Congressman Tom Suozzi, D-NY, who represents the 3rd Congressional District in New York, held a meeting with scores of Indian-Americans Aug. 12 (2019), who expressed their displeasure with his letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to make Kashmir a priority of U.S. foreign policy.

The apology appears to have split the community with Suozzi supporters maintaining the Congressman did not have to apologize for his concerns over Kashmir and that ‘vested’ interests were attacking him.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-NY, left with visiting PM of Pakistan Imran Khan in photo posted on Suozzi’s Twitter July 24, 2019 (Photo Twitter)

Suozzi’s District includes parts of Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties, where a significant number of South Asian-Americans live, including a sizable number of those of Pakistani and Indian origin. Many from these communities had supported him heavily during his election campaign.

The Press Trust of India reported that on Aug. 9, Suozzi sent a letter to Pompeo, on the actions of the Indian government in revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

“These new restrictions on the autonomy of the state and the rights of Kashmiris could also embolden extremists and terrorists to act,” Suozzi said adding that the action taken by the Indian government “risks provoking mass social unrest…” according to the PTI report.

Suozzi appeared to have written the Pompeo letter after meeting some Pakistani-Americans. In his latest statement after meeting some 100 Indian-Americans, the Congressman retracted much of what he said in a statement sent out Aug. 12.

“On Sunday, I met with 100 of my Indian-American constituents regarding my recent letter to Secretary Pompeo expressing my concern about recent developments in Kashmir. Based upon my meeting it is clear that it was a mistake to not consult with some of my Indian-American friends and supporters before I sent the letter. I should have. I am sorry. If I had met with them before sending the letter, I would have framed my concerns differently,” The Congressman admitted.

Suozzi, who met with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan July 23, 2019, during his visit to the U.S., tweeted on July 24, about his meeting, saying, ” Pakistan and America have a long-standing relationship. I represent a large population of Pakistani-Americans and have developed many friendships in the community over the years,” and also added, “Our two countries have had many ups and downs. We must work together to repair our relationship and to achieve our common goal of peace in the region.”

Prior to that, on July 21, following the brutal attack on a Hindu priest in Queens, Rep. Suozzi tweeted, ” I strongly condemn the recent attack on a Hindu swami in Queens. I will continue to stand in solidarity with the Hindu community in my district and across America. May god grant Swami Ji strength, so he may fully recover.”

After several Indian-Americans in his district reached out to him and tweeted about his letter misrepresenting the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, the Congressman scheduled a meeting with them.

The PTI report quoted an Indian American organization, American India Public Affairs, saying the community was not happy with the Congressman. “We Indian Americans are very upset with Congressman Suozzi,” Jagdish Sehwani, president of AIPA is quoted saying, adding that Kashmir was an integral part of India and an internal matter.

Ravi Batra, a New York attorney, tweeted, “#Pandering is a cousin of #appeasement @RepTomSuozzi. Our (US Flag) interests after 9/11 are unmistakable: make the world #TerrorFree. That’s ahead of #nuclear”

After the meeting with Indian-Americans which took place Aug. 11, at Apna Ghar in Hicksville, N.Y., Suozzi issued the statement next day, noting that he has been an “ardent supporter” of India throughout his career in public service, “and have always stood with them in their fight against terrorism.”

Suozzi also noted that the U.S. -India relationship “will be one of our most important over the next 50 years and beyond,” and that he would continue to elevate this relationship in Congress.

Batra had called for Suozzi to withdraw his letter to Pompeo or cancel the meeting. Batra told this correspondent, “Congressman Suozzi called me before the meeting and wanted help in correcting his mistake.” Batra is currently in Europe and responded to Desi Talk about the meeting from there.

No one was available at Rep. Suozzi’s constituency office to respond to queries on whether the Congressman would be sending a revised letter to Pompeo.

After his profuse apology however, Suozzi, in his statement, used measured tones but appeared not to have backed down regarding Kashmir, saying, “The current situation in Kashmir presents some very serious challenges. The United States should seek to be helpful in security safety and peace for all people.”

Kashmir is currently in a state of a virtual shutdown and thousands of Indian forces have been sent to quell any unrest following the revocation of parts of Article 370 and 35 A, which accorded J&K special status.

“I welcome Tom’s candid admission of error, and while it implicitly amends his Letter to Sec. Pompeo, a follow  up letter to the Secretary is in order to set the record right, and I urge him to do so forthwith,” Batra said in an email to media with the attached statement from Suozzi.

However, Kalathil Varghese, vice chair of North Hempstead Democratic Party, and chairman of North Hempstead Indian Association, issued a statement Aug. 15, saying Suozzi was a long time friend of Indians and “He has always supported India and maintained a good relationship with the community-at-large.”

Varghese went on to say, “Unfortunately, a group of people with vested interests attacked him for his letter voicing his concerns about Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370. As a US Congressman, he has every right to express his concerns about situations in any part of the world.”

“Ignoring his (Suozzi) track record, these people criticized his letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and demanded an apology.  Many of these people want to divide the community here to please their political masters in India. Many of them are US citizens, who take immense pride for their freedom in this country; however, they are not ready to accept the freedom of speech of a Congressman, which is not acceptable,” Varghese added.

In his apology statement, Suozzi concluded without necessarily giving ground about Kashmir, only saying he would make sure in future to consult with all of his constituents “who have a vested interest in Kashmir and work towards a peaceful region that roots out terrorism and corruption as well as respects human rights. It is my hope, that recent developments in the region will eventually lead to this.”

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