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US prods India on Iraq

New Delhi, Dec. 14: The US has revived a proposal for Indian involvement in Iraq and is prodding a policy change for Indian participation — including “boots on the ground” — to help “stabilise” the situation in that country.

Washington’s prod to Delhi to change its policy came on the day the final bill on the civilian nuclear deal was reconciled in the US Congress. Under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns raised the issue during a meeting with India’s defence secretary Shekhar Dutt on December 8. The meeting lasted an hour.

Burns was here for the India-US strategic dialogue and to explain the bill. Details of the meeting, including Dutt’s elucidation of Indian policy, his proposals to turn India into a “manufacturing hub” for military equipment, demonstration of long-term commitment from Washington on supply of military hardware, and his insistence that Washington should take a sterner stand on Pakistan, have emerged only today from the account of a senior source in the defence ministry.

The Burns-Dutt dialogue is not the only one in which the issue of possible Indian participation in US-led military or “stabilisation” efforts has come up. At the Nato headquarters in Brussels, there were briefings held for Indian diplomats earlier this year. The question also figured in the India-US defence policy group meeting on November 15 and 16 in Delhi where Eric Edelman, under-secretary for defence, led the US delegation.

The repeated engagements on the subject merely show that Indian association with international US-led military missions was an “essay in persuasion” by the Pentagon.

Also present in the December 8 meeting was US ambassador David Mulford. Burns had said at his news conference on that day that the military relationship with India would be pursued as a “separate ambition”.

The talks touched upon three main points:

• Indian procurement of military equipment from the US;

• The security situation in Afghanistan; and

• A briefing by Burns on Iraq.

Dutt told him that India’s decision to not send troops to Iraq was determined, first by a parliamentary resolution against the US-led invasion of the West Asian country, and second by Indian policy that its troops can go on overseas missions only under the UN flag.

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