Saturday, Jul 05, 2003
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By Amit Baruah
Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Singh said that it was being projected that if India sent troops the United States would "shower bounties" on us. "India is not some third-rate country," he added.
"We want the closest relations with America... (but) we should tell them frankly as friends that under the present circumstances, India can't oblige them (by sending troops). And, I have no doubt that the Americans will understand. Why should bilateral relations be dependent on this particular matter," he asked.
The U.S., he said, was "desperate" to get Indian troops because then it could tell others, "look, a great country like India has sent its soldiers". "Foreign Secretary (Kanwal) Sibal didn't have to go to Washington to discover the "grey areas" and "ambiguities" in (the U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1483. They have been staring us in the face since the day the Resolution was adopted... on May 22."
According to him, Resolution 1483 does not authorise countries to send their troops to Iraq. It specifically mentions that the U.S. and Britain, as occupying powers, will be solely in charge.
"If that is the case, then how does this Government even consider the request of the Americans," Mr. Singh asked pointing out that it was the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, who had suggested in her meeting with the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on June 15, that other political parties and Iraq's neighbours be consulted. Key countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran China, Russia, Canada, France, Germany and Mexico were not planning to send their troops, then "why India," he asked. Favouring the adoption of a new resolution by the Security Council to authorise the dispatch of troops, Mr. Singh suggested that the Vajpayee Government work in this direction. "If you involve the U.N., you will get any number of countries to come for peacekeeping."
The April 8 Parliament resolution on Iraq was "unanimous" and the NDA Government was committed to it. The Government had sanctioned Rs.100 crores for humanitarian aid to Iraq and it should "adopt the non-military route" to begin with.
India should send doctors, medicines, teachers and engineers and, in the meantime, work for a Security Council resolution specifically establishing a U.N. peacekeeping force for Iraq.
Mr. Singh said that the U.S. had not been able to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the last four months and there was "anarchy and absence of government in Iraq". The U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had said that Americans would be looked upon as liberators in Iraq. "They are being looked upon as invaders and occupiers. It was a total misreading of the sentiments of the Islamic world," Mr. Singh said.
Asked about press reports that the Congress stand was "ambiguous", Mr. Singh said this was "deliberate disinformation". The party's position was clear and had been spelt out in Sonia Gandhi's letter to the Prime Minister on June 4 and the subsequent meeting on June 15.
On whether the U.S. would target Iran next, Mr. Singh said "we hope not" and that it was "unlikely". The Congress also favoured an all-party meeting to discuss the troops' question before Parliament convened on July 21 as this was one of the issues that would figure.
The Congress leader, who also heads the AICC's foreign affairs department, said that though he did not have authentic information, the general impression was that the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, was not "favourably inclined" to sending troops to Iraq.
Mr. Singh said the Congress was not suggesting any confrontation with the U.S. "We want their understanding." During the last five decades, there had been a broad consensus on foreign policy issues and this consensus should not be eroded now. "If the Americans want you (India), they can get a Security Council resolution tomorrow. India should request them to strengthen the U.N., strengthen multilateralism. What is happening now is high-handed unilateralism." On the troops' issue, the only consideration, Mr. Singh added, should be "India's honour and national interest".
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