- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2005

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets President Bush today, he will receive assurances of U.S. help in preserving the Bengal tiger, but no support for India’s bid to secure a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.

Briefing reporters on Mr. Singh’s visit Friday, a senior State Department official was lavish in his praise of India. He said the Bush administration “certainly had no higher priority than broadening our relationship with India,” building on “shared strategic objectives and shared values.”

In addition to signing a deal for expert U.S. help to preserve the Bengal tiger, now an endangered species, Mr. Singh’s talks in Washington were expected to produce bilateral agreements on economic cooperation, science and technology, and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Singh’s trip had been elevated to include a rare state dinner tonight “to convey a sense of respect for India and convey a sense of the importance of the relationship,” the official said.

However, the administration has been firm in its rejection of a motion in the U.N. General Assembly that would, if successful, open the way for India to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

India, Brazil, Germany and Japan — known collectively as the G-4 — have proposed the addition of 10 seats to the Security Council, six of them permanent and four nonpermanent, with themselves taking four of the permanent seats.

The enlargement motion is being debated in the General Assembly and will be voted upon in the middle of this week. But the official said Mr. Singh’s visit would in no way change the Bush administration’s opposition to the proposal at this juncture.

The stated U.S. policy is that the United Nations should concentrate on what Washington regards as more pressing aspects of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s comprehensive reform plan, such as its budget, its administrative structure, the need to establish a new human rights mechanism to replace the current commission, and its peacekeeping operations.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli, the State Department’s adviser on U.N. reform, told the General Assembly last week: “Let me be as clear as possible. The U.S. does not think any proposal to expand the Security Council, including one based on our own ideas, should be voted upon at this stage.”

An Indian journalist in Washington on Friday called the statement “rather strident,” and said that, given its timing so close to Mr. Singh’s visit, it had been seen in New Delhi as a snub to the prime minister.

The State Department official said Mrs. Tahir-Kheli’s comment was “respectful and even somber.” Any action now on expanding the Security Council, said the official, would be “putting the cart before the horse.”

How could the United Nations, with all its problems, “spend 98 percent of its time” talking about reforming the Security Council, the official asked.

“The G-4 are some of our closest friends in the world, and the fact that we don’t support them on this is not directed against them. … It’s not a snub to India. It’s about the United Nations.”

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