The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal shuns war, seeks time for Iraq

New Delhi, March 12: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said the Iraq crisis should be resolved peacefully and under the aegis of the United Nations.

In identical statements in the two Houses of Parliament, Vajpayee said India endorsed the international community’s desire that Iraq destroy its weapons of mass destruction and also favoured the weapons inspection process to continue so that its objective is achieved peacefully.

“We are opposed to war.… If more time is needed for the weapons inspection, it should be given. If need be, more inspectors should be appointed,” the Prime Minister said to queries from members in the Lok Sabha.

The weapons inspection process has been encouraging from the point of view of achieving its objective, though Iraq could have cooperated more vigorously with the inspectors, Vajpayee added.

Spelling out his government’s approach to the “rapidly evolving situation”, the Prime Minister, without mentioning the US, said the countries concerned must avoid the temptations to “act unilaterally and arbitrarily” in an unipolar world.

“The international community must take a very careful look both at the objective of achieving Iraq’s full compliance with UN resolutions and at the means to be adopted to reach this goal. The Security Council should decide on what further action needs to be taken,” he said.

If giving more time and formulation of a clearer criteria could facilitate a decision within the UN framework, that course should be pursued. On the contrary, if actions were taken unilaterally, it would leave the UN “deeply scarred, with disastrous consequences for the world order”, Vajpayee said.

Asked by Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Natwar Singh whether India would condone or condemn if the US exercised the military option through a Security Council mandate, Vajpayee said he did not think the world body would allow that to happen.

“Such a situation would never arise as some members of the Security Council are of the view that there should be no war. It (a UN-mandated military action) will never happen,” he asserted. “Nobody wants war. War is not an option.”

Responding to queries on the US talk of a regime change in Baghdad, Vajpayee asserted that outside powers should not decide who should rule where.

But the Prime Minister avoided a response in both Houses to pointed questions on whether India intends to provide military facility to the US if a war does break out.

Nor was he forthcoming on Natwar Singh’s query on whether President George W. Bush had indicated to him, during their recent telephonic conversation, any deadline for exercising the military option. Ultimatums and deadlines should be avoided was all that Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister also focused on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. If Iraq fully complied with the provisions of relevant Security Council resolutions, sanctions imposed on the country should be lifted, Vajpayee said.

He informed the members that the ministry of civil aviation has drawn up plans to evacuate Indians in Iraq in the event of a war.

The government has also taken steps to shore up the country’s crude oil stock. The satisfactory foreign exchange reserve position would help meet a higher crude oil import bill in the short run, he added.

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