today," said the aide. "[Modi and McMorris Rodgers] don't have a relationship."

The fact that McMorris Rodgers is now distancing herself from Modi is, perhaps, unsurprising. Currently the chief minister of Gujarat, a region in India's northwest, Modi was banned from the United States for his role in the 2002 communal riots there that claimed over 2,000 lives. The Hindu nationalist was accused of stoking ethnic tensions and failing to protect Gujarat's Muslim residents -- hundreds of whom were massacred in the streets. The State Department revoked his visa under Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes any foreign official who was responsible or "directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom" ineligible for a visa.

The State Department decision precipitated a resolution by the House of Representatives to condemn a range of Modi's actions, including promoting Nazi ideology. The sponsor, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said the State Department "has discussed the role of Modi and his government in promoting attitudes of racial supremacy, racial hatred, and the legacy of Nazism through his government's support of school textbooks in which Nazism is glorified." The resolution said Modi revised school textbooks, which mentioned the "charismatic personality of Hitler the Supremo" and failed to acknowledge the horrors of the Holocaust.

It's unclear why it took McMorris Rodgers so long to discover Modi's controversial past, but it may be a reflection of her relationship with Shalli Kumar, a Chicago-based Modi supporter and founder of NIAPPI, the group that was sponsoring the Capitol Hill event. As recently as this fall, the congresswoman presented herself as an emphatic supporter of Modi and appeared supportive of his participation in the Capitol Hill event. 

"First of all, I want to congratulate you on winning the nomination of the BJP for Prime Minister of India," she wrote to Modi this fall, in a letter obtained by The Cable. "I tried to reach you by telephone right after your win, but was unable to connect."

She went on to discuss a meet-up between Indians and U.S. lawmakers on the same date listed on Kumar's flyer. "As we have discussed, we are planning on a Bharat (India) day on Capitol Hill. This will take place on November 19, 2013," she wrote in the letter. "As you know, our good friend Mr. Shalli Kumar is the Chairman of my Advisory Council on Indian American Outreach. You should have also received an invitation to a tribute rally he [is] arranging on Bharat Day, which he welcomed you to address the Indian American community, and the Congressional leaders who are present, through satellite video."

McMorris Rodgers's strong support of Modi didn't begin there. According to congressional disclosure records, the congresswoman travelled to Gujarat on a March 2013 trip financed by Kumar. The total expense for her and her husband was almost $15,000.

Following the trip, McMorris Rodgers spoke glowingly of Modi in a video interview she taped with Kumar.

"When I heard you tell me about Chief Minister Modi, I thought, I have to get to India," she said. "He's had tremendous success. To be able to meet chief Modi and to see first hand what he has accomplished was so impressive. And not only does he have the vision but he's able to execute double-digit GDP growth. One percent unemployment.... It is tremendous to see what he's been able to do.... He exceeded my expectations."

In the video, the two also discuss bringing Indians and Republicans together on Capitol Hill. "[I'm] excited to be partnering with you on this effort," says the congresswoman. 

Representatives for McMorris Rodgers would not say when the relationship with Kumar and Modi soured. However, there appears to be no love lost.

The congresswoman's office has now served Kumar a "cease and desist" letter instructing him to stop misrepresenting the Republican Party. The House is also looking into legal options against Kumar regarding improper use of the congressional seal, stationary, and indicia on the flyer. 

It's possible the relationship came to an end when North American advocacy groups such as Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) learned about Modi's participation in the event and lobbied the Republican leadership to shut it down.

Shaik Ubaid, a founder of CAG, told The Cable that his message to Republican leaders was simple. "We have told the Republican Party that these guys are not clean" he said, referring to Modi's party, the Hindu nationalist BJP. "We said, ‘they support extremism and violence and by standing with them, Republicans can not win the hearts and minds of Indian Americans."

Ubaid said he was puzzled as to why McMorris Rodgers, in his view, was trying to deny a connection to Modi. "Morality and common sense dictate that she should admit a mistake and say she was misled," he said. "Otherwise she's going to be digging a bigger hole with the media."

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The Cable

Why Is the Pentagon M.I.A. From the Iran Nuke Talks?

With American and Iranian negotiators streaming into Geneva for the next round of nuclear talks, there's been no shortage of official rhetoric coming from Washington. The Obama administration argues that the deal wrests real concessions from the Iranians in exchange for only modest sanctions relief. The State Department says an agreement would freeze Iran's nuclear program while buying time to hash out a permanent deal. And the Pentagon -- well, the Pentagon has stayed relatively silent. Which is kind of odd, since the man in charge of the Defense Department is one of Washington's better-known advocates for talks with Tehran.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been the administration's point person on Iran, as he was during September's Syria crisis. He dominated recent joint appearances on Capitol Hill with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, answering questions more forcefully, and with more specificity, than his colleague. Hagel, like his predecessors, has said that all options are on the table when it comes to Iran. But during a recent round of public appearances, Hagel has largely deferred to Kerry when the subject of Iran has come up. "The president has said, Secretary Kerry has said, a bad deal is worse than no deal," Hagel told the Reagan Defense Forum over the weekend. "As we all know, this is Secretary Kerry's area of responsibility," he said during an October joint appearance with the Secretary of State in Tokyo.

More concretely, the Pentagon won't be sending any representatives to this week's talks. The Navy has also begun to quietly redeploy some of the ships it had kept in the Mediterranean Sea during the Syria crisis to other parts of the world.

The Pentagon's reduced public role reflects a pair of factors. First, the administration has worked hard to reduce tensions with Iran and find a way of slowing, and then ending, Iran's push for a nuclear bomb through diplomacy rather than through the use of force. Having Hagel or other Pentagon officials speak publicly about potential military strikes could gum up the fragile talks by making Iranian officials feel like they're being bullied and can't trust that the administration is negotiating in good faith.

The Defense Department's relative silence on Iran also highlights Hagel's long record as a staunch advocate of greater diplomatic outreach towards Tehran. During his time in the Senate, Hagel twice declined to back moves to impose unilateral economic sanctions on Iran. In a 2007 speech, moreover, Hagel said that it was a "false choice" to believe that the only options facing American policymakers were an "Iran with nuclear weapons or war with Iran." Instead, he argued that the U.S. should try to use a mix of diplomacy and multilateral sanctions to persuade Tehran to change its behavior.

"Perhaps no prominent elected official in the U.S. has been a more outspoken supporter of engagement with Iran over the last decade than Chuck Hagel," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "At a time when the Obama administration is desperately trying to reach a diplomatic deal it doesn't make much sense for the Pentagon to rattle sabers."   

Still, the Pentagon's quiet role marks a shift from past years, when the nation's top military and civilian leaders were quick to talk tough about Iran and stress that the U.S. had the military capability to deal a serious blow to Iran's nuclear facilities and forcibly reopen the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil route, if Tehran tried to close it.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" in January 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. would use force if Iran began developing a nuclear weapon.

"I think they need to know that - that if they take that step - that they're going to get stopped," he said at the time.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS at the time that Iran would likely be able to close the Strait of Hormuz temporarily, but that the U.S. "can defeat that."

Israel has been far more vocal about its willingness to use force against Iran. Yaakov Amidror, a Netanyahu confidante who stepped down as his country's national security advisor last month, told the Financial Times that Israel was prepared to carry out a unilateral strike on Iran, regardless of the outcome of the current talks. The Israeli air force, he said, has been doing "very long range flights...all around the world" to hone its ability to strike Iran's nuclear facilities if Netanyahu gave the order.

"We don't need permission from anyone -- we are an independent state," he told the newspaper.

"We have our own sovereignty. If Israel is in a position in which Israel must defend itself, Israel will do it."

If the current talks fail, we're likely to hear Hagel, Dempsey, and other senior military officials start talking more about the prospect of using military force against Iran. In the meantime, Hagel is doing his best to defend Kerry, his longtime colleague in the Senate and now in the administration, from critics of the negotiations.

"I felt sorry for Secretary Kerry, because people jumped into this, saying 'Well, he didn't get anything; he didn't get a deal,'" Hagel told a recent security conference. "Wait a minute. We've been at some kind of unofficial war with Iran since 1979. Does anybody really think we're all going to get together in some kind of [diplomatic talks] for a week and come out of that with some tiny little agreement?"

The current negotiations, Hagel added, "are going to take time."

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