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Desperately seeking soldiers, Bush dials Atal

New Delhi, Sept. 8: President George W. Bush today rang up the Prime Minister to discuss the “situation” in war-ravaged Iraq in Washington’s desperate bid to secure troops from other countries to bail out its own.

According to officials, while the US President did discuss Iraq, he emphasised the need for Delhi and Washington to work in close co-ordination at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting scheduled to begin this Wednesday in Cancun, Mexico.

The officials, however, refused to say whether Bush made any explicit request for Indian troops and how the Prime Minister responded during their conversation that lasted less than 10 minutes.

As for Cancun, there appears to be little chance of any common approach between India and the US on the WTO talks.

While Bush has urged closer cooperation between both countries’ delegations at the WTO meeting, he actually called to ascertain whether India would be in a position to commit troops for Iraq if the UN Security Council gave its nod to the US-initiated fresh draft resolution.

Bush’s telephone talk with Atal Bihari Vajpayee took place within hours of the US President’s 18-minute address to his nation today from the White House. During the address, he appealed to “opponents of war” to contribute troops and money for Iraq’s security and reconstruction, urging to “let past differences not interfere with present duties”.

India has officially maintained that it will take a decision on the new draft after the UN approves it. Delhi is meanwhile in touch with key members of the Security Council.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha spoke with his counterparts from Russia, France and Germany — countries that were opposed to the US-led war in Iraq — over the past few days to know their views on the new draft and to keep abreast of the latest at the UN.

France and Germany, for one, are unimpressed with the US’ claim that the new draft gives more power to the UN for reconstruction and security of Iraq. Both countries feel the draft does not give primacy to the UN as the Americans have made it clear they will continue to be in charge of the command and control of Iraq’s security.

Delhi had decided against sending troops to Iraq simply on the basis of a US request at the July 14 meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. India had, however, said it could reconsider its decision if there was an “explicit UN mandate” asking member countries to contribute troops.

Though India’s decision will follow only after a final picture emerges at the UN security council, indications from South Block are the Centre is not keen to commit troops, “despite an explicit UN mandate”, because of Assembly polls later this year.

There is a growing feeling at the Centre that committing troops to Iraq now, when there is every chance of soldiers getting killed, will not go down well with the electorate.

As the five Assembly elections are crucial for the BJP-led coalition to reaffirm its popularity, the Centre may not do anything to give a political handle to its opponents.

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