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US says Prof Goverdhan Mehta not denied a visa

Written by: Staff
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Washington, Feb 24 (UNI) The United States has said it never denied a visa to Indian scientist Professor Goverdhan Mehta nor did it turn down his visa application.

Replying to a spate of questions on why a visa was denied to to internationally renowned scientist, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that when Prof Mehta applied for a visa, he did not provide additional information that was needed to process the visa application.

''Because Professor Mehta is engaged in the sciences and in the kind of research that he was engaged in US law requires us, in order to be able to issue a visa, to get some information about his activities and the purposes of his visit and all that sort of stuff,'' Mr Ereli said.

He said this took some time. ''And, pending the receipt of that information, we weren't in a position by law to issue the visa. Once we got the information, we issued the visa.

Hence, there was never was a refusal of a visa to the scientist,'' he added.

If it was such a simple case, a reporter asked why did it evoke such a strong reaction in India. Mr Ereli said one should look at the facts before judging anything.

''The facts are: number one, there was never a denial; number two, there was an application, the application was reviewed, it was held up because we didn't get information we needed. Once we got that information, the visa was issued. And, I think it's also important to point out that the process, the requirement for information and the decision-making once that information is received, is based on US law and it's not discretionary.'' When asked why then the US Embassy issued a statement of regret, the spokesman said, ''I did not see the statement. I mean, obviously this is a prominent individual. We respect the dignity of all those who want to come to the United States and we try to treat people with that respect regardless of who they are.'' ''But, obviously, in the case of a prominent citizen, it certainly is relevant. So anyway, I think just to clarify it, look this is a process that applies to everybody. We try to treat everybody fairly. We certainly think we did so in this case. And, we look forward to him having a good trip to the United States.'' Meanwhile, the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) has expressed grave concern over ''the hostile treatment meted out to Prof Mehta and the visa policies and vetting practices for scientists visiting the United States.'' Prof Mehta, who suffered a hostile reception when applying for a visa to attend a scientific meeting in the US, is also ICSU President.

This incident, during which Professor Mehta -- a distinguished chemist -- was accused of hiding information relevant to chemical warfare, has been extensively covered by the media in India and in major scientific journals.

In a statement condemning the incident, the ICSU said, ''We do not expect that scientists be exempt from legitimate concerns relating to national security, but we do believe that science has a key role to play in overcoming those concerns and propagating common understanding between countries.'' ''Non-discrimination and equity are the essential elements of the Principle of the Universality of Science, which is a founding principle of the ICSU to which all our members representing over one hundred countries and thousands of scientists across the world are committed. Respect for this Principle and for individual scientists is, we believe, a normal expectation in any democratic society.'' ''The US has always been a very strong supporter (and beneficiary) of ICSU and we hope that this will be demonstrated in the future not only in its policies but also its practices as regards the free exchange of scientists.'' According to media reports, a US consulate in India had refused a visa to Prof Mehta two weeks ago triggering heated protests and a major diplomatic flap on the eve of President George Bush's first visit to India.

The reports said the incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest echelons of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Prof Mehta, who said the US consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.

In the face of outrage in India, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued a highly unusual statement of regret and yesterday the State Department said officials are reaching out to the scientist to resolve his case.

Prof Mehta said in a written account obtained by the The Washington Post that he was humiliated, accused of ''hiding things'' and being dishonest and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.

UNI XC PDS RN0828

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