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Eye on Iraq pie, Delhi tries to win US over

New Delhi, April 17: After passing a parliamentary resolution criticising the US-led war on Baghdad, India is now trying hard to play down its differences with Washington on Iraq and take bilateral ties to a new level.

A significant role for India in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Iraq could be possible if the US supports the move.

Moreover, if Delhi wants to keep up the international pressure on Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, it will need Washington to lead the charge.

“We have a difference of opinion. But no single issue ever defines the totality of relationships between countries. Despite differences, we go on,” foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said this afternoon.

He was speaking at the inaugural function of the Indo-British Parliamentary Forum, organised by Ficci, where several diplomats and MPs from the UK were present. But the comments were also aimed at the Americans.

Indicating the urgency to remove strains from bilateral ties with the US, Sinha last night took the initiative of ringing up US secretary of state Colin Powell. They talked for 30 minutes about the developments in Iraq and Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

The parliamentary resolution was passed the day the American troops had marched into Baghdad and it was evident that the Saddam Hussein regime would crumble without much resistance. South Block now appears to be on a correctional course to ensure smoother Indo-US ties.

Delhi is simultaneously making a conscious effort to retain the focus on cross-border terrorism. Not just Iraq, the renewed rhetoric from Delhi and Islamabad, too, was an issue of discussions between the Indians and the Americans.

The issue figured this afternoon when a US congressional team met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani for an hour here. The talks focussed on the recent killings of 24 Kashmiri Pundits in Nadimarg and the steps being taken by Delhi to prevent similar incidents.

The team, led by Joseph Crowley, co-chairman of the congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans, included Sheila Jackson Lee, Chris Bell and Kendrick Meek. US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill was also present.

Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal took the opportunity to say that the developments in Iraq might encourage extremists to step up their activities in Kashmir.

“After the US attack on Iraq, extremist elements may have further reason to pursue their destructive path to attack democracies everywhere,” he said.

Pakistan, Sibal said, remained the epicentre of terrorism with the entire terrorist infrastructure intact. Sibal was speaking at an interactive session with the US team at a function organised by the CII this afternoon.

Sibal said differences may exist between the US and India on “short term” approaches to dealing with global terrorism. But both countries needed to support each other to defeat terrorism in the long run.

He referred to a post Saddam Iraq and emphasised that the UN should be allowed to play an important role in that country.

India, Sibal said, was interested in participating in the reconstruction of Iraq and was in touch with the relevant UN agencies for the purpose.

“Even if you are strong, you cannot make peace alone,” he said, in an obvious reference to the US-led coalition. “It would be in everyone's interest if the US and the UK could arrive at some common ground with Russia, France and Germany on the issue.”

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