Tuesday, July 15, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

No Indian troops for Iraq
Tough talk by Advani, George carries the day
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 14
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) today rejected the US plea for sending Indian troops to Iraq after an intense debate which saw top ministers taking radically divergent stands on the thorny issue.

The 90-minute vibrant proceedings of the country’s apex decision-making body on issues of national security and foreign policy objectives were marked by the strident “No-troops-for-Iraq” arguments put forward by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Authoritative sources told The Tribune that Mr Advani had clearly told US Ambassador Robert Blackwill on Saturday that there was no way that India could send its troops to Iraq.

Finance Minister Jaswant Singh is understood to have urged the CCS today to defer the decision on the issue.

The main reason for saying “no” to the US request was that if India sends its troops to Iraq it would send a wrong signal to the Arab world and India would be seen to be assisting the occupationist forces.

Besides, the current situation in Iraq is highly volatile as hardly a day passes when American/British soldiers are not attacked and in this scenario the Indian troops could also come under attacks.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee kept to his usual self of not airing his views and listened patiently to every speaker.

The Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser, Mr Brajesh Mishra, is learnt to have said at the meeting that if the government had to say “no” it had to be in such a manner that it does not spoil India’s relations with the US and at the same time does not queer the pitch for the government and the ruling party.

At this point of time, Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal butted in and suggested a way out. Mr Sibal said while rejecting the US request, the government should make it clear that India could consider sending troops to Iraq if there was to be an “explicit” United Nations mandate.

Mr Brajesh Mishra supported Mr Sibal’s suggestion and this important clause was incorporated in the brief press statement which the CCS approved and which External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha read out to reporters after the meeting. “Were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose, the Government of India could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq,” Mr Sinha said.

Mr Sinha is understood to be of the same views as Mr Advani’s on the Iraq issue.

The press statement issued by the CCS said:

“The Government of India has given careful thought to the question of sending Indian troops to Iraq.

“Our longer term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our long-standing ties with the Gulf region as a whole, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the US have been key elements in this consideration.

“India remains ready to respond to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people for stability, security, political progress and economic reconstruction. Were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose, the Government of India could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq.

“In the meanwhile, the Government of India is ready to contribute to the restoration of infrastructure, medical, health, educational, communications and other civilian needs of the Iraqi people. As a concrete gesture of our support to the Iraqi people, we are already planning to set up, jointly with Jordan, a hospital in Najaf in Iraq.”

The Vajpayee government’s decision was immediately conveyed to US Ambassador Robert Blackwill by Mr Brajesh Mishra. The US had formally approached India in early May to send its troops to Iraq soon after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime. Washington had asked for a Division which means some 17,000 troops.

US Ambassador Robert Blackwill has already gone on record on several occasions having said that if India were to decide against sending troops to Iraq, it would not damage the prevailing “robust” Indo-US relationship.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, K.C. Pant, Cabinet Secretary Kamal Pande and Union Home Secretary N. Gopalaswamy were also present at the meeting held at the Prime Minister’s residence and presided over by Mr Vajpayee. Meanwhile, the US reacted rather cautiously to the CCS decision and said it had hoped that despite opposition, New Delhi would have taken a different stand.

A US Embassy spokesperson said: “While we had hoped India would take a different decision, the transformation of US-India relations will continue as before. India remains an important strategic partner for the US.”



India welcomes Iraqi Council
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 14
India today welcomed the formation of Iraqi Governing Council and said it was a “positive development”. A Foreign Office spokesman here said the move marked the first stage of involvement of Iraqi people in their own affairs as envisaged in UN Security Council Resolution 1483. The spokesman also noted that the Governing Council did not have merely advisory functions, but also executive functions.


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