| Vajpayee at a media conference in New York. (PTI)
New York, Sept. 16: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wound up his trip to America last night after laying the groundwork for enhanced Indo-US ties, independent of Washington’s relations with Pakistan.
In the next few weeks, several high-level bilateral visits from both sides will build on the momentum imparted to the relationship by Vajpayee’s meeting here with President George W. Bush.
Finance minister Jaswant Singh, who steered India’s ties with the US out of the turbulence of the 1998 nuclear tests as external affairs minister, will be in Washington later this month.
Commerce minister Murasoli Maran will also travel to the US shortly. The chief of naval staff, Admiral Madhvendra Singh, is already in the US on an official visit as part of the growing defence ties between the two countries.
Addressing a press conference before emplaning for home, Vajpayee acknowledged that India’s ties with the US now stood on its own, implying that it was no longer Pakistan-centric.
Vajpayee was particularly satisfied that he had received all-round support for India’s stand against terrorism.
“A common theme running through all my meetings was that of international terrorism. Every single world leader whom I met condemned the terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India,” the Prime Minister said of the bilateral meetings he had here with several Presidents and Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Marking out Pakistan as a dictatorship, he said: “I naturally discussed with all these leaders the imperative need for democracies to cooperate in rooting out terrorism effectively and without discrimination.”
Articulating differences with the US policy on Iraq, the Prime Minister said India had a “historical relationship” with Iraq and vital strategic interests in the Gulf region.
“We believe that the sanctions against Iraq should be lifted in tandem with full and effective compliance by Iraq with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
The press conference saw many light moments and revealed a relaxed Vajpayee fully in grasp, belying recent Western media reports about his health and faculties.
In the presence of B.K. Agnihotri, India’s ambassador-at-large for persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and non-resident Indians, there was a discussion on whether General Pervez Musharraf qualified for PIO status since he was born in Delhi.
Referring to Bush’s comments to him about jointly building up a robust Indo-US relationship, the Prime Minister said he had remarked to the US President that “I may not be there, but you will be here”.
Vajpayee said it was understandable that the US was paying more attention to Afghanistan in the war against terrorism than to India’s troubles with cross-border terror because they are the victims of the Taliban’s policies. “It is understandable,” he said.
But he added that UN Security Council resolutions on terrorism will become meaningful only when al Qaida is vanquished and its followers brought to justice.
The Prime Minister will halt overnight in Zurich tonight and leave for New Delhi on Tuesday.