NATIONAL

Not accepting U.S. offer on missile shield: Pranab

`Ready to accept critical inputs to bridge deficiency'

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday said "there was no question'' of accepting a missile defence shield from "anybody.'' Speaking in the context of American overtures regarding a missile defence shield, the Minister said there were gaps in the integrated guided missile defence programme but India would only accept critical inputs that bridged the deficiency. "If we don't get them, fine,'' he added, indicating that India would then explore other options, including indigenous development and approaching other countries chiefly Russia.

Background paper

In his first interaction with the media after signing the 10-year India-U.S. defence framework, the Minister said several meetings between officials of the two countries on the defence missile shield should not be read as accepting the U.S. offer to join its programme. Though Mr. Mukherjee was categorical in ruling out accepting a complete defence missile shield system, a background paper circulated at his interaction with the media stated that "the U.S. side also offered to advance the proposed briefing on the Patriot PAC-III (missile defence) system which is a part of phase-II of the next steps in strategic partnership (NSSP)''.

The Minister said he would shortly meet leaders of the Left parties to address their concerns on the India-U.S. defence framework. At the same time, "the Left parties have a particular ideological position with respect to the U.S. We have to keep in view that point,'' he said, adding that "every party is entitled to its point of view''.

He denied the framework would lead to India participating in a U.S.-led operation outside ambit of the United Nations. "We have a clear perception that we will participate in multinational operations under the U.N. That position has not changed. It is not necessary that after every mention of multinational, the word U.N. should be added.'' Mr. Mukherjee said India's position of participating only in U.N. mandate operations figured in the talks with his counterpart Donald Rumsfeld.

No contradiction

The Minister denied any of the framework's clauses contradicted the Common Minimum Programme. "Neither did I sign under duress nor did I apply pressure. It was an expression of intention,'' he said. The framework was simply a follow-up of the agreed minutes on defence cooperation signed in 1995 which was to expire after 10 years.

Mr. Mukherjee said the high point of his visit was the U.S. acceptance to India's desire of participating in the joint production of equipment and transfer of technology.

"No need to respond"

Special Correspondent

India need not respond to the revelation that the former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had used expletives against Indira Gandhi during the Bangladesh liberation struggle because the "Government of India had reacted very effectively in 1971," said Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Asked whether he had brought up this episode during his recent visit to the U.S., Mr. Mukherjee said, "It is not necessary to react if somebody says something insane. Anyway, he has apologised."

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