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September 9, 2000
George W Bush calls up Vajpayee
Savera R Someshwar in New York
The minister for external affairs was late by 15 minutes. He had been held up by "an urgent phone conversation."
George W Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, had sought a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was this conversation that has delayed Jaswant Singh.
Though he would not go into many details about the conversation between the two, Singh made it clear that the Texas governor's office had requested the call. "There are about 174 leaders here for the Millennium Summit, but to our knowledge Prime Minister Vajpayee is the only leader with whom the Republican presidential candidate has sought a conversation."
Singh added that the prime minister had been deeply appreciative of the Republican stand on India. Bush, in turn, was equally appreciative of the contribution of both people of Indian origin as well as non-resident Indians residing in the United States.
When asked what kind of relationship Singh expected between New Delhi and Washington if the Republicans came to power in November conventional wisdom in India has it that the Republicans are not kindly inclined towards India the minister was quick to respond. "Indo-US relations are not dependent on any individual or party. As the prime minister told Mr Bush, India and the US are natural allies."
The prime minister, of course, is not endorsing either the Republican or the Democratic nominees. The Democratic candidate, US Vice-President Al Gore Jr, will host a lunch in Vajpayee's honour in Washington next week.
For the next couple of days, Singh has 14 bilateral meetings scheduled with leaders representing their countries at the Millennium Summit. He said he was pleased to notice an increased awareness of terrorism and found the international community far more mindful of India's position.
While Singh refused to comment on the bilateral meeting between India and Bangladesh "It would defy the very nature of a bilateral meet" he was more forthcoming on Pakistan Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf's media blitz at the UN. The general has held two press conferences in as many days, as opposed to the Indian leader who has held none.
"To begin with, I would not like to call it a media blitz. That is definitely not my understanding of what has been happening here. He is well within his rights to do what he is doing. And the US media is free to print what they think is worth printing," the minister said with a laugh.
He rejected General Musharraf's contention that the UN should view East Timor and Kashmir as identical problems. "That is untenable," Singh said. "East Timor was occupied. Kashmir is integral to India. If we are talking about occupation, it is Pakistan who have occupied Indian territory."
"India's position on this is explicit. I would like to quote our prime minister on this: Atankwad aur samwad saath-saath nahi chal sakte," he added.
Singh strongly denied any negativism towards Pakistan in Vajpayee's speech. "The prime minister's speech was not negative towards Pakistan. Look at what has happened in recent times Lahore, Kargil, the coup (in Pakistan), Kandahar, the killings in Kashmir Our position is explict. Give up violence. The chief executive of Pakistan has gone against the Simla accord. They have been breaking agreements they have signed on. They have been promoting violence and cross border terrorism."
Singh added that India refuses to accept jihad as an instrument of foreign policy. "Jihad is not acceptable," he insisted, "as a cry against India. More citizens of India follow Islam than in many other countries. Is this jihad against those citizens? Any such thing would be totally unacceptable to India."
"No," smiled Singh, "we have not made any effort to avoid Pakistan. In fact, the Pakistan chief executive and I were in the same room during the opening ceremony of the Millennium Summit. But Pakistan has made no such effort for any kind of meeting on any level."
Singh also tackled questions about Vajpayee's ill-health. "There have been many rumours about the prime minister's health. But I would like to assure you that he is not suffering from many kinds of diseases as is being rumoured. Yes, he has a knee problem and is finding it difficult to walk. That was established even before he left India. But then, as an ancient saying goes, you can cure everything except rumours."
rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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