The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Horror of horrors: A hug

Washington, Sept. 13: For Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is heading for Cuba for the non-aligned summit, the choice of a new external affairs minister is the least of his worries.

Singh has been inundated with requests for bilateral meetings in Havana, not all such requests from leaders he will be comfortable to be photographed with.

The Prime Ministerís biggest dilemma is that Iranís president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to meet him in Havana.

Photographs showing Singh and Ahmadinejad will make many Americans in the White House, the state department and on Capitol Hill hit the roof precisely at a time when the Indo-US nuclear deal is expected to come up in the US Senate for a final vote.

Indian officials travelling with Singh, who is now in Brazil en route to Cuba, are piously hoping that Ahmadinejad will not at least hug the Prime Minister if and when their meeting takes place on the sidelines of the NAM summit.

Last year when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly, Singh agreed to meet Ahmadinejad, but cancelled the meeting after it was scheduled, according to Iranian diplomats at the UN.

It added to Tehranís resentment towards New Delhi, compounding the ill-feeling caused by Indiaís stand against Iranís nuclear programme at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This time, however, a meeting with the Iranian leader will be hard to avoid: in Havana, at a summit parallel to that of the NAM, Iran will take over the chair of the G15 group of developing countries from Algeria.

India is an active member of the G15 and Singhís next dilemma over Iran will be whether to travel to Tehran if the groupís summit is held under Ahmadinejadís presidency in his country.

The six-day summitís official-level talks began in Havana on September 11 with not a single speaker making even a passing reference to the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

NAMís silence on the events of September 11, 2001, immediately angered the Americans.

The Republican co-chair of the US Congressional Caucus on India, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said in a statement: ďTo host the summit on the fifth anniversary of the monstrous and despicable terrorist attacks of 9/11 only reinforces the odious view that the Cuban regime has toward western nations where freedom and democracy thrive.Ē

The Cubans are taunting the Americans. Mocking the Bush coinage of ďaxis of evilĒ, Cubaís deputy foreign minister Abelardo Moreno said yesterday: ďI canít help thinking that the Ďaxis of evilí is growing and will soon be made up of 118 nations,Ē NAMís current strength.

What is worse for the Americans, Fidel Castroís government extended an invitation to the US to attend the Havana summit.

The US has attended several previous NAM summits as a ďguestĒ, but Michael Parmly, head of the US mission to Cuba, which functions under the Swiss flag, said he did not even pick up the invitation from the foreign ministry in Havana.

Singhís other worries are over the question of associating with the summitís political declaration drafted by the Cubans, its stand on Lebanon and any meeting with Hamas leaders, in case the Palestine delegation is led by Hamas and not Fatah.

The summitís stand on Iranís nuclear programme is unlikely to pose problems since Tehranís talks with the Europeans are on track for a negotiated settlement.

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