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Singh flies into double crisis

New York, Sept. 13: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today flew into twin crises here and immediately set to work to fight fires on two fronts, one bilateral and another global.

At the time of writing, Singh was preparing to go into a meeting with President George W. Bush within hours of landing.

From that meeting, he will rush to a crisis dinner of non-aligned (NAM) heads of state and government, which hopes to salvage the biggest summit of world leaders here tomorrow teetering on the verge of collapse.

Singh was not planning to formally meet Bush on the margins of the UN General Assembly, but a startling attack on external affairs minister Natwar Singh on Capitol Hill last Thursday prompted the two sides to change their minds.

Initially, in the backdrop of Natwar Singh being called names at a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, it was agreed between the White House and the Indian embassy that Singh and Bush would exchange a few words during the launch of a UN Democracy Fund on Wednesday.

But yesterday, as the implications of Natwar Singh being publicly called “dense” by Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos sank in, this view was revised. A formal meeting between the Prime Minister and Bush would set at rest doubts about Indo-US deals worked out by the two leaders at the White House in July, it was felt.

Lantos, a friend of India, is the senior-most Democrat on the committee. At a hearing on the Indo-US nuclear deal announced in July, Lantos said: “My concern does not relate to the administration. My concern relates to the insensitive thinking that I see coming out of New Delhi.”

As Congressmen and others listened in shock, Lantos described some of Natwar Singh’s statements as “literally sickening, this Stalinist rhetoric which we don’t accept from the Indian foreign minister”.

On Natwar Singh’s rationalisation of the Iranian nuclear programme, Lantos said: “Only an imbecile would believe that they are developing a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes.”

The NAM dinner, being hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi, the current chairman of the non-aligned movement, will be consumed by efforts to finalise an outcome document for the summit. An agreed document is eluding negotiators.

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