London, Oct. 6: This Friday at Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s country residence, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be sitting down for another round of talks with Tony Blair.
It will be the fourth meeting between the two prime ministers in a year. Blair has been to India twice, one evening showing off his Nehru jacket, while Vajpayee was in London in November last year.
This time the two leaders will have to agree to disagree about Iraq. Since President George W. Bush has said war with Iraq may be “unavoidable” in his latest pronouncement on the crisis, it is assumed in London that Blair will go along with the Americans and commit British troops in any military strike against Saddam Hussein.
India’s position, as made clear today by senior Indian sources in London, is that it is against unilateral action and that any military operation should have the explicit support of the United Nations.
Vajpayee’s visit to Britain is unexpected. The British invited him to come to London when they discovered he would be in Denmark for the European Union-India summit this week in Copenhagen.
It has been said that if there is one man who can talk Bush out of a war with Iraq, it is Blair, his closest overseas ally. Blair himself is painfully aware he has neither the Labour Party nor the country behind him as he contemplates the consequences of military action.
There is also no doubt that Blair has a healthy respect for the Indian Prime Minister, who might be one of the few overseas statesmen who can talk him out of blindly supporting Bush.
Blair is tomorrow sending his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on a tour of Kuwait, Iran and Egypt to play on their fears of Saddam and draw them into muting their criticism of a go-it-alone US-UK military strike against Iraq.
Vajpayee, it is understood, is giving interviews in Delhi to the Financial Times and the Independent to coincide with his visit to the UK.
Never comfortable in English and specially in television encounters, he has decided for the moment not to expose himself to the British press in London, either at a press conference or in individual interviews.
It will as usual be another missed opportunity of explaining how India sees the looming and probably inevitable war and its own problems with Pakistan.
By the time Vajpayee arrives in London, he feels he can allow British officials to compare and contrast the conduct of elections in Pakistan and in Kashmir and let them draw their own conclusions.
Although the British are reasonably sympathetic to India’s complaints about cross-border terrorism, another subject likely to figure in the Vajpayee-Blair talks, London is reconciled to dealing with General Musharraf for the foreseeable future. They would be happy to see a “regime change” in Baghdad but not in Islamabad.
Vajpayee will take time on Saturday to meet the large and influential Indian community in Britain with which the BJP has been forming close and profitable links.
Last time, hundreds of Indians attended a reception held in his honour but they went away disappointed because the Prime Minister had nothing to say to them.