The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Knife out for Blackwill

Washington, July 15: US secretary of state Colin Powell spoke to Robert Blackwill, his ambassador in New Delhi, yesterday morning to see if anything could be salvaged from India’s decision to turn down the request for troops in Iraq.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday afternoon that Powell spoke to the envoy “to find out where we were and what this means”.

Blackwill, who has no shortage of enemies in this city, is finding that they are now sharpening their knives for him following India’s failure to send troops.

In a reflection of that, Boucher was asked a loaded question at his briefing yesterday. “Does he (Powell) think that the outgoing ambassador did enough to try and convince the Indians...'”

The spokesman interrupted the questioner to douse the flames before they spread. “Don’t start drawing any negative conclusions,” Boucher said.

“The secretary keeps in close touch with our ambassadors. When an event happens, or a foreign government makes an… announcement, often the first person the secretary consults with is our ambassador on the ground.”

One fallout of yesterday’s decision by the Cabinet Committee on Security against troop deployment is the worry here that it may dampen any enthusiasm some other countries may have had for sending their men to Iraq. Boucher was asked if he thought “India’s rejection sends a bad signal to other countries”.

He replied: “I don’t know that any other country is waiting on India’s decision to make their own decision. Many other countries have already made their decisions in order to move forward and help stabilise Iraq. The UN Security Council has encouraged countries to do that.”

While countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador are, indeed, responding — with 300 or 400 men each — the reality is that if India had committed two divisions in Iraq, that would have made it extremely difficult for medium-sized armies to say no to Washington. Delhi’s decision will embolden them to refuse.

Another fallout of the decision is that it may encourage the Bush administration to give more consideration to suggestions all round that the UN should be given a bigger role.

The spokesman said yesterday that the administration had noted statements by several governments that they were willing to contribute to stabilising Iraq under the UN umbrella, a point strongly made by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in a meeting with President George W. Bush here yesterday.

“I have seen some discussion of that in France,” the spokesman said. “I have seen now, some discussion of that in India. We will have to see what the discussion among (UN Security) Council members is, whether there is some desire among council members to look at the language….”

, but I would reiterate that there are a substantial number of countries who have found that they can participate and wish to participate because of their own interests and because of the language and Resolution 1483 that says -- encourages all countries to participate in stabilisation.”

Asked about the future of Indo-US ties following the cabinet committee’s decision, he said: “I would expect us to continue to work with India as a matter of strategic partnership.”

“I’m not predicting any particular problems, but I would say that we would have hoped that they would be able to go do this in Iraq for, I think, our interests and what we perceive as their interests, as well.”

Boucher was asked to describe the US response to India’s latest decision “on the scale of disappointed, regret, come down that, you know...”

The spokesman said: “I think that is where those very subtle state department reporters who understand our language will have to explain that to you...I am not going to try to play games with words here.”

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