Indian officials this week are considering a U.S. request for New Delhi to send troops to Iraq as part of a postwar security force. Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani says a final decision will be made after a Pentagon team visits New Delhi next week to clarify a series of unanswered questions about the proposal.
Prague, 11 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani says his talks with senior officials in Washington this week have been dominated by one issue -- a request by the United States for India to send security forces to Iraq.
Advani says that since he arrived in Washington on 8 June, the issue of deploying Indian troops to Iraq has surfaced in almost all of his talks with U.S. officials.
"My meeting with the government leaders started with the Defense Secretary [Donald Rumsfeld on 8 June], so that was the principal issue on the very first day," Advani said. "Of course, it has continued throughout with almost every leader."
Significantly, Advani's talks included a 30-minute unscheduled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on 9 June. President Bush dropped by unexpectedly while Advani was meeting in the White House with U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Advani says he told Bush that New Delhi's Cabinet Committee on Security had twice discussed the U.S. request for troops to be sent to Iraq. He said the Indian government must first clarify several issues linked to the U.S. request.
Advani says Bush responded by ordering a team from the Pentagon to travel to New Delhi on 16 June to clarify those issues. The Indian deputy prime minister also denied reports that Washington is trying to pressure New Delhi into sending the troops to Iraq: "I can only say that the government of America was keen that India participate in this process -- and India send its troops. And the reasons are understandable. But I did not see pressure of any kind."
Advani's talks this week also have included meetings with senior U.S. officials like Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
India's opposition Congress Party has complained the U.S. proposal that New Delhi send troops to Iraq is ambiguous in many respects.
An influential right-wing Hindu group, considered the ideological parent of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also has voiced opposition to the U.S. request. The BJP is the largest party in the National Democratic Alliance coalition that governs India.
Those opposed to the deployments want to know whether Indian troops would serve under the U.S. military command structure or be authorized by a new United Nations Security Council resolution.
They are asking how long Indian troops would be required to stay in Iraq and whether India would be associated in any way with the political reform process there.
They also want to know if Indian soldiers would be tasked strictly with law enforcement duties or whether they might also be called upon to handle possible political revolts in Iraq.
In the strongest indication yet that New Delhi may be favorably considering troop deployments in Iraq, Advani today called the opponents of the move "uninformed." In an interview from Washington broadcast on Indian television today, Advani said Vajpayee's government would base its final decision upon what is best for India's national interests.
Advani also reportedly has told U.S. officials that before any Indian troops are sent to Iraq, New Delhi wants to see Washington bring pressure on Pakistan to end cross-border incursions into Indian-administered Kashmir by Islamic militants.
President Bush is due to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Washington on 24 June.
The United States is now in talks with 41 different countries in an attempt to encourage different forms of aid that could help bring stability and security to Iraq.
Rumsfeld, who is on a tour of Europe this week, said in Portugal yesterday that he hopes to start seeing troop deployments from other countries within three months.
"We are hopeful that we will get a sizeable set of forces in Iraq. The first ones, I would think, would likely be some time maybe in September and then others could be added over time."
Rumsfeld sought to dispel the idea that order can be restored in Iraq only if U.S. forces are supplemented by large numbers of troops from other countries.
He said thousands of Iraqis already have been deployed in joint patrols with American forces in Iraq, and that those mixed patrols have helped improve the security situation.
He said one of the main security problems is attacks on U.S. forces by Iraqis allegedly linked to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.
"The remnants of the Iraqi regime -- the Fedayeen Saddam and the Ba'athists and some, very likely, special Republican Guard folks -- are still there, and they are the ones that are periodically attacking coalition forces, sometimes successfully," Rumsfeld said. "Do I think that's going to disappear in the next month or two or three? No. Will it disappear when some two or three divisions of coalition forces arrive in the country? No. It will take time to root out the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime and we intend to do it."
The issue of Indian troop deployments to Iraq also is expected to be raised during Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's talks with Indian officials in New Delhi on 16 June.
In a statement yesterday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Ivanov intends to discuss the situation in Iraq along with the broader issues of global strategic stability, international security, and the international fight against terrorism.