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Twin queries hold up troops

New Delhi, June 21: As Indian leaders mull over Washington’s request to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, two questions are uppermost on their minds — the reaction of Iraqis and how long it will take for political stability to return to the war-ravaged country.

This evening, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chaired an informal meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which discussed the issue of sending peacekeeping troops. But it was clear that Delhi will have to find answers to a number of questions before it arrives at a decision.

“Two important things have to be kept in mind before a decision is taken,” deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told reporters. “Do the people of Iraq want Indian troops' The other question is, what are the plans for setting up an Iraqi administration to take over the running of the country'”

These are important questions as the National Democratic Alliance government is divided on sending troops to Iraq.

However, Delhi, which has always had excellent relations with Baghdad, is in no hurry to take a decision.

The final yes or no will be conveyed to the US administration only after Vajpayee returns from his six-day visit to China. The Prime Minister is scheduled to leave tomorrow.

On his part, India’s ambassador to Iraq B.B. Tyagi — who is now back in Baghdad — will interact with ambassadors in neighbouring Kuwait, Jordan and Syria to try and gauge how ordinary Iraqis would react to Indian troops in their country.

Sources said Advani, who has just returned from a visit to the US, will brief CCS members on his meetings with President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other senior officials. His talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair will also figure prominently.

Advani, who did not give any commitment to Bush on sending troops, denied that India was bargaining hard to get a US promise for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council in return for sending troops to Iraq.

“Nothing like that was raised by me nor did US leaders hold out the promise of a permanent seat at the UNSC for India if we cooperate with Washington on Iraq,” he told reporters.

While the British Prime Minister has told Advani Britain would support India, the deputy Prime Minister said he believed that Bush was also for it. However, all sections within the US administration were not for India, he explained.

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