Washington, June 12: Five weeks before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives here to meet President George W. Bush, India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council is putting New Delhi on a collision course with Washington.
On Friday, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, met Bush and pleaded for his help in stopping the expansion of the Security Council.
Kasuri struck a chord with Bush on the issue, and according to sources here, the US President said the Security Council should not be expanded “in a hurry”.
But even before Kasuri arrived here determined to stop India from getting into the Security Council, South Block had begun to feel Washington’s pressure to go slow on its bid for a permanent seat at the UN’s high table.
A few days earlier, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice telephoned external affairs minister Natwar Singh and discussed UN reforms.
Neither side has been forthcoming on the details of the conversation on record, but it is understood that Rice wanted India to delay the Group of Four (G-4) resolution at the UN paving the way for Security Council expansion.
Rice similarly urged another G-4 state, Japan, to postpone tabling the resolution, but despite being a US ally, Tokyo rebuffed the advice.
She also met German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, but signals are that the two faced serious disagreements on Security Council expansion.
As in the case of the F-16 sale to Pakistan earlier this year, it is likely that Manmohan Singh will be ill-advised not to challenge or criticise the US position on Security Council reform to keep up the pretence that all is well between New Delhi and Washington.
But sources in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said Manmohan Singh is not taking chances on such a sensitive issue with long-term implications for India’s place in the world.
He is, therefore, sending national security adviser M.K. Narayanan to Washington on June 17 to get a second opinion on Indo-US relations.
The Prime Minister has been briefed by several official and unofficial Indian visitors to Washington, who have recently returned to New Delhi and told him things about Indo-US relations, which are at variance with the feedback he is getting through normal official channels.
Bush administration and Congressional sources told this correspondent that they are acutely aware of differing and “confusing” signals going to Raisina Hill ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit.
Rice is, therefore, dispatching Nicholas Burns, the new under-secretary of state for political affairs, to New Delhi on June 22 to clear matters.
At his meeting with Bush on Friday, Kasuri cleverly exploited the US President’s notorious allergy towards the UN which has refused to toe the White House line on Iraq and a number of other issues.
He told Bush that UN reforms had been long overdue but the debate over new permanent members of the Security Council had “hijacked” the debate.
“Pakistan is against the very idea of permanence”, he told Bush and later repeated at Brookings Institution while seeking the support of American Track II practitioners of diplomacy for his campaign against India and the G-4 on Security Council reform.
Bush wants UN reform, but his idea of such reform is different from that of most members of the world body.
So he told Kasuri, according to sources here, that the lack of consensus on the expansion of the Security Council should not be allowed to delay UN reforms.
Last month, Rice had sent Shirin Tahir-Kheli, her ambassador on UN reforms to India, but her visit was a non-starter because there was no meeting ground between her and Indian officials ' including Narayanan ' with whom she interacted.