The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi lowers decibel on anti-war rhetoric

New Delhi, Feb. 21: India has decided to adopt a cautious approach on the fast-paced developments on Iraq despite rising anti-war sentiments in the country. Though it is against the US’ unilateralism, it does not want to put itself in a corner if the UN gives the green signal for armed action against Saddam Hussein.

Delhi’s strategy was laid down by South Block on the eve of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s departure for Kuala Lumpur to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Sum-mit beginning on Sunday.

Indications are that the impending US-led war in Iraq would dominate discussions at the summit of the developing nations.

For several months, Vajpayee has been saying he is against war in Iraq. While asking Baghdad to give up and destroy all weapons of mass destruction, if it possesses any, the Prime Minister has been arguing against armed action.

However, as Vajpayee and his delegation leave for the Nam summit, it is clear that India wants some manoeuvring space on the issue.

The government is against a parliamentary resolution on Iraq as it fears that the move would leave it with little elbow room to negotiate a text on Iraq at the summit in the Malaysian capital.

“We are against US unilateralism. But what happens if the UN Security Council approves armed action against Baghdad in the next few days'” asked a senior foreign ministry official.

He argued that a strong anti-war parliamentary resolution would have prevented India from going along with the other Nam members if they drew a distinction between Washington-initiated armed action and that approved by the Security Council.

Summit host and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed has taken a strong anti-American stand and will, in all likelihood, push for a tough line against Washington. But it is not clear how the Nam members will align themselves on such a proposal.

“In a movement of 115 countries, there are bound be differences,” said a senior South Block official.

He admitted that Iraq will be on top of the agenda at the summit. At the end of it, Nam will come out with a Kuala Lumpur Declaration, reflec- ting its stand on various poli- tical and economic issues, of which Iraq is definitely the most important.

However, it is a negotiated text adopted by consensus. “We do not want to spell out our stand before the negotiations begin. A parliamentary resolution would have forced us to do so,” the official said.

Some suggest that India’s flexibility has much to do with not displeasing the Bush administration. But officials argue that the days of confrontation with the West are over. As the theme of this summit is “Revitalising Nam”, this is one of the more important issues that the leaders will have to address.

“We don’t want Nam to be turned into a forum of the developing world that adopts a confrontationist attitude towards the developed world,” a senior foreign ministry official said. He pointed out that the “globalisation process” is both a “challenge as well as an opportunity” for the developing world.

The stress, as far as India sees it, will be on making Nam a forum from which the developing world could not only engage seriously with the developed nations, but also bargain better on issues that would help bridge the economic and technological divide.

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