US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley again urged India to ‘respect’ all religions so as to avoid ‘divisions’ within the country.
Soon after arriving in India on Tuesday, Haley had emphasized ‘freedom of religion’ in a comment to the media.
She also urged India to relook at its relationships with Iran and Russia due to the sanctions imposed by the US on these countries.
Reiterating her message on religion today, Haley warned that if a country doesn’t respect all religions, then there could divisions within it, and that is bad for democracy.
“Freedom of religion has to be respected in order for a government continue to have a diverse community, and continue to respect the community,” she said in her interview with NDTV 24×7 television channel, hours after the meeting with Modi.
“India has multiple religions. India has a diverse community within its country. India needs to respect freedom of religion, as does the United States. It’s something we continue to do. You’ve got a great culture, great heritage of so many different religions.. and we think it’s important for all countries to remember that needs to be protected, that needs to be respected…
“As we’re seeing divisions happen, as we’re seeing countries falling apart, I think it’s very very important that, for strong, stable democracies, freedom of religion has to be there.”
Haley was asked whether the US needs to heed some of its own advice, given the rising divisions within the country, and the increasing targeting of minorities.
Indians have been among the victims of rising hate crime in the US since Donald Trump came to power more than a year ago.
Trump also imposed a controversial ban on the issue of visas to people from seven countries, most of which are overwhelmingly Muslim in their population makeup.
Haley said it was the US’ right to take such decisions to protect itself from terrorism.
“This is about safety. This is about terrorism… Any country that we don’t have enough information on the people that want to come into the country, it’s our sovereign right to say that we should take a step back and make sure that we have all the information that we need to protect the people. It has nothing to do with religion.”
The Ambassador to the UN also urged India to reconsider its strategic relationship with Iran.
India has had close civilizational relationships with Iran going back about 7,000 years, when Iranian farmers are first thought to have migrated to India and helped establish the Indus Valley civilization.
Haley confirmed that she urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconsider India’s relationship with Iran.
Iran is considered an enemy by USA’s biggest allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Israel, and this has traditionally made Iran an enemy in the US’ book as well.
While the previous US President, Barack Obama, was able to resist the pressure from these allies and strike a pragmatic deal with Iran, current president Donald Trump has again been forced to go back to the traditional anti-Iran policy, and has reimposed trade sanctions on the country.
However, the sanctions have limited effect due to Iran’s strong relationships with large economies such as China, India and Russia. Many European nations too have refused to toe Trump’s policy.
Haley indicated the US would try to leverage its warming relationship with India to isolate Iran.
India and Iran share a lot of strategic priorities, including in the fight against radical Sunni Islamist ideology and terrorism. Iran is also one of the few functional democracies in the Middle East, a region peppered with autocracies.
Haley, however, said India should rethink its relationship with Iran for the sake of its ‘future’.
“Yes, I had that conversation with Prime Minister Modi,” she said. “..it really was a constructive conversation where we both talked about the situation that is Iran, the fact that India can’t change its relationship with Iran in a day.
“But we did encourage India to start to look at who they do business with, and whether that is a country they can depend on in the future.”
India has invested billions of dollars in developing its relationship with Iran and is also helping the country build a port.
“I understand the port. I understand the essential part of the port, but I also think, for the future of India, and the future of being able to get resources and who they’re dependent on, I think we would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran.”
Haley also said that India should rethink its relationship with Russia, which has been India’s traditional ally on the world stage and its traditional source of advanced weaponry.
Haley said it was not the administration that imposed sanctions on Russia and countries that do deals with Russia.
The sanctions were imposed by the Congress in the context of allegations that Russia used social media to drive people to vote for Donald Trump, and against Hillary Clinton.
Since it is a law that has been passed by the Congress, Haley said, there’s very little the President can do about it.
“We (in the administration) the can’t help that. That is now a law. So, any country that continues to do business with Russia — with their intelligence communities or their defense communities, there are sanctions. That’s just the way the law works,” she said.