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Sinha salve on ties with America

New Delhi, April 23: External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha today rejected the Opposition’s charge that the US was dictating the government’s foreign policy but made it clear that “compulsive hostility” towards Washington will not suit the country’s national interests.

“India does not act under pressure from any country and we will not be cowed down,” he said in the Lok Sabha while replying to a debate on demands for grants of the external affairs ministry which was later adopted by voice vote.

Earlier, Opposition parties had accused the government of succumbing to pressure from the US and allowing its foreign policy to be directed from outside.

The charge drew an immediate response from BJP member A.K. Swain, who said: “It is in our own interest to be in the right side of history, that means right side of the US.”

Sinha, too, reacted along the same lines. “Without compromising on anything... national interest and principles, if we can build a great relationship with the US, we will try and do so. Compulsive hostility to the US is a baggage we should leave behind,” he said. “This is not suited to our national interest.”

To drive home his point, he added: “Did we carry out our nuclear tests in May 1998 or the missile tests under US pressure'”

Sinha’s comments were the most vocal in support of the US since Parliament adopted a resolution “deploring” the war on Iraq on the day Baghdad fell. The resolution was perceived to be ill-timed by several foreign policy analysts who felt that it would bring the relationship between the “natural allies” under strain.

The foreign minister also touched on relations with other countries. On resumption of talks with Pakistan, he said “we will certainly move in that direction”, if there is evidence on the ground that terror strikes have ended.

Sinha announced that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would visit China “soon”. Vajpayee would also visit Russia around end-May, he added.

The minister iterated that India recognised Tibet as an autonomous region of China and that the Dalai Lama was a respected leader. “Some dialogue” between him and the Chinese authorities have already started, he added.

But it was India’s ties with the US and Washington’s alleged control over Delhi’s policies that dominated the discussion.

Congress member R.L. Bhatia initiated the discussion, saying America was interfering in “our foreign policy”. “You are not directing your policy. Someone else far away is directing you,” Bhatia, a former minister of state for external affairs, said.

He warned the government not to be influenced by the US and said Washington was only pursuing its “hegemonistic” agenda as it has done in Iraq.

Swain countered the criticism, saying it is the US which has asked Pakistan to “respect the LoC (Line of Control)”, and “permanently end” cross-border terrorism. He said the US “welcomed elections in Jammu and Kashmir, welcomed the appointment of N.N. Vohra as central interlocutor in Kashmir” and the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government’s “healing touch policy”.

“The US had its own compulsions of not declaring Pakistan a terrorist state. But it is true Pakistan is going to be the next target of the US,” Swain said, even as an Opposition MP took a dig at him, asking “Did they (the US) tell you'”

In reply, the BJP member said he had heard a BBC discussion in which a senator had said that the US cannot chew more than it can swallow, a comment he thought meant America would turn its attention to Pakistan later.

Swain said people considered the Parliament resolution on Iraq a resolution of “national irrelevance” and not “national sentiment”. His comment evoked a sharp reaction from Congress and CPM members who said the BJP was insulting the House. Congress member Margaret Alva, who was in the chair, pointed out that Swain himself had backed the unanimous resolution as a member of the House.

The Opposition also slammed the government for speaking in “different voices”. Bhatia said that while the foreign minister and the defence minister spoke of Pakistan being a “fit case” for a pre-emptive strike, the Prime Minister has extended a hand of friendship. “What is your strategy…'” he asked.

He added that there was “total confusion” and “no vision” on the foreign policy front.

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