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Washington sees parallel in Delhi’s Iraq stand

New Delhi, March 7: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tough public stance notwithstanding, the White House claims India’s position on Iraq is identical to that of the US.

“India’s position, which has been expressed innumerable times by the government, has two fundamental elements. One, complete and unwavering support for the Security Council Resolution 1441 — Iraq must disarm. And second, a profound wish that it should be done peacefully,” US ambassador Robert Blackwill said. “That’s exactly our position.”

It is not known whether the Indian government will be flattered or embarrassed by Blackwill’s comments. The ruling BJP has come under some criticism — though it has been muted so far — on its “weak” stand on the Iraq crisis.

Indications suggest that the US has been in close touch with the Indian leadership. On Monday, President George W. Bush called Vajpayee to discuss the situation in Iraq.

Blackwill said he has recently been interacting with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and the deputy chairman of the planning commission, K.C. Pant. US secretary of state Colin Powell, too, spoke to foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, while American national security adviser Condoleeza Rice was in touch with her Indian counterpart.

“Through the Iraq crisis, one can see the concrete transformation of the relationship,” Blackwill said, adding that relations between the two countries are very different from what they were during the 1991 Gulf War.

Key members of both governments have not only built a healthy relationship with each other, Blackwill said, the two countries have also begun to share democratic values and policies. “We have a completely different diplomatic world. President Bush is extremely gratified that this has happened.”

Asked whether the US would also seek re-fuelling or other assistance from India, the US ambassador appeared cautious. “We haven’t asked India at this point for any logistical assistance. I am not going to rule that out. I don’t know what is going to happen. But that has not happened yet. It’s a contingency that hasn’t occurred,” he said.

Blackwill said attempts are still being made to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully and that a war would be the last resort. If that happens, it would lead to a regime change in Baghdad, and this is something that the two sides have had preliminary discussions on.

Washington hopes that Delhi, along with other members of the international community, and the United Nations would actively participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, he added.

“Reconstruction doesn’t mean only the making of roads and the infrastructure. More importantly, it is the making of the civil society,” Blackwill said. “What we have told India is that if this would happen, we hope India would play a major role in that.”

He went on to add that India’s involvement would be “extremely natural” as it not only has good relations with Iraq, it also knows the country well. India has “all the elements of a civil society” with a strong and independent media, judiciary and democracy.

“We don’t want to give the impression that war is inevitable and we should be talking about the post-Saddam period. But in general conversation, we have told Indian leaders that we want to keep this relationship working closely as we have had in Afghanistan…. We want India to do that in respect to Iraq,” Blackwill said.

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