The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heathrow stage for airport diplomacy II

Washington, April 24: For the second time in the five years he has been principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra will use “airport diplomacy” to advance India’s equation with the US.

In less than two weeks, he will have a tryst with President George W. Bush’s deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage at London’s Heathrow airport in a bid to redefine Indo-US equations in the context of America’s military victory in Iraq.

The Heathrow meeting has been necessitated by the conflicting schedules of Mishra and Armitage, whose paths will cross in London as they travel to each other’s capitals. It will be the first high-level contact between India and the US since the Iraq war started.

If Mishra and Armitage are able to lay the framework for re-ordering their diplomatic priorities, it will be the second time in five years that the Indian official would have pulled off a diplomatic coup at an airport meeting.

In June 1999, at the height of the Kargil war, Mishra met President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger and the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Karl Inderfurth, in Geneva.

A few hours after this formal meeting, Mishra, who had not yet taken up his dual charge as national security adviser, found himself at the airport lounge in Geneva in the company of Inderfurth.

At the airport and then on a short flight to Zurich, the two men worked out a lot of the details on a Kargil settlement which Berger and Mishra had agreed upon in Geneva.

Their Geneva meeting resulted in a visit by General Anthony Zinni, then head of the US Central Command, to Rawalpindi to persuade General Pervez Musharraf, then only chief of army staff, to give up the Kargil adventure.

Zinni had known Musharraf from their days in a military academy in the US, but still failed. Soon after, Clinton summoned then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to get him to sign on the dotted line withdrawing Pakistani forces from Kargil.

According to plans now being worked out, Armitage will leave Washington for South Asia via London on the evening of May 5, arriving at Heathrow the next morning. So will Mishra who is scheduled to catch a night flight to the US via London on May 5, touching down at Heathrow around the same time.

The two men will meet in the context of considerable speculation about the future course of Indo-US relations in the backdrop of developments in Iraq.

Like neighbouring Pakistan, the parliament in Delhi passed a resolution which criticised US military action in Iraq.

Delhi claims that it had taken damage-limitation initiatives to insulate Indo-US relations against a perceived surge in anti-Americanism within and outside the establishment in India.

However, this has not stopped speculation that Indo-US relations will be on a downslide in the months ahead and that India will be cut out of the reconstruction cake in Iraq. It is expected that the Heathrow meeting will reassess the stands of both governments and serve as a kick-off for Mishra’s meetings here and Armitage’s talks in Delhi.

The talks at Heathrow will also set the stage for what the Americans are to tell Musharraf in the light of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest diplomatic initiative.

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