New Delhi, Sept. 3: India today unconditionally rejected military action against Syria, subtly hardening its stance against potential US missile strikes.
The tone changed a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh departs for a G20 summit shaping up as an informal referendum of major nations on the crisis.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid had on Saturday said while India was opposed to unilateral military action against Syria, it would support a UN-backed mandate against the West Asian nation.
But the growing possibility of a lobbying joust between the US and Russia on the sidelines of the two-day G20 summit starting in St Petersburg on Thursday has nudged India into sharpening its position, senior government officials here told The Telegraph.
“There can be no military solution to this conflict,” external affairs ministry spokesperson and joint secretary Syed Akbaruddin said here, asked about possible missile strikes against Syria that US President Barack Obama has said he wants to launch.
The US, UK and France have accused the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against its own citizens, killing over 1,000 civilians in Damascus suburbs on August 21. Many of the worst-affected neighbourhoods are controlled by rebels who have fought the Assad regime for over two years in a civil war that has claimed over 100,000 Syrian lives according to the UN.
India’s carefully crafted latest position is closer to that of Russia, one of Assad’s closest allies, that has blocked multiple UN resolutions condemning the Syrian regime — including motions that New Delhi partially supported.
Traditionally, India has insisted on the UN Security Council’s approval before any military intervention in a sovereign nation. On Saturday, Khurshid said he hoped “sanity would prevail” and the US would refrain from attacking Syria, when asked by this newspaper for India’s position on the crisis. But he also added a rider.
“With UN support, we are comfortable even with action against our friends — because it’s the UN that has sanctioned the move,” Khurshid said.
But with Russia and China, permanent members on the UN Security Council, likely to veto any resolution sanctioning military action against Syria, Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry have made it clear they plan to act against the Assad regime even without UN support.
That, officials here said, made India’s UN-sanction rider inconsequential in the debate over Syria.
India’s oil import bill has already spiralled because of the rise in crude prices triggered by tensions in Syria. “And ahead of the G20, where we expect heavy lobbying on Syria, we needed a sharper position in case there are attempts to make a reference to the crisis in the final statement issued by the leaders of the nations,” an official said.
Though Syria is not officially on the G20 meet agenda, both Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to use the St Petersburg summit to try and build support among the world’s biggest economies for their positions.