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US Congressman apologizes after outcry over Kashmir letter

New York: A US Congressman has apologized for having written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking that Washington “focus” on Kashmir and criticizing India’s move to rescind its special status.

Democrat Representative Tom Suozzi, who met about 100 Indian Americans on Sunday, said in a statement on Monday: “I am sorry. If I had met with them before sending the letter, I would have framed my concerns differently.”

“Based upon my meeting, it is clear that it was a mistake to not consult some of my Indian-American friends and supporters before I sent the letter. I should have.”

The meeting took place after a barrage of criticism from his Indian American constituents for his letter to Pompeo.

Suozzi’s Congressional constituency covers parts of New York City’s borough of Queens and neighbouring Long Island, which have a sizable population of Indian descent. Many of them have supported his election campaigns.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus laid out the official position of the US on India scaling back Kashmir’s special status saying that it was the country’s internal matter.

Suozzi’s letter to Pompeo was apparently influenced by Pakistani Americans and by his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan during his recent visit to Washington.

In the letter, Suozzi had written that India’s action on Kashmir, “could also embolden extremists and terrorists to act” and that it risked “provoking mass social unrest”.

Before the meeting with the Indian community at a facility for Indian seniors, Indian-American lawyer and community leader Ravi Batra, who had been a leading critic of Souzzi’s letter to Pompeo, tweeted: “Unless you are going to withdraw your myopic letter to @SecPompeo, which ill-serves the “best interests” of the US, and hence, is Un-American, cancel this meeting as democracy isn’t about getting folks to kiss-the-ring.”

In his statement, Suozzi said: “India-US relations will be one of our most important for the next 50 years and beyond. I have spent my time promoting and elevating this relationship and will continue to do so.

“India, the world’s largest democracy, remains critical for regional peace and security. The current situation in Kashmir presents some very serious challenges. The US should seek to be helpful in securing safety and peace for all people.”

After Suozzi’s apology, Batra said: “I welcome Tom’s candid admission of error, and while it implicitly amends his Letter to Secretary Pompeo, a follow-up letter to the Secretary is in order to set the record right, and I urge him to do so forthwith.”

“This is a teaching moment for all elected representatives to not pander to one slice or another of one’s constituents as local partisan politics is a far cray from serving the ‘best interests’ of the US,” he added.