The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq in mind, charm on Bush’s lips

New York, Sept. 20: It was an indication of India’s increased stature in the community of nations and the heightened respect that flows from it after New Delhi’s firm refusal to send troops to Iraq.

As Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s special aircraft entered US air space, heading for New York, delegates to the UN General Assembly were voting at an emergency session to discuss “illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories”.

By an overwhelming 133 votes in favour, four against and 15 abstentions, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israel to drop its threat to “remove” Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

As the votes were being cast, reporters and diplomats scrambled to see how India had voted.

After all, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is seldom invited anywhere other than to Washington because of the popular perception worldwide that he is a war criminal, had just been to New Delhi!

Did that have any effect on the Indian vote' Did New Delhi’s representative at least abstain on the vote scolding Israel taken in the General Assembly in defiance of a US veto in the Security Council only three days earlier on a similar resolution'

India not only did not abstain, but voted with the huge majority of nations that included the UK, France and Germany in support of the resolution to protect Arafat.

All through the coming week, Vajpayee’s actions and statements here will be closely monitored by the international community much more than at any annual General Assembly gathering since 1998 when India announced that it had become a nuclear power.

Of intense interest will be Vajpayee’s meeting with President George W Bush, scheduled as of now for 11.15 am local time (8.45 pm IST) on Tuesday.

The Americans make no secret of their analysis that if India had acceded to their request for troops, many other countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, would have found it impossible to resist Washington’s pressure.

For this reason, they still want India to say “yes” to their request for troops.

Contrary to public perception, the Iraq issue will not dominate talks between Bush and Vajpayee, but will certainly figure in their discussions. Sources in Washington said the US recognises that it will be counter-productive to put any pressure.

Bush believes he is a persuasive charmer. Therefore, on Tuesday Bush is expected to charm Vajpayee with an offer of a historic agreement to expand high technology cooperation.

The White House reckons that progress on cooperation on civilian nuclear energy, space programmes and sale of dual use civilian-military technological equipment has a far better chance of getting India to send troops to Iraq than pressure.

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