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Bush, Advani discuss issue of troops for Iraq

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

The Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, with the U.S. President, George Bush and the U.S. National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice (second from left), at the White House in Washington on Monday. — PTI

WASHINGTON JUNE 10. Issues of cross-border terrorism and the possibility of sending Indian troops to Iraq as part of a peacekeeping-cum-stabilisation operation were high on the agenda of the discussion between the United States President, George W. Bush, and the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, at the White House on Monday.

Mr. Advani had gone to the White House for a meeting with the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, when Mr. Bush very soon dropped by.

The meeting between Mr. Advani and Mr. Bush lasted about 30 minutes, officials and diplomats said.

Mr. Bush is said to have raised at the outset the possibility of India sending troops to Iraq for peace-keeping operations and Mr. Advani replied that the Cabinet Committee on Security had discussed the issue twice and still needed some clarifications. Mr. Bush then responded that a team of experts from the Pentagon would be visiting India next Monday to provide all clarifications.

The U.S. is keen on India's participation in the peacekeeping and stabilisation process in Iraq and had indicated last month its desire to have a fairly large contingent of Indian troops in that country. New Delhi has raised some pointed questions on the exact role for its troops. Questions on the duration of the troops in Iraq and the command structure have also been raised.

The issue also came up on Sunday during the meeting between Mr. Advani and the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the broad indication given by Mr. Advani is that aside from addressing specific concerns there would have to be a political consensus of sorts back home.

Cross-border terrorism was one of the major issues discussed at the White House meeting, with Mr. Advani apparently telling Mr. Bush that incidents of terror had not gone down. Mr. Bush assured Mr. Bush that he would be taking up this specific subject when he meets the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, at Camp David on June 24.

Mr. Advani is said to have stressed that bilateral relations have to be kept in perspective.

Later, Mr. Advani said that Mr. Bush had greatly appreciated the initiatives taken by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and noted that this kind of initiative could be taken only if India was confident about its security. Mr. Bush agreed that "every country has to look after its security". Mr. Bush was particularly appreciative of Mr. Vajpayee's speech in Srinagar that "gave political space to our neighbour".

Mr. Advani said that India hoped Pakistan would respond positively to this initiative and that this would yield results.

In his meeting with Mr. Bush and Dr. Rice, Mr. Advani is said to have made the point that India was happy with the evolving relationship with the U.S. in a number of areas including defence cooperation.

Reflecting on his talks with senior members of the administration and on the nature and scope of bilateral relations, he stressed that Indo-U.S. relations were now on a different level altogether and that these were not tied to any specific issue.

"It is not an alliance of convenience. It is a principled relationship between the world's biggest democracies, the largest and the strongest. It is proceeding very satisfactorily," Mr. Advani said.

On Tuesday, the final day of his visit, Mr. Advani had a meeting with the Vice-President,, Dick Cheney, at the White House. He later left for the Department of Homeland Security for a session with the newly-appointed Secretary, Tom Ridge.

Mr. Advani is here on an official visit at the invitation of the Vice-President who by all accounts is a known hawk within the Bush administration with strong views on terrorism.

Details of the meeting between Mr. Advani and Mr. Cheney were not immediately available and could be shared by the Deputy Prime Minister at a news conference scheduled for later this afternoon at the Embassy of India. Mr. Advani leaves Washington for Chicago and Los Angeles later today.

Related Stories:
High-level dialogue only after infiltration ends: Advani
Advani, Ashcroft discuss counter-terrorism

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