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`Govt. will consider troops for Iraq if there is clear U.N. mandate'

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI JULY 23. The Government today assured the Lok Sabha that it would consider sending troops to Iraq only if there was a "clear and explicit U.N. mandate" even as it sought to ward off criticism from the Opposition for "entertaining" the U.S. request despite a Parliament resolution against the U.S.-U.K. military action.

Replying to a flurry of supplementaries during question hour, the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, denied charges — which flew in thick and fast — that the Government was under pressure from the U.S. to send troops. "Let me state in clear and categorical terms that India is not under pressure from anyone, and India does not function under pressure," he said.

About his conversation with the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on Monday evening, Mr. Sinha said the former had wanted to know whether India would consider sending troops if there was a broader U.N. mandate. Even so, Mr. Sinha made it clear that the Government would still "only consider sending troops".

The matter came up after the House witnessed some early disruption and the remaining duration of question hour was taken up by the one question on deployment of troops. In his written reply, the Minister said: "the Government had decided, after careful consideration, that it could consider the deployment of troops in Iraq, were there to be an explicit U.N. mandate for the purpose".

Citing Parliament's resolution on Iraq in which members had called for the immediate withdrawal of coalition troops, the Opposition said the Government had violated it by considering the U.S. request. "Why was the request even considered" was the contention of Priyaranjan Dasmunshi of the Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Rupchand Pal of the CPI (M), and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party.

The Minister sought to pacify the members and maintained that the resolution had not been violated. He assured them that in the eventuality of a U.N. mandate, all aspects including its scope, the risks involved, the command structure, the ground reality, and Parliament's resolution would be considered before accepting any request.

Further, Mr. Sinha sought to impress upon the House that there was no difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition on this issue by quoting from the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi's letter to the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on Iraq. But to little avail, and it was only the close of question hour that put an end to the war of words.

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