The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM shield for Natwar

New Delhi, Oct. 30: The Prime Minister today defended K. Natwar Singh against the charge of being one of the “non-contractual beneficiaries” of Iraq’s oil-for-food programme during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

Manmohan Singh made it clear that the facts mentioned in the UN probe report are “insufficient” and one cannot draw any “adverse conclusion” against the foreign minister from them.

The Prime Minister’s defence will be a morale-booster for Natwar. The Congress, which, too, has been tainted with the same brush by the UN report, has so far not offered much of a defence for the foreign minister.

Many had seen the party’s reaction yesterday ' when it said “individuals” were competent to defend themselves ' as an attempt to distance itself from the foreign minister. But the Prime Minister’s public statement has sent out a signal that Natwar is not being abandoned in his hour of crisis.

The foreign minister, who returned from Moscow last night, held a closed-door meeting with the Prime Minister.

“Natwar Singh categorically denied any involvement in the alleged illicit payments on oil transactions under the oil-for-food programme, as stated by the UN independent inquiry, the Volcker Committee report,” the Prime Minister’s media adviser, Sanjay Baru, told reporters.

“The Prime Minister agreed that the facts mentioned in table-3 of the report of the independent inquiry committee are insufficient to arrive at any adverse conclusion against the foreign minister and stands by him.”

Natwar had already denied the allegation. “I am deeply shocked and outraged by these allegations which are baseless and untrue,” he had said in a statement from Frankfurt yesterday before he boarded his flight to India.

Many believe that Natwar is perhaps being singled out from the long list of alleged “beneficiaries” because of India’s stand on Iran. The foreign minister’s visit to Tehran in September had raised concerns in Washington about the growing India-Iran ties.

Volcker’s allegation about him came out a day after he met the Iranian Vice-President in Moscow and stressed that Delhi would like the controversy over Tehran’s nuclear programme sorted out in the International Atomic Energy Agency rather than the UN Security Council.

Although Washington hasn’t officially reacted to the Moscow meeting, indications are the Bush administration may not be too happy with it or with Natwar’s comments.

But if the foreign minister has to prove his innocence and link the disclosure of Volcker’s charge with India’s stand on Iran, he needs the Left’s support.

The Left today demanded a probe into the allegations. “It should be noted in this context that the US and other Western countries who were instrumental in imposing the brutal sanctions for 11 years are biased against all those who had dealings with the then iraqi government,” a statement issued by the CPM added.

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