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Troops to Iraq not ruled out: PM
Aziz Haniffa in New York | September 26, 2003 22:48 IST
Last Updated: September 27, 2003 00:05 IST
Sending Indian troops to Iraq has not been ruled out, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at a press conference in New York on Friday.
He, however, said there is no question of sending troops in the foreseeable future.
India is waiting for a decision from the United Nations and the United States, he said, adding its own stand remains unchanged.
India wants a situation where Iraqis can take the destiny of their country into their own hands, the PM said.
Meanwhile, he said, the major issues are peace enforcement and reconstruction. Referring to his talks with US President George W Bush, he said much as India wants to help America, its internal security preoccupations preclude the sending of troops at this juncture. Bush has understood and accepted this, he said.
India will continue to help in reconstruction, in any and all ways possible, the PM said.
Given that the interaction was meant for the Indian media, questions on Pakistan, Kashmir and cross-border terrorism were inevitable.
Asked if he has heard the comment made by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and members of his delegation that India is the mother of terrorism, Vajpayee said the mother of over 100 crore people living together in amity does not need to explain her position on the issue.
India has been, and will be, against terrorism and for peaceful settlement of disputes, the PM said.
"I don't know the context in which Musharraf made that statement, so I do not want to say too much about it," Vajpayee said.
India has extended the hand of friendship thrice, and Pakistan has chosen to waffle on each occasion, he said.
Vajpayee said: "Pakistan says let us talk on other issues, when the single biggest issue is terrorism and the daily loss of lives."
Why, he asked, is Pakistan forgetting the Lahore talks? This change, this amnesia, he said, is a recent phenomenon, which he could not explain.
Asked if, in context of continued terrorism, extending the hand of friendship would not be seen as weakness, Vajpayee said, "A desire for peace is never seen as weakness; it is, in fact, a sign of strength. India is not weak; if proof of India's strength, and its ability to defend its integrity and sovereignty, were needed, Kargil demonstrated it. The people understand that India seeks peace out of strength, not weakness; the world understands it.
"What the people, and the world, do not understand is Pakistan's role."
Asked whether the subject has been discussed with Bush, Vajpayee replied in the affirmative, and then took a few pot shots at the American president and Administration.
"During the luncheon meeting earlier this week with President Bush, he admitted that cross-border terrorism had in fact escalated in recent weeks.
"I do not know if the US is putting enough pressure on Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism; they say they are, but you can see what is happening."
Responding to a supplementary question on whether the American leader has pressed for India to have a dialogue with Pakistan, Vajpayee said, "Yes, President Bush has been saying that for a long time.
"He says the same thing to Pakistan. As far as India is concerned, as long as training camps continue to exist, and we know they exist, as long as people continue to be inducted into these camps and trained in the weapons of terror, as long as these camps are not dismantled, there can be no discussions, no talks."
At this point, a journalist asked why India, if it knows where the camps are, does not cross the border and take them out. "That is a great question," Vajpayee said, nodded, and paused for the laughter that followed.
Asked whether he thought Musharraf has received tremendous exposure in the American media, Vajpayee said, "The media is a democratic institution. You cannot complain about who gets coverage and who does not. We certainly are not complaining."
Vajpayee, in response to other questions, discussed the need for reforms at the United Nations in general and the Security Council in particular.
He said the problem of a weak Security Council is already apparent, vis-à-vis the Iraq issue.
"How do we know the same thing will not happen again, with some other country?" he asked. "How do we ensure that it does not repeat itself?"
The answer, he said, is to make the Security Council more reflective of the current geopolitical situation; to stop treating it as a private club, and bring in other members.
Rediff.com drew the PM's attention to the reported statement made by his deputy, Lal Kishenchand Advani, to the effect that Bush had disappointed by not mentioning, in his speech before the General Assembly, India as one of the countries affected by, and fighting against, terrorism.
Asked whether he agreed with Advani's statement, Vajpayee said, "Bush did not mention it, but (UN Secretary-General) Kofi Annan did.
"Yes, we are disappointed. We are disappointed with many countries in the world, who do not recognise our struggle against what is a global evil.
"We have been fighting terrorism for a long time now, and whether it is recognised or not, we will continue to fight terrorism, in India and wherever else it occurs."
When his attention was drawn to the spate of killings of members of the Sikh community in the US -- the latest having taken place earlier this week in Arizona -- Vajpayee said this issue has been brought up with the US Administration; that India has conveyed to the US the seriousness with which it views the incidents; the Administration, he said, has promised to address the issue with all seriousness.
A related question about the provisions of the Patriot Act, however, saw Vajpayee being noncommittal. "We will leave it alone."
He was equally noncommittal on questions relating to domestic events, saying he preferred, for now, to focus on the UNGA.