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UN Veto: New Delhi shops for US support

Saturday 28 May 2005, by BAGCHI*Indrani

NEW DELHI: For the first time in its quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations, India has openly solicited US support. During the past couple of days, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Condoleezza Rice’s senior adviser on UN reforms has been quietly holding intensive discussions with senior foreign ministry officials.

Both sides were tight-lipped but it is learnt that Washington has sought to negotiate terms for backing India’s candidature. The details are still a way off, but diplomatic sources said US might be interested in support on the right to pre-emptive strikes - couched as "anticipatory self-defence" - as part of the UN charter and greater accountability of the UN - meaning a check on dubious practices.

New Delhi may find it difficult to agree with the "anticipatory self-defence" doctrine, while it won’t mind agreeing with provisions for checking malpractices at the UN. In short, negotiations with US is likely to be a long drawn-out affair and a hard give-and-take game.

Both sides are satisfied with the fact that this is Tahir-Kheli’s first trip out in her present job. "It is an indication of how far relations have progressed," said officials involved in the talks.

The lady met foreign secretary Shyam Saran and other senior officials, Meera Shankar, Hamid Ali Rao and S Jaishankar.

Her visit would indicate that Washington is ready to negotiate the terms for adding India’s name to its list of one - Japan - in a reformed UNSC. It also means India will be receptive to US interests.

As China has emerged as the biggest obstacle to expansion of the UN Security Council, India is zeroing in on the US as its best bet. It is actually China’s muscle-flexing on the issue that’s India’s best argument for US support to change the nature of the existing international power structure.

In many ways, the US has also moved from its earlier position of complete indifference to India. Tahir-Kheli had said in April, "The US supports Security Council reform, provided it enhances the effectiveness of the Council; we remain open to considering all proposals."

Both sides have strong arguments. India said US bid to enable India to become a major power cannot falter at the first staging post, a UNSC seat. For its part, the US is trying to overcome its distaste of a country whose anti-US voting record in the UN rivals some of its worst enemies.

The good part is that for the first time, US is attempting to make space for India in its strategic calculations, and for the first time, India is involving US in its great power aspirations.

India’s immediate goal is to get the G-4 framework resolution through the vote in the UN General Assembly. The US wants to "unbundle" the proposals without artificial timeframe". India wants a vote rather than a consensus.

If all goes according to plan, a vote could happen in mid-June - the G-4 needs 128 votes to clear that hurdle. Clearly, India cannot get that far without some US support, which makes India’s failure to engage the US thus far even more astonishing.

Much more important is that after the framework resolution goes through, India will be unshackled from the G-4 and if it come to an open vote, will have to muster all its support. To have the US on its side at the time will be an unalloyed plus, the government feels.

On a more personal level, Tahir-Kheli is an interesting choice so far as India is concerned. This Pakistani-American has been close to the Bush administration but India has had a prickly history with her, to the extent that when rumours floated four years ago that she might become the State Department point person for South Asia, India-inspired quarters in Washington launched a whisper campaign against her.

Sources say it’s a measure of India’s growing comfort levels with the US that such things do not bother Delhi any more.

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