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India refuses US request for support in Iraq

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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK

BBC News

India rejects Iraq troop request

The Indian army fears being sucked into combat, defence analysts say

The Indian Government has rejected a US request to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq.

Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said such a deployment could be considered only under a United Nations mandate.

The decision came after a meeting in Delhi on Monday of the cabinet committee on security, headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

There had been widespread opposition from political parties and the public to deploying peacekeepers without a UN mandate.

Hostile response

The BBC's India correspondent, Sanjiv Srivastava, says the Indian Parliament had previously passed a resolution condemning the war and any turnaround would have been hard to explain.

According to Mr Sinha, Delhi's growing engagement with the US was discussed at the Monday meeting, but other factors, such as other countries in the region, were also considered.

"Our longer term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our longstanding ties with the Gulf region as a whole, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the US have been key elements in this consideration," said Mr Sinha, reading out a statement.

"India remains ready to respond to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people... Were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose, the government of India could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq."

Mr Sinha said India would consider work on civil projects

Mr Sinha said India would consider "contributing to the reconstruction of infrastructure in Iraq... and other needs of the Iraqi people".

Despite fears the troop rejection would incur Washington's displeasure, the immediate response of the US Embassy in Delhi was that it would not have any bearing on US-India relations.

"As we have said in the past, this was a decision for the government of India to make," embassy spokesman David Kennedy told the Associated Press news agency.

The initial US request for troops came during the visit to Washington of Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani last month.

It was followed up by a team of US defence officials on a trip to Delhi.

The request was for 17,000 troops to bolster the force that is trying to stabilise Iraq in the wake of the fall of President Saddam Hussein.

However, it met with a hostile response from members of Mr Vajpayee's governing coalition and opposition parties.

The issue has added sensitivity as India is gearing up for elections in a number of key states.

Opponents of the move pointed out that India would have to pay to send its own troops into a country where, they argue, the US has not yet worked out how to establish stability.

A report in the Hindu newspaper on Sunday put the cost to India at 130m rupees ($2.8m) a year.

Defence analysts say the Indian army also fears being sucked into combat operations as happened in another non-UN sanctioned operation in Sri Lanka in the 1980s.

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