NATWAR CLIPPED IN PMO COUP

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally spearheaded the pro-US coup leaving minister of external affairs Natwar Singh completely out of the loop.

The minister has been abroad since September 11 in France, the US and more recently Canada and was not involved in the negotiations with Washington that led India to cast a vote against Iran at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at Vienna.

Prime Minister Singh has directly taken over the crucial aspects of foreign policy, handling all issues like Pakistan, Iran and China in which the Americans have an interest. US ambassador Ronen Sen has emerged as his point person in the US, with observers here surprised that the first defence of the position taken by India at Vienna came from Mr Sen sitting in Washington. He said that the original resolution that was not supported by New Delhi would have sent the issue to the UN Security Council straightaway. "The new one does not," he pointed out.

Prime Minister Singh did not discuss the reversal of India’s position on Iran with either the members of the Union Cabinet or the core group of senior ministers. It came as a surprise, according to a minister who expressed worry about the impact of the decision on India’s relations with the developing world. Mr Natwar Singh has been a strong proponent of non-alignment but although at the Prime Minister’s side during the recent visits to the US, has failed to join the PMO in defending the defence pact with the US, the civilian nuclear energy deal, and now the decision to vote against Iran.

The Left leaders angered by the government’s new "diplomacy by night" tactics joined issue with Prime Minister Singh on Iran at a meeting here on Wednesday morning. Mr Sitaram Yechury, Mr D. Raja and Mr Abani Roy left the PMO quite unimpressed with the government’s explanation offered by the Prime Minister, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and foreign secretary Shyam Saran. Mr Natwar Singh who has stopped over in London on his way back from Canada was absent. His views on the vote, considering the fact that he visited Iran last month and said that the nuclear issue should not be referred to the UN Security Council, are still awaited.

The Left delegation countered the government’s claim of having protected Iran’s interests by pointing out that neither Iran nor the Left and other political parties in India shared this view. It was made clear to the Prime Minister that if he was actually so concerned about Iran he should ensure that India supported Tehran in November when the issue came up again before the IAEA. The Left leaders said that Prime Minister Singh remained non-committal and gave no assurance of a positive response. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan was particularly angry about the manner in which the decision had been taken, without taking anyone into confidence at any level. Once again, the country was presented with a final decision with the vote cast in what even Mr Saran said was a decision taken late at night.

Interestingly, the latest geopolitical diary issued by Stratfor Intelligence has held India entirely responsible for swinging the vote against Iran. "Just when it seemed the Iranian nuclear issue was headed for another stalemate India decided to curry favour with the United States by backing the campaign to refer the case to the UN Security Council. Iran responded Monday in apparent shock at this move by its longtime ally," it noted. The diary further credited Prime Minister Singh with this diplomacy, maintaining that he was looking at the defence pact with the US and the civilian nuclear technology agreement to "elevate India to the status of a major global player."

Highly placed sources said that Prime Minister Singh had given no indication of the shift in policy when he spoke with Iranian President Ahmadinejad over the telephone. Iran has now taken the position that it will not like to take "harsh action" against India and will wait for the outcome of the vote in November. Iranian diplomats here strongly denied any move to end the $22 billion energy deal with India maintaining that this was not even being contemplated. The effort is now to ensure that New Delhi does not follow the US route in November, and is persuaded to support Iran in the crucial IAEA vote.


 

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