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Iraq decision onus on Atal

New Delhi, June 21: The government, treading cautiously on the landmine that is Iraq, has deferred a decision on whether or not to send troops to the war-ravaged country on the request of the US.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight convened an NDA meeting in a bid to evolve a national consensus on the issue, following talks last week with a Congress team led by leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. However, several allies and some BJP leaders expressed reservations against sending troops.

After a 90-minute meeting, parties in the coalition left it to the Prime Minister to take a decision keeping in mind the national interest and the interest of the people of Iraq.

One of those who spoke against sending troops was Shiv Sena leader Chandrakant Khaire. “Why should we send in troops on America’s request' America supports Pakistan and Pakistan supports terrorism aimed at India,” said Khaire. Sources said similar views were expressed by several others, including BJP leaders.

The government appears to be weighing the pros and cons before taking the plunge in an election year, in the absence of adequate clarifications from the US and in view of domestic opposition, including that from the BJP’s constituency.

New Delhi is also waiting for inputs from envoys being despatched to neighbouring countries for consultation. An envoy has already been sent to Baghdad.

Vajpayee is likely to convene an all-party meeting on returning from his week-long tour of China.

At a joint press briefing at the Prime Minister’s residence, NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said Delhi was yet to receive clarifications from the US on the issue of command and control structures in the event of India sending troops to Iraq. India is also awaiting clarifications on who will meet the expenses and the UN role.

“It was unanimously decided that the Prime Minister should take an appropriate decision on the issue, keeping in mind the national interest and the interest of the Iraqi people,” Fernandes said.

The NDA convener said the US team, which was here for discussions on the issue, were asked a number of questions. “Some, they were able to reply. To some others, they said they will get back after discussions in Washington,” he said.

Fernandes and Sinha said, though the US wants Indian troops in the northern province bordering Iran and Turkey, it was not clarified whether the troops will be under Indian command, US command or the command of Kurdistan leaders. There are two factional Kurd leaders fighting for control of the region.

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