Monday, Apr 07, 2003
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By P. S. Suryanarayana
The Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, will discuss the Iraq situation, among other subjects, with the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, during a three-day state visit to India, beginning on Monday. Mr. Goh's affirmation of the continued relevance of the United Nations, as outlined in an exclusive interview to The Hindu here, acquires importance in the context of Singapore's U.S.-friendly stance on the war and the nuances in India's own position.
Mr. Goh pointed out that Singapore, which had voted for Resolution 1441 as an elected member of the Security Council last year, later hoped to "avert a war" in Iraq through efforts at the U.N. and elsewhere.
The U.S. "would probably look for ways to... re-configure the international security architecture to suit its national interests" in the context of the outcome of the Iraq war. Asked whether the U.N. would then become irrelevant to the international community, Mr. Goh said: "No. I hope not. Because, all countries need the U.N. and the small countries (such as Singapore) in particular. Without the U.N., how do we resolve international issues?... Including international security issues."
Explaining Singapore's strategic calculus of the political kind, with reference to the Iraq issue and its perceived relevance to the North Korean nuclear question in East Asia, Mr. Goh said: "You have the U.S. on one side, trying to disarm Saddam Hussein and, on the other side, Saddam Hussein refusing to disarm... So, we decided to choose a side that wants to disarm another country of its weapons of mass destruction. Why do we do that? Because, if the U.S. fails in its task, I don't think
U.S. can defeat terrorism. Its international prestige would have collapsed (in the event of failure to disarm Iraq). Its (Washington's) credibility would have gone. And, who is going to persuade North Korea, later on, not to proceed with its plan to build nuclear weapons".
For Singapore, which has scored a major scoop in identifying the terror cells of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network in South East Asia, a prime concern was that any move by North Korea to "proceed with its nuclear armaments" might create a situation that "would destabilise South East
Asia for terrorism".
The key subjects on Mr. Goh's agenda for talks with the Indian leaders may range from the possibility of launching negotiations on a comprehensive bilateral economic partnership to the idea of a "New Silicon Valley" as also the question of Singapore being able to play a "bridge" between India and China on matters of mutual economic cooperation.
Mr. Goh himself did not spell out the political basis of his vision of a possible trilateral economic linkage among Singapore as also India and China. However, the underlying strategic assumption at this stage appears to be the unspecified expectation that India may not really get sucked into the vortex of a plan, if any at all, by the U.S. to contain China in the foreseeable future, according to observers. Announcing Mr. Goh's visit, the Singapore authorities said India had been alerted about the current prevalence of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in the city-state and that the Indian authorities wanted the visit to take place as scheduled.
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