The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq focus for twin trips

New Delhi, July 23: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha has decided to visit Syria and Turkey early next month in the backdrop of an increased possibility of a new UN resolution asking member countries to participate in Iraq’s stabilisation.

The views of Syria and Turkey are not only important to make a proper assessment of the situation in Iraq, their support is also required if Delhi wants to play a significant role in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

Sinha will be in Syria from August 1 to 3 and then spend the next two days in Turkey.

Officials in South Block, the seat of the foreign ministry, pointed out that though the trip coincides with the possibility of a fresh resolution coming out of the Security Council, Sinha’s visit to both countries was decided much before the latest development in New York. The visit is important from the point of view of India’s bilateral relations.

However, developments in post-war Iraq would definitely be one of the main thrust areas of Sinha’s discussions with the leadership of the two countries.

That Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to cancel his trip to Syria days before US troops moved into Iraq and is now planning to visit Turkey in September would also figure in the discussions.

The progress of the West Asia peace process, which would impact the security situation in the region, would be an important topic, too.

Indications suggest that even if there is a fresh UN resolution seeking participation of member countries in the stabilisation of Iraq, India would not rush forces to the war-torn country in a hurry.

The Vajpayee government has said it would reconsider its decision to send troops only if there is an “explicit” UN mandate.

But sources said because of the Parliament resolution, which described the US troops in Iraq as an “occupying force”, the government might find it difficult to do anything till the US army remains there.

In Syria, the foreign minister is scheduled to meet his counterpart, Farouq al Shara, and other senior leaders. In Turkey, his main host will be foreign minister Abdullah Gul.

Both Syria and Turkey are not only neighbours of Iraq but have a major stake in the regime that is put in place in there.

If India is to deploy troops in Iraq or play a role in the reconstruction of the country, it would need to take the leaderships in Damascus and Ankara into confidence.

Though Syria is opposed to the presence of US forces in Iraq, over the past few months a serious attempt has been made by President Bashar al Assad to cut down on the anti-American rhetoric.

There are clear indications that the Syrian leadership would not like to do anything that would provoke the US to make Damascus its next target.

If American pressure on Damascus increases, Syria would definitely like to enlist the support of India, as Delhi has always been against a regime change forced from outside.

Turkey, though a close and strategic ally of the US, is worried about how the Kurdish question will play out in Iraq.

Since Kurd-dominated northern Iraq is likely to be one of the sectors that might be offered to India if it decides to send troops, it is important that the Indian leadership holds a proper discussion with Ankara to ascertain its views on such a possibility.

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