Wednesday, Sep 10, 2003
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By Our Diplomatic Correspondent
The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (right), welcoming the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, at the Hyderabad House, New Delhi, on Tuesday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty
In an interview to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, Mr. Vajpayee, when asked about public attacks on the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said: "It's all politics".
Asked whether he approved of Israel's assassination policy and whether his own country should adopt it, Mr. Vajpayee maintained a "diplomatic silence". Pressed to respond to Israel's attempt last Saturday to kill Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Prime Minister uttered a short sentence fraught with meaning. "Violence," Mr. Vajpayee said, "does not contribute to anything."
The Prime Minister also pointed out that while serving in office, a predecessor, the former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, had met the then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and that some politicians in India who had voiced opposition to the Sharon trip had themselves visited Israel.
"I believe India and Israel should focus on building bilateral relations on the basis of shared perspectives and commonalities between our two democracies. This has to be a forward-looking exercise, rather than harking back to perceptions of the past."
"India has a consistent and well-known position on terrorism. We oppose all acts of terrorism, wherever they occur. We have repeatedly said that no cause can justify violence and destruction, particularly aimed at civilians.
"The circumstances under which we are tackling the menace of cross-border terrorism are different from those prevailing in the Middle-East. But we do not really need to make comparisons. Our objective should be to firmly deal with terrorism and its sponsors, financiers and arms suppliers. At the same time, our doors should always be open for processes which would restore peace, development and progress to societies which have been devastated by terrorism over many generations."
Maintaining that India had welcomed the "road map" in West Asia, Mr. Vajpayee said this had been done in the in the hope that it would guide the region away from violence and lead to the realisation of the vision of two independent states of Israel and Palestine, coexisting in peace, within secure borders.
It would, of course, be the actions of the governments and peoples of the region that would determine how best this road map could be implemented.
While Israel's efforts to export the Phalcon system to China were stopped, the veto was lifted in favour of India. Yet the U.S. blocked Indian efforts to obtain the Israeli Arrow missile system. How does India react to this?
"After the U.S. lifted sanctions on India in September 2001, our Governments have been addressing this issue of liberalising the regime for trade in high-technology defence systems. We have made some progress and are hopeful that our regular dialogue will clear up the remaining hurdles in this process."
In retrospect, how does India see the war in Iraq now, nearly six months after it started? How do you see the arguments put forward by the U.S. and UK in support of the war? What would India's reaction be if the Americans were to extend their Iraq policy to countries like Iran, Syria and even to North Korea?
"From the start, India had hoped the issue would be resolved peacefully through diplomatic efforts and that war would be avoided. We were therefore disappointed at the outbreak of war. That is behind us now. Iraq now faces enormous challenges, ranging from security to reconstruction to the peaceful restoration of sovereignty to its people. We hope the international community can come together to address those challenges effectively. There must be a central role for the UN in this endeavour. It would be unwise to see parallels of Iraq in other countries of the region."
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