- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said yesterday that he expects India and the United States to finalize an agreement early next week for India to send peacekeepers to Iraq.

A Pentagon team will visit New Delhi next week to offer “clarifications” sought by members of India’s ruling coalition government, Mr. Advani told The Washington Times.

He said the U.S. request for Indian troops in Iraq was made some time ago and repeated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday.

India’s Cabinet Committee on Security, which has discussed the U.S. request twice before, will decide on offering troops after the visit by the Pentagon team, Mr. Advani said.

“A decision was not taken [immediately] because certain questions were raised by members of the government, and it was felt that we should have clarifications in that regard,” he said.

According to Indian officials, New Delhi initially wanted to send troops only under the auspices of the United Nations, but last month’s U.N. Security Council resolution approving the U.S.-British transitional authority in Iraq cleared that obstacle.

The Pentagon team, which will arrive Monday, will also discuss New Delhi’s desire for a substantial role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

“All these are interlinked. We would like to participate,” Mr. Advani said.

India has experience in dealing with Iraq, and Indians were “active” in the country before the U.S.-led war, he said. Thousands of Indian citizens work in Persian Gulf countries, sending home large amounts of money. New Delhi had cited economic impact as a reason for its reservations about the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Mr. Advani, who is here on a three-day visit at the invitation of Vice President Dick Cheney, also met National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

President Bush dropped in at a White House meeting with Miss Rice on Monday. They discussed defense relations and ongoing U.S.-India cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Considered a hawk in India’s Hindu nationalist government, Mr. Advani sought increased U.S. pressure on Pakistan to stop the infiltration of Pakistan-based militants into Indian-held Kashmir.

Under U.S. pressure last year, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a televised speech, promised to rein in Kashmiri militants. Since then, several U.S. officials have visited the region to follow up on the promise.

But more than 15 months later, “there has been no change in the situation” in Kashmir, and there has been a series of major terrorist attacks, Mr. Advani said.

He is believed to have provided Mr. Ashcroft with documents to support that claim.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during a landmark visit to Kashmir in April, announced a series of steps to improve relations with Pakistan.

Since then, the two countries have restored diplomatic ties — severed after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 — and have revived airline service. Officials from the two countries are also discussing details of restarting a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore, Pakistan.

Mr. Advani Mr. Bush, at a meeting with Mr. Vajpayee in St. Petersburg, Russia, last week, offered to discuss the Kashmir situation with Gen. Musharraf when he visits Washington later this month.

Gen. Musharraf will meet with Mr. Bush at Camp David on June 24. The informal atmosphere is expected to encourage a frank discussion. But the setting, which Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar called a “rare distinction” last week, may not go down well with India, which believes Gen. Musharraf is getting favorable treatment from Washington despite his failure to curb terror groups.

India, which backed the Soviet Union during the Cold War, has become one of the closest U.S. allies in Asia. The two countries have conducted a series of joint military exercises in India and Alaska and have set up a defense-policy group that periodically reviews the level of cooperation. The two countries also have been discussing cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.

Last month, Washington allowed Israel to sell India three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft — which it stopped Israel from giving China in 1998.

Mr. Advani said the “rapid transformation” in the relations between India and the United States in the past few years “is to the mutual advantage” of the two greatest democracies — “one the largest and the other the strongest.”

According to Indian news reports, the Bush administration is considering a NATO-like alliance in Asia, anchored in India, to counter the growing influence of China.

Mr. Advani said “a formal proposal for an alliance never came up” for discussion and added that India does not consider China a threat. He noted that Mr. Vajpayee is scheduled to visit China later this month.

“It is the legitimate desire of China to grow, become more powerful. And we are developing on our own,” he said. “Healthy competition between two major countries the size of China and India will be a good thing for both.”

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