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Armitage trip off

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By PRANAY SHARMA in Delhi
  • Published 9.11.04
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New Delhi, Nov. 9: US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who was to have arrived from Islamabad late tonight, has called off his visit to India to attend Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan?s funeral in Abu Dhabi.

The United Arab Emirates ruler died last week.

The cancellation of Armitage?s visit comes at a time when the Left parties, which have been supporting the Congress-led government from outside, have expressed displeasure over growing Indo-US ties.

However, Delhi has made it clear there will be no shift in its policy towards Washington and that, if anything, it only wants to strengthen India?s ties with the US. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also took the opportunity of George W. Bush?s re-election as US President to invite him to India.

US officials said it was Armitage who took the decision to call off the Indian leg of his visit after he was asked by Washington to go for the funeral. Armitage has already visited Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The deputy secretary has reportedly informed South Block about the change.

Both Armitage and assistant secretary of state for South Asia Christina Rocca were part of the American team. Now neither Armitage nor Rocca or any member of the delegation will be here.

Officially, India did not react to the cancellation. But there were indications that it had been called off because of ?rescheduling problems?.

Foreign minister K. Natwar Singh and foreign secretary Shyam Saran are both part of Singh?s delegation to The Hague for the India-European Union summit. Singh and his entourage are scheduled to return tomorrow morning.

As Armitage would have had to leave for the UAE during the day, it would have left little time for any meaningful interaction between the two sides. However, another version hints at Delhi?s reluctance to deal with Armitage, who may well be on his way out.

Soon after his re-election, Bush said he wanted to retain his earlier team. But Armitage reportedly has been telling people close to him that he wants to leave and set up his own consultancy service.

Whatever may be the real reason, the Indians are not complaining about the cancellation of the trip.

The foreign secretary will be in Washington between November 17 and 18 to hold talks on the action plan on the Next Steps on Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with US officials. It will give him the chance to interact with key figures likely to be part of the new Bush administration and express the Indian government?s desire to build on the strong bilateral ties.

The new government in Washington will come into office after January 20 and Delhi knows that a clear picture of the players in Bush?s second term will emerge only after that.