| Bush, Chavez: Singh’s dilemma
Washington, Oct. 16: US President George W. Bush today held out a suave, velvet-gloved threat to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the nuclear deal announced by the two leaders in July last year would not go forward unless India voted against Venezuela in the UN General Assembly’s poll to choose five non-permanent members of the Security Council.
The ministry of external affairs quickly covered up the threat by issuing a statement stressing that the telephone conversation was, among other things, about the Indo-US nuclear deal and North Korea’s nuclear test last week.
South Block’s statement did not mention the vote in the General Assembly.
Bush called Singh only hours before India was to cast its vote in New York. The call triggered a flurry of meetings and consultations in New Delhi at the highest levels of the UPA government.
It is not yet clear how India voted. Voting in the General Assembly to elect Security Council members is secret.
At the time of writing, the General Assembly went through four rounds of inconclusive voting: neither Venezuela nor Guatemala, which is backed by the US, got the required two-thirds majority to be elected to the council as a non-permanent member.
One source in New Delhi, privy to the conversation between the Prime Minister and the US President, said Bush was extremely diplomatic and circumspect in holding out what amounted to a threat to India by implication.
At no stage during the 10-minute conversation did Bush directly link the vote against Venezuela with the fate of the nuclear deal.
But it was clear from the way he stressed the importance of the smooth functioning of the UN, the problems Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would bring to the Security Council in the event of a win in the General Assembly and the rationale to vote for Guatemala what the White House had in mind, according to this source.
Bush knows only too well from his experience last year, when he sought India’s vote against Iran’s nuclear programme in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it is counter-productive to push New Delhi around.
Therefore, the bit of the conversation between Bush and Singh about the General Assembly vote came immediately after the nuclear deal and the North Korean test were discussed, leaving officials in South Block to decipher what was between the US President’s words.
Today’s voting in the General Assembly was the hardest-fought and most controversial election in the UN system since the end of the Cold War.
The White House had launched a global diplomatic effort to ensure Venezuela’s defeat after Chavez described Bush as the “devil” in his speeach at the opening of the annual General Assembly and said the US President, who had spoken before him, had left the smell of sulphur behind.
Washington lobbied hard for Guatemala. The General Assembly chose Indonesia to occupy the Asia seat vacated by Japan. Nepal was defeated.
The assembly also elected South Africa, Belgium and Italy for two-year terms.