India called for the U.S. to stop any spying activities as it sought an explanation for a media report that the National Security Agency conducted surveillance on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.
U.S. diplomats yesterday told Indian officials that they’d investigate claims Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was among six political groups around the globe that President Barack Obama’s administration spied on, according to Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. The issue arose from a report by the Washington Post that cited documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“Should this have happened, it is highly objectionable,” Akbaruddin told reporters yesterday in New Delhi.
U.S.-India relations plunged to their lowest in 15 years at the end of last year after an Indian diplomat was arrested in New York, strip-searched and charged with visa fraud for allegedly underpaying her babysitter. The row threatened to jeopardize a growing economic relationship as annual trade in goods and services between the countries approaches $70 billion.
Asked about the report of spying on Modi and his party, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cited a directive Obama signed in January requiring enhanced review of surveillance targets outside the U.S.
“As has been the case consistently, we’re not going to comment specifically on every alleged intelligence activity,” Psaki told reporters in Washington. She said the U.S. hoped the matter wouldn’t hurt relations with India and private diplomatic discussions would continue.
“It is very embarrassing because we are friends, but we know that these things go on,” U.S. Senator John McCain, who met India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi yesterday, told CNN-IBN television station. “Now that the BJP is in power, we do not have to do that anymore. We are friends now and we can speak openly and honestly with each other.”
Modi and McCain met today and discussed ways to revitalize the countries’ strategic partnership based on shared values and “sensitivity to each other’s concerns,” and also talked about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, Modi’s office said in a statement. It did not mention the alleged snooping.
The Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in a May election with the biggest mandate for an Indian party in 30 years. The U.S. had imposed sanctions on the government when the party was last in power for detonating nuclear weapons in 1998.
The U.S. denied Modi a visa in 2005 over his alleged role in 2002 riots that killed about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims in the state of Gujarat where he was chief minister. He was barred from the country under rules that ban officials who were responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
A U.S. official met him in February for the first time since the visa denial, and Modi is planning to meet with Obama in September, according to India’s foreign ministry. Modi has denied any wrongdoing over the riots.
The U.S. also spied on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and National Salvation Front, the Pakistan Peoples Party, Lebanon’s Shiite Amal Movement, an ally of Hezbollah, and the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator, according to the Post, citing a Snowden document dated 2010.
The U.S. is proposing to sell anti-ship Harpoon missiles in a deal worth about $200 million, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense yesterday. India is now the U.S.’s largest defense export market, importing $1.9 billion of weapons last year, according to IHS Jane’s.