The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal calls all parties on Iraq

New Delhi, March 9: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has convened an all-party meeting tomorrow to explain his government’s stand on Iraq. But to maintain India’s flexible stand on the fast-paced developments, he is unlikely to concede the demand for a parliamentary resolution on the issue.

India maintains that the UN Security Council should be the main arbiter in resolving the crisis. It has called for a peaceful solution of the crisis and argued that Saddam Hussein should comply “fully and completely” with the Security Council resolution 1441 to avert war.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha is likely to make an opening statement at the meeting while Vajpayee will speak at the end after leaders from the Opposition parties have spoken.

India’s stand has been appreciated both by the US government, which is in favour of military action against Baghdad, and those opposed to war. In certain quarters, however, particularly the Arab world, Delhi’s restraint has raised a few eyebrows.

This diplomatic balance maintained by the Vajpayee government could be upset if a parliamentary resolution is passed on Iraq. The government had turned down the plea for one last month before the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, saying it would not leave India with much elbow room and might force it to take a stand opposed to the popular view of the developing world.

The government’s refusal to entertain the Opposition also has much to do with not displeasing the Americans. The proposed resolution, in the framing of which the Left and some other regional parties are likely to play an important part, is bound to be more critical of President George W. Bush than the Indian government is willing to be.

Moreover, if Parliament says that there shouldn’t be a war in Iraq and subsequently, the US manages to push through a second resolution at the Security Council, India would be caught in an awkward situation. The Vajpayee government has said it will support any UN-sanctioned move. The Prime Minister has argued in favour of adopting the “middle path” on Iraq. Senior officials in South Block explain this would mean that India would not like to “carry its old baggage” while articulating its stand on the crisis.

“What is important for us is to see how India benefits the most. We are not going to take a stand on the basis of our ideology of the Cold War period,” a senior official said.

India is mindful that through the Iraqi crisis its relations with the US have evolved.

The Americans are happy with Delhi’s stand and have indicated much benefit for India in the post-Saddam period. Though this may not be articulated by Vajpayee at Monday’s meeting, this is the basis of the Indian stand on Iraq.

But if the US circumvents the UN fearing a veto by France and tries to cobble up a coalition to go to war in Iraq, it would force India to change its stand. Delhi will have to take a tougher position on the American action.

If women, children and innocent civilians die in large numbers once the war starts in Iraq, it would force the government to give up its ambivalence and take a more critical stand of the US policy on Baghdad.

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