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Not here for the troops, says Rocca

By Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi
September 11, 2003 18:48 IST
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"Contrary to all the headlines here, I am not here for troops for Iraq," United States Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca said in New Delhi today.

But "obviously, Iraq did come up for discussion during my talks with officials from the ministry of external affairs," she said.

Rocca, wearing a brown dress suit, was addressing a session of the Confederation of Indian Industry titled 'The US and India, moving forward in global partnership'.

"I would be remiss if I did not note that today is September 11, exactly two years after the terrible strikes against the US," she said. "These horrible acts propelled America into a leadership role in the global war against terrorism and into an even closer partnership with India -- one of the first countries to offer military and political support and assistance to the US in its efforts to bring the 9/11 perpetrators to justice."

Rocca said that in a message to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered earlier this morning, US President George W Bush had said: 'On behalf of the American people I would like to extend to you solidarity and support as we remember your citizens who died in the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. The struggle to put an end to terrorism will be long and difficult. We wage this struggle for ourselves and for our children, but also to honour the victims of terror and reaffirm the inherent value of their lives.

'On this day, I would like to offer once again the grateful thanks of the US to India for that heartfelt and welcome show of support when we most needed it," she said.

Earlier, a senior external affairs ministry official, on condition of anonymity, said Bush had also called Vajpayee on Monday specifically with regard to Iraq, and that Vajpayee had been non-committtal, saying the issue would decided only after the tenor of the new United Nations Security Council resolution is decided.

Rocca went on to quote from the Bush administration's national security stragegy, which says, 'The US has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that US interests require a strong relationship with India...'

"As with any major transformation," she said, "it will take some time to fully realise the changes we have begun to implement in the US-India relationship. But working in concert with the US, India's power and potential can bring us all closer to President Bush's goal of building, as he has said, a world where great powers compete in peace instead of preparing for war."

Pressed on Iraq, Rocca said that while the subject had come up during her talks with Indian officials, including Foreign Secretary Kapil Sibal, "we don't know where this will come out" until the UN decides this weekend on the US proposal to grant the world body more say in the policing of the West Asian country.

Asked whether India could play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq, she said, "India's role in Iraq's reconstruction would be good for India. We know you have a history of ties with the region, and it would easy to build on these ties that already exist."

She also referred to India's role in Afghanistan, saying it was playing a major part in improving health and infrastructure in the country.

Asked whether the US was amenable to formally accept a 'trilateral axis' among Washington, Israel and India, which was referred to by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his visit to New Delhi, she said there has been no formal discussion on such an axis. "However, we are always happy when friends make friends," she remarked.

The US, she said, "will stand by India in its battle against terrorism just as India has with the US battle against terrorism. I can also assure you that the issue of cross-border infiltration remains a very important issue on our agenda with Pakistan."

But pressed to respond to reports in The New York Times that terrorist leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil is openly soliciting funds for jihad against India in the heart of Islamabad, she said she had not read the report, but that the US is "working on it."

"The collaboration with India that began in the aftermath of 9/11 has only deepened and has taken on different forms: from joint patrols in the Straits of Malacca to the inclusion of the terrorist groups operating against India on the US foreign terrorist organisations list, the prosecution in Virgina and Pennyslyvania of eight alleged Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists for engaging in a conspiracy to prepare for and engage in violent jihad against foreign targets in Kashmir. While much more remains to done, and should be done, to free the world from terrorist threats, our enemies have themselves exposed the many ways in which the people of India and the US see the world in fundamentally similar terms."

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Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi