The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Potential axis partners to meet

New Delhi, Sept. 2: Indian foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will meet his Russian and Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York later this month.

Sinha will host Igor Ivanov and Li Zhaoxing, Russian and Chinese foreign ministers respectively, at a lunch during the third week of September. Dates are yet to be finalised, but it is likely the meeting will be held on September 20 or 21.

This is the second time in a row that the three countries are meeting. The countries intend to coordinate positions on important issues likely to crop up during the UN session.

Developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and a possible comprehensive convention on combating global terrorism are likely to dominate the General Assembly session.

The lunch will allow the foreign ministers to not only discuss UN-related issues, but also build a personal rapport and improve mutual relations. Some choose to see the meeting as laying the groundwork for a future axis between the three countries.

Such an axis had been proposed by the then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov five years ago. He made the proposal in the aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran when relations between Delhi and Beijing were strained. Neither country was keen on a three-nation axis at the time.

But Sino-Indian relations have improved of late. The recent visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to China - the first by an Indian Prime Minister in a decade boosted relations. It is hoped the visit will result in better economic and political ties.

Russia and China, both of whom are members of the UN Security Council, favour a fresh council resolution that will allow the world body to play a bigger role in Iraq. The situation in the war-ravaged country is worsening with every passing day.

Neither country is likely to object if the US continues to play an important role in Iraq, but both would like the proposed UN resolution to mention a date by which the political process in Baghdad will begin.

In effect, this means that Russia and China want the US to commit to a date by which they will leave Iraq.

India is still undecided on whether to accede to a US request to send troops to Iraq even if peacekeeping operations come under the command and control of the UN. The continuing violence in Afghanistan and reports that the Taliban is regrouping has implications for the security of India, Russia and China. Afghanistan under the religious militia was a safe haven for terror groups that have been active in all three countries.

Global terrorism is another issue that concerns these countries. A discussion on the subject will allow the ministers to work out how to arrive at a definition of terrorism that will not alienate the Palestinians who have been fighting Israel for decades to set up an independent state.

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