NATIONAL

Position on missile defence to be discussed: Natwar Singh

NEW DELHI, JUNE 1. The new Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) will discuss the position taken by the Vajpayee Government supporting the United States on its anti-ballistic missile shield plan, the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, said at a press conference today.

Stating that he was not competent to speak on the matter, Mr. Singh said the still-to-be-constituted CCS would look at the issue "very minutely." On whether the new Government would review the Vajpayee Government's nuclear doctrine, he said the question should be put to the National Security Adviser, J.N. Dixit.

He said that while India's nuclear programme was transparent, Abdul Qadeer Khan had been running a private proliferation programme in Pakistan. The position that the Pakistan Government was not aware of Mr. Khan's activities "does great injury to our intelligence."

Asked if the Manmohan Singh-led Government would correct the "pro-U.S. tilt" in bilateral relations, he quoted the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in Washington in 1982. "We stand straight. We do not have any tilt," Indira Gandhi had said when asked about India's "pro-Soviet" position.

On whether India would send troops to Iraq, Mr. Singh said the draft U.N. Security Council resolution was still being discussed. Last year, the Congress had opposed sending troops to Iraq under U.S. command. Hoping that it would be a consensus resolution, Mr. Singh said the entire issue had to be discussed with other friends as well. He pointed out that a country such as Spain had withdrawn its troops from Iraq.

Without naming any country, Mr. Singh referred to the weakening and bypassing of the United Nations and the formulation of new doctrines. No country, he said, could take a decision on regime change.

On the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), he told a reporter that a distinction had to be drawn between non-alignment and the Non-Aligned Movement itself. NAM needed renovation and re-invention and said that the new issues of terrorism, AIDS, ecology, poverty, hunger and the problems faced by underdeveloped countries should be on the movement's agenda.

Asked whether NAM was relevant, Mr. Singh posed a counter-question: If NAM was irrelevant, how was the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) relevant? How was it that NATO, instead of disbanding itself, was expanding?

Referring to his projected "image" of an "out-of-date-cold warrior," Mr. Singh wanted to know who the "enemy" was today. He felt that though the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, its "fallout" still continued.

Mr. Singh said the Government attached the highest importance to having acrimony-free and multi-faceted relations with the U.S. Admitting that there were differences of opinion with Washington, Mr. Singh said these would not be aired publicly, but addressed diplomatically and tactfully.

He said the opinion of a change in relations towards the U.S. was unfounded, stressing that mutual respect, understanding and cooperation would mark bilateral relations. Goodwill, not "growling," will be the approach towards the U.S. On relations with Israel, Mr. Singh said that India had favoured the creation of two states when Israel came into existence. While New Delhi valued its relations with Tel Aviv, these would not be at the expense of sacrificing the rights and interests of the Palestinian people.

The new Government would continue with the India-Russia-China meetings at the Foreign Ministers'-level and with the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum.

Mr. Singh said he would visit Nepal on June 4-6, Oman and the United Arab Emirates from June 10, and then travel to Geneva for a meeting with the heads of Indian missions in Europe. He would also travel to Qingdao, China, on June 21-22 for an Asia Cooperation Dialogue meeting.

On relations with Myanmar, he said that India should do more for the release of the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.