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[By Haroon Habib]

DHAKA, June 27: U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka James F. Moriarty has urged Bangladesh and India to sit across the table and settle disputes over India’s Tipaimukh Dam Project. He, however, ruled out his country’s mediation in the water row.

Addressing a discussion on U.S. President Barack Obama’s South Asia Policy, Mr. Moriarty said Washington’s special engagement with New Delhi would not affect its ties with Dhaka because of overlapping U.S. interests in all the countries of the region.

He made the comment even as some members in the audience drew his attention to the controversial Tipaimukh Dam being constructed on the Barak river in Manipur.

“I urge the people of Bangladesh, the government of Bangladesh to negotiate with India to settle this [Tipaimukh dispute].”

However, he said he did not have data on the flow of water coming from upstream in India and the possible impact of the Tipaimukh dam on the hydro-electric project.

About Washington’s special engagement with New Delhi and its possible implications for other South Asian countries, he said “Whatever we do with India, won’t be done sacrificing Bangladesh ... We have overlapping interests in many areas [which also] involves Bangladesh.”

Negotiate disputes

He said India would be “less threatening to its neighbours because of Washington’s overlapping interests.”

The envoy advised Dhaka to work out a solution to bilateral disputes with India through enhanced negotiations and said U.S. involvement in such matters would only complicate the situation.

“You should never say ‘never’ … What cannot be solved today can be solved tomorrow ... Pakistan and India too have made progress [towards improvement of their ties] and resolved several bilateral water-related problems,” said Moriarty.
Team of experts

The U.S. envoy also pointed out that “Washington was encouraged by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s pledge to fight terrorism at home and at the regional level.”

He said South Asia was now at the ‘centre stage’ of the Obama administration’s new policy.

He supported the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) strongly, but said his country had no stake in the water disputes in South Asia.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hasina suggested that the main Opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), send its own team of experts to visit the proposed Tipaimukh Dam site in India and report to the government.

She told Parliament on Thursday that a Parliamentary team would visit the site soon and that her government would work for the country’s best interest.
Blames BNP

The BNP was asked to provide the names of their MPs to be co-opted in the committee, said Ms. Hasina.

“But, they gave a list of experts instead. So we request that they themselves send an expert team to visit the dam.”

She said the BNP wanted “to play games” without resolving the matter. “They had also been in power, but they left office without settling the Tipaimukh issue.”

“The Awami League will never ‘sell out’ the country,” she said.

Water Resources Minister, Ramesh Chandra Sen told Parliament that he would disclose all information about India’s Tipaimukh Dam Project plans. “The Opposition and some Opposition-backed media are campaigning against the government over the construction of the dam,” Mr. Sen said while delivering a speech on the proposed new budget in the Parliament.

The dam, according to a section of Bangladesh environmental experts, may be catastrophic for Bangladesh’s greater Sylhet region.

The project also faces opposition from Indian environmental groups.

: The Hindu (Visit India's national newspaper for more news)

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