Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assertions that India has a very compelling case for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council was well taken by President Bush during their Oval Office interaction, but the latter reiterated the US position that now is not he time.
Dr Singh's reference to this issue during the joint press conference following his discussions with Bush clearly indicated that though India knew all along that a US endorsement of its bid for a UNSC seat was not going to happen, particularly after Washington's public warning that it would oppose the G-4 resolution.
However, the disappointment was palpable.
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In his opening remarks at the joint press conference, Dr Singh said, 'Meeting global challenges requires credible and effective global institutions. Today the world is debating the reform of the United Nations. In our talks, President and I were of one mind that the contemporary reality must be fully reflected in the central organs and decision-making processes of the UN.'
'India,' he declared, 'has a compelling case for permanent membership of the Security Council. We are convinced that India can significantly contribute to UN decision-making and capabilities.'
During a press briefing immediately after, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns sought to explain the President's position. According to Burns, the President, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she met Sunday night with External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said that 'on one hand, the United States does understand and (we) embrace the fact that India is now a global power, that institutions like the United Nations need to modernize and need to change, and that they need to adapt to new realities.'
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In that sense, Burns said, the President said it is understandable to us why India would want to put itself forward to membership.
But he added that both the President and Dr Rice had made it clear that 'at the current time, the US actually is hopeful that there will not be a vote in the coming weeks to enlarge the Security Council because that there have to be reforms made to strengthen the institution itself: the creation of a human rights council, of a peace-building institution, of a convention on terrorism. And, particularly, the reforms need to be made to strengthen and reinforce the budget, administrative and functions in New York itself.'
He said that only once those reforms are made, the US would be 'willing to look at the question of UNSC expansion.'
But at this point, he said the US was hoping there wouldn't be a vote. And we say that very respectively to all the countries who wish there to be a vote,' he said.
He refused to comment, saying it was hypothetical, if the US would veto a proposal if Indian and the rest of the G-4 continued to go ahead with a vote.
Burns argued that a vote would be 'divisive at this time' and reiterated that 'we also believe that the other reforms need to be considered before a vote on Security Council expansion can be taken.'
He said he did not believe there was any kind of disappointment on the part of India 'because we've talked about this so frequently, including in the trip I made to Delhi where we had full discussions on this.'
But the there is no denying that, given that Dr Singh did bring it up again, making it part of his preamble at the joint press availability.