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Powell dials, Delhi dithers

New Delhi, Dec. 15: India today walked a diplomatic tightrope, refusing to either welcome Saddam Hussein’s capture or come out with a statement that he be treated with dignity and tried under the Geneva Convention.

A day after Saddam’s capture shook the world, India limited itself to hoping that it would lead to an early transfer of power to the “friendly people” of Iraq.

The Indian position was made clear by foreign minister Yashwant Sinha when US secretary of state Colin Powell phoned him to discuss the Iraq developments.

India’s stand might not have gone down well with Washington and many in the Bush administration could be disappointed. But that Powell chose to dial Sinha has given Delhi confidence such “minor differences” will not come in the way of growing bilateral ties.

India had refused to send to troops to Iraq when the US sought its support to stabilise the war-ravaged country earlier this year. It had then cited a parliamentary resolution calling for immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

During his phone chat with Sinha, Powell said Saddam’s capture would bring about a change “in the psychology of whole situation” and lead to “rebuilding and reconstruction and greater respect” for the Iraqi governing council. Sinha hoped “these developments would contribute to the stabilisation of Iraq”.

He indicated that Delhi would like the US forces to withdraw early and create a situation for the Iraqis to manage their affairs.

Later in the day, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “We have taken note of it. We hope for early improvement of the security situation in Iraq leading to early sovereignty to the friendly people of Iraq.”

Asked if this indicated a shift in the Indian stand, he said: “I have just given you our view as well as that of the foreign minister on the issue this morning. I think that speaks for itself.”

In Parliament, however, the Opposition demanded that the government come out with a statement stressing that Saddam be treated “humanely” and tried under United Nations’ jurisdiction.

Last night, the capture was discussed at a cabinet committee on security meeting called by the Prime Minister.

It was felt that Delhi could not welcome the capture as Saddam was seen in India as a “friend”.

Neither could it make a statement critical of the US as that would not go down well with Washington. So, the best option would be to adopt a “wait-and watch” policy.

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