The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi refuses to expel envoys

New Delhi, March 22: India has refused to declare three Iraqi diplomats in the embassy here persona non grata despite a US request to expel them.

The request, which came as America prepared for its assault on Iraq, was aimed at exerting pressure on Iraqi officials and diplomats who have refused to desert President Saddam Hussein.

The Indian leadership made it clear that it would not be able to expel any of the diplomats as Baghdad was not only a traditional friend of Delhi but had also not done anything that could be perceived as anti- Indian.

The George W. Bush administration has also asked many nations to close down Iraqi embassies in their countries, though it did not make such a request to India knowing fully well that Delhi would not oblige.

Sources in South Block pointed out that despite criticism from the Opposition and some quarters for adopting a pro-American line on Iraq, India’s policy on the crisis has been independent, keeping national interest in mind. Though India has not approved of the US action, its criticism has been muted.

“Words used in diplomacy will be much different from those used by the Opposition,” a senior foreign ministry official said, arguing in favour of the “middle path” approach advocated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

According to the official, Delhi’s stand was aimed at ensuring that Pakistan — which has been bending backwards to accommodate “every wish and whim” of the Americans — does not gain in any way. “We cannot do what Pakistan has been doing, but we want to ensure that our stand does not alienate the Americans,” he said.

India’s main worry is over Kashmir. South Block is of the view that unless handled judiciously, India’s stand on Iraq could create a situation in which the US and Britain, on Pakistan’s instigation, could take steps to “internationalise” the Kashmir issue. Though India is not worried that it would cave in to such pressure, it does not want to create a situation where it might have to face fresh strain on this front.

Sources in South Block point to the sharp divisions that the Iraq crisis has created in all major organisations — be it the permanent five of the UN Security Council, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, the Arab League or the Non-Aligned Movement. Even countries like China, despite having called for a halt to the US-led military action, have not come forward to convene a special session of the Security Council.

Nor has Nam or any other outfit demanded a special session of the General Assembly to condemn the attack. In such a situation, said an official, India felt it prudent to adopt a pragmatic approach. “Nations or individuals rarely commit suicide to safeguard their principles,” he added.

According to India’s assessment, if the war is short, the oil price, despite the hike, would come down once the military action is over. It could also help the world economy turn around from the current slowdown.

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