Individual Congressmen can say what they want, but our relationship is with the government of the United States, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a press conference on board Air India Tanjore en route to Paris on Sunday.
That the government of India is not unduly worried over the aggressive sound bytes emanating from the United States Capitol is evident from the way Dr Singh dismissed US Congressman Tom Lantos's comments. Democrat Lantos had, in a hearing on the India-US nuclear cooperation on Thursday, characterised Foreign Minister Natwar Singh as 'dense' in a testimony before the House Committee.
"We cannot be waylaid by the statements of individual Congressmen. President George Bush and I have agreed on a Joint Statement in July. We'll now follow it up," Dr Singh said. "They can say what they want, it's a free country."
That the Indian government is not going to be browbeaten by the posturings in the US Congress over India's ties with Iran was evident on the eve of the PM's visit when the Ministry of External Affairs in a strongly worded statement on Saturday termed Lantos' remark as 'crude and discourteous, in bad taste and unparliamentary'.
About the controversial Iran gas pipeline project, which is one of the red rags before the US establishment, the prime minister said, "We are terribly short of energy supplies and are heavily dependent on hydrocarbons. To meet our requirements it is essential we find alternative sources of energy."
Turning to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister said once the situation is brought under control, "We can look at many things."
Saying that there were "new ideas" on India-Pakistan talks, the prime minister said, "We have said more than once that existing borders cannot be redrawn, but we must work to make these borders irrelevant, through greater interaction and discussions on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir."
"There are many things to discuss, there are many possibilities."
"But first, infiltration has to be fully brought under control, and violence has to cease. We have to ensure that the infrastructure of terror is dismantled."
Asked if he was happy with the progress made in the peace process with Pakistan, ahead of his talks with President Pervez Musharraf in New York City, Dr Singh said, "Some progress has been made on the agenda that was laid down in our joint statement of April, like the joint bus service that was started. We are committed to reviewing those elements, and see what further can be done."
Reminded of his statement of a year ago, when he had said he found in Musharraf someone he could do business with, Dr Singh said, "I have not changed my views."
"I am looking forward to meeting him. Pakistan has taken some steps, but it is too early to judge the situation on the ground."
There will be one more round of talks with the Hurriyat leaders, he added, "After they let us know precisely what they want to discuss."
After his engagements in Paris, the prime minister leaves for New York to address the 60th plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly. About the world body, Dr Singh said, "The existing institutional mechanisms need restructuring, tightening up. In an increasingly inter-dependent and globalised world we need effective world systems. We will discuss this issue with President Jacques Chirac and other leaders."
PM's US Tour