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Serious crisis in Iraq, says PM

By Amit Baruah

MOSCOW NOV. 13. The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said today that the "serious crisis" in Iraq called for "immediate steps" from the United Nations, but the "principal responsibility" for dealing with the situation lay with the United States.

Mr. Vajpayee, who arrives in Damascus, Syria, from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Friday night, said that innocent people were becoming victims in Iraq. "There is violence, people are being killed," he said at a reception for the Indian community.

In what were, perhaps, his most detailed comments on Iraq on foreign soil, Mr. Vajpayee said that India and some big countries had different approaches to the issue. Without referring to the U.S. and Britain directly, he said India's views were in line with other big countries [a possible reference to Russia, France and Germany].

On the U.S. request to India to send troops to Iraq, the Prime Minister said that Washington had been informed that New Delhi had its "own difficulties" in dispatching its military personnel. One, the threat on India's borders and, two, concerns over internal security.

"Ham aap par aane vale sankat ki chinta karen ya apni chinta ki chinta karen" (Should we be worried about America's problems or be guided by our own concerns), the Prime Minister asked.

India was a massive country and there was some problem somewhere or the other. "Internal security is very important to us. We had to tell our friends that it was not possible to send troops to Iraq. They understood our difficulties."

Now a dangerous situation existed in Iraq. "We hope that the problems there will be resolved," he maintained. Parliament had passed a unanimous resolution that the country should remain out of the "mess" [jhamela] in Iraq.

The Prime Minister said he was heading a coalition Government, adding that even on such a big issue such as Iraq the country was one. Both opponents and friends understood that "one person" did not take decisions on crucial issues in India. "Everyone decides together," with the Government consulting the Opposition, he said. It was the Opposition's job to "oppose" and the Government's "raj dharma" to govern.

He said that visitors to India were often surprised how the country and people managed to get along. "I said that when it came to living together, we turn silent. Is it necessary to speak," he asked.

"Sometimes, keeping quiet is the correct thing to do. This `mantra' applies to international politics as well." Governments might change in India, but the main features of the foreign policy remained the same.

Referring to his talks spread over two days with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister said that India's relations with Russia had flowered, irrespective of the party holding power in New Delhi. Despite the changes in the world, India-Russia friendship held firm and both countries contributed to global peace and stability. His visit to Russia was "successful, useful and helpful", and the areas covered included defence, science and technology and trade. "We call our friendship strategic partnership," he said stressing that India and Russia were prepared to take on new challenges. "We can rely on them (Russians) and they can rely on us (Indians)."

India was emerging as an economic power — there was a new respect for the country. There was, he said, using an English phrase in his Hindi address, a "feel good" factor about India. To much merriment, he said he could not translate this English phrase into Hindi.

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