Thursday, Jun 12, 2003
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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
The Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, with the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, in front of a display of the signatures of American Presidents after their meeting at the Homeland Security Department in Washington on Tuesday. PTI
Addressing a press conference at the Indian Embassy on Tuesday at the end of his official visit to Washington, Mr. Advani said that unlike his last visit to the U.S., discussions were not Pakistan-centric this time round. "Last time, it was focussed almost entirely on the problem of terrorism and my visit certainly seemed to be Pakistan-centric. This time it is not so. Pakistan did figure in the talks, terrorism did figure in the talks, but not as much as last time," Mr. Advani said. His last visit to Washington was in January 2002 after the terrorist attack on Parliament House.
"I cannot say anything at this point of time and particularly so when the... (Pentagon) team is still to visit India and still to discuss the matter with the counterparts there." "... all aspects would be taken into account before a decision is taken," he said.
It would undoubtedly be a major political and diplomatic boost to the Bush administration if India agrees to send troops to Iraq as part of the stabilisation drive in that country. At the same time, New Delhi has raised specific issues including that of command and control and would prefer participation under the aegis of the United Nations.
The issue of Iraq was a major item on Mr. Advani's agenda of talks in the last three days here. With the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, this was the principal issue on Sunday; and the President, George W. Bush, started off his meeting with Iraq the following day.
The Bush administration is "keen" on India's participation and the reasons were "understandable", Mr. Advani said adding that he did not see pressure "of any kind" and that New Delhi was "free to take a decision".
The highpoint of Mr. Advani's visit, clearly, was the meeting with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush is said to have lauded the recent peace initiatives of the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and said that India could take an initiative "only when it is confident of its security" and that every nation had to look after its security.
In his prepared statement, Mr. Advani said that Mr. Bush had expressed warm admiration for Mr. Vajpayee's initiative of April 18 and that he deserved credit for it. Mr. Bush had assured Mr. Vajpayee in St. Petersburg that he would be speaking to Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, "about creating a climate in which this initiative could succeed".
Without getting into the specifics of his discussions either with various U.S. leaders, Mr. Advani said that his interactions had helped promote the objectives of covering the strategic nature of the bilateral relationship and the agenda for cooperation.
"The response I got convinced me that the American Government is earnestly endeavouring to recognise India as a major power. That kind of a relationship is being consciously built up," he said.
Mr. Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had conveyed to him that further steps were being taken to ensure progress on all issues including the "trinity" civilian space cooperation, nuclear energy and trade in high technology.
Mr. Advani was asked if the U.S. agreed that there could be no progress in relations between India and Pakistan unless cross-border terrorism stopped. "The American Government is conscious of all these facts but every government has its foreign policy interest to safeguard and those foreign policy interests may be based upon certain assessments with which India may not agree. That's a different matter," Mr. Advani said.
"But I give scope to every country even in its battle against terrorism to look after its own foreign policy interests. India would also like to do the same and, therefore, I have always held that cross-border terrorism so far as India is concerned is a problem which is essentially India's own," he said.
"And India is determined to overcome this problem on its own though we do feel that the international climate created against terrorism after September 11, 2001, has been of great help to us and it will continue to be of help to us," he said.
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