India set to have direct access to Headley


Washington/New Delhi/Thimphu: India seems set to get direct access to Pakistani American terror suspect David Coleman Headley, a key plotter in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, with the US agreeing to take “suitable steps” after a “very positive” meeting between top legal officers of the two countries.

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Modalities for giving India access to Headley were discussed at a meeting in Washington Tuesday between India’s Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium and US Attorney General Eric Holder. Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar and US Justice Department officials joined the talks.

“The two partners agreed to take suitable steps to bring about direct access to Indian authorities to David Headley as soon as possible,” an Indian embassy official said.

“The partnership between India and the US recognises the high priority to be accorded to each country’s national security,” an Indian official said, adding, “Both countries recognised the need for the investigations to reach a fruitful and successful outcome.”

“The discussions have resulted in a mutual commitment that there would be the best possible cooperation in our common fight against terrorism,” they said.

After the talks, Subramanium expressed confidence that “there is a great amount of clarity, goodwill and respect and the way forward will shortly be in place”.

“We have discussed this with our American counterparts and we are all going to tackle this within the paradigm of the law and I think that we respect each other’s legal systems,” Subramanium told NDTV in an interview.

“I think that in the matter of shared cooperation we are going to respect mutual legal systems,” he added.

“I have absolutely no doubt that the US government is extremely conscious and is viewing us as a partner in this common effort to deal with difficult terrorist attacks,” he said when asked whether the US was taking seriously India’s worries and sensitivities on the Headley issue.

“And I think that it is a very good positive sign that has emerged,” he said, adding that it signalled “the beginning of an era of continued cooperation” between India and the US over trans-national terrorism.

“We are delighted that all concerns have been mutually discussed and clarified. The entire purpose of the visit has been achieved. We have been able to move forward,” he said.

“The entire exercise, the attitude, the positivism with which we have had our discussions leads me to believe that everyone is going to do their best to ensure that the truth is unravelled and that investigations will reach a logical end.”

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, who is in Bhutan capital Thimphu, Wednesday said talks were being held at the “very highest levels”.

“Negotiations are on but I don’t think there is any political problem at all. We are working at the very highest levels, for example between our attorney general and your home minister, so this is just a matter of working modalities,” Blake told CNN-IBN.

He added that it was “not just a government to government thing…Headley’s lawyers are involved in it, so we have to have his agreement”.

Blake is in Thimpu to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit as an observer.

Subramanium’s visit to work out the modalities followed President Barack Obama’s assurances to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India will get access to Headley, who has confessed to his role in the Mumbai terror attack in a bargain plea to avoid the death penalty.

Obama told Manmohan Singh during a meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this month that he was aware of the legal issues, but India will get access to Headley. The American of Pakistani origin has admitted to helping Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taeba (LeT) by scouting targets for the Mumbai attacks.

US Ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer last week told reporters in New Delhi that the “US is working at the highest level to provide direct access to Headley. Our government has put this as the highest priority in counter-terror cooperation”.

“We recognise the sensitivity of this issue to India and the people of India,” stressed Roemer, a former member of the 9/11 commission. “We want to ensure justice is brought to these blood-thirsty terrorist attackers, whether they kill thousands of people in New York or scores of them in Mumbai,” he said.