Washington, Sept. 19: With New Delhiís negotiations with the Bush administration on Indiaís role in defusing the Iranian nuclear crisis reaching a critical stage, external affairs minister Natwar Singh has cancelled a proposed visit to Washington.
Singh, who is in New York, was to have arrived here on September 23 after delivering a lecture at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, but he will now travel directly to Canada, skirting Washington.
If he had gone ahead with the visit, Singh would have been with his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice and other US officials just three days before the 49th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is grappling with Iranís covert nuclear activities.
Contrary to the Bush administrationís hopes, India today decided, along with Russia, China and 12 of 14 non-aligned governments, which are members of the IAEA Board of Governors, to vote against referring the Iranian crisis to the Security Council.
The Board of Governors opened its meeting in Vienna today. The Americans believe they have the votes to secure a referral, but would like to avoid a narrow victory that would rob the referral of credibility and moral high ground if they ever attacked Iran.
India and like-minded governments fear that a referral is part of Washingtonís long-term plan to make out a case for an eventual invasion of Iran exactly the way the Americans used Security Council resolutions to justify invading Iraq in 2003.
An Indian embassy spokesman in Washington recalled that there were no plans for a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush last week in New York when the external affairs ministerís trip to Washington was planned for September 23.
The spokesman said the minister was present during the Prime Ministerís meeting with Rice on September 15 and another meeting between the minister and Rice was planned for this afternoon in New York, making travel to Washington unnecessary.
At the time of writing, foreign secretary Shyam Saran is also scheduled to meet Nicholas Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, to discuss Iran and the Indo-US nuclear agreement.
By meeting the Americans in New York, where both Natwar Singh and Rice have several meetings scheduled throughout the day amidst the crowded schedule of the UN General Assembly, the Indians can avoid the spotlight.
If Singh visited Washington, instead, he would be staked out by the Indian and international media.
Natwar Singh has a reputation of putting his foot in his mouth on such occasions and could have landed the Prime Minister in trouble on Iran: hence the cancellation of his Washington visit.
Besides, Natwar Singh is hugely unpopular in Washington. A few days ago, the senior-most Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee said some uncharitable things about the Indian minister for his recent remarks on Iran.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly today, Natwar Singh made no references to Iran, but peppered his speech with quotes from Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru and Ruskin to make his points about UN reforms.