M A I N   N E W S

Govt may review stand on troops for Iraq
Natwar Singh meets Powell

Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh said on Thursday that while New Delhi had not been asked to send troops to Iraq, such a request would “have to be discussed by the government and the Cabinet Committee on Security.” “We are a coalition government so the matter will have to be discussed by the government and by the Cabinet Committee on Security,” Mr Singh said.

Mr Singh met Secretary of State Colin Powell at the State Department on Thursday morning.

Mr Powell said the question of India contributing troops to a multinational force in Iraq had been raised in the meeting.

The Congress party had opposed an earlier resolution in Parliament on sending troops to Iraq.

Noting a “changed” situation and welcoming the recent adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, Mr Singh said: “There is a resolution unanimously passed in United Nations and there are Arab members in it. We’ll look at it very carefully. But I must emphasise that this matter will have to be placed before the government at the highest level so it would be premature for me to say yea or nay.”

Mr Powell and Mr Singh discussed a full range of bilateral and regional issues in their meeting. Mr Singh described the exchange as “very frank, wide-ranging, lively, occasionally amusing discussion on every single aspect of our relationship.”

The Secretary of State said both sides agreed that the USA and India had “a very good, strong relationship right now and we intend to not only keep it strong but to build on that relationship, to move forward.”

Earlier, in an interview with BBC’s Hardtalk, Mr Natwar Singh appeared to distance himself from former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s policy of forging closer ties with the USA.

When asked if India was a natural ally of the USA, he responded: “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Mr Singh said the Manmohan Singh government was “determined to work closely with the US administration to take this partnership forward in all areas.” “Both our countries have clear commonalities in shaping a democratic and pluralistic world order free of terrorism,” he said.

Mr Singh, who attended President John F Kennedy’s funeral in Washington in 1963, represented India at President Ronald Reagan’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday.

He noted the important role played by Mr Reagan in strengthening Indo-US relations, and recalled the late president’s warm relationship with Mrs Indira Gandhi during her visit to Washington in 1982.

“In his passing away, India has lost a steadfast friend, the USA an inspiring leader, the world an outstanding statesman,” Mr Singh said.

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