September 23, 2020
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'We Cannot Walk Away From Iraq'

The Foreign Secretary after the CCS meeting, on the question of sending Indian troops to Iraq, in a press-conference on 26 May, ponders over 'how do we walk back in to Iraq so as to protect our future interests?'

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'We Cannot Walk Away From Iraq'

Would you please clarify the whole business regarding the CCS? You said that CCS has decided to seek clarifications on the parameters and scope of the appeal. What exactly do you mean by these parameters and scope? 

Kanwal Sibal: If you read the exact text of the Resolution and this operational part para 1 which speaks of this, it simply is an appeal to member-States to assist the people of Iraq in their efforts to reform the institutions and to rebuild their country and to contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq.

The point is that we have to understand exactly the parameters under which, countries to whom this appeal has been made will be expected to contribute or assist in the reformation of institutions, in the rebuilding of the country, and conditions of stability and security. Now, how does one do it? After all it is clear that the situation on the ground is currently not fully stable.

There are law and order problems. The political process has not yet acquired any clear definition. We are not yet clear as to when the interim government might be formed, what will be the process that will be followed in the formation of this Government. Although there is a reference, there is an article in the Resolution which speaks about the special representative of the UN Secretary-General and his role, there would be need to understand precisely what that role would be with regard to the political process, the building of institutions and also conditions of security and stability.

So, before, as I said, any country responds to the appeal, there would be certain  issues that would need to be clarified. That is what the CCS decision says that MEA will initiate consultations with the UN, with the Authority, with concerned countries to obtain clarifications what you said other parameters and scope of the appeal.
As and when this clarification comes, will the Government of India put it before all parties? 

MEA will report back to the CCS on these consultations. This is what the decision is.
In the Evian Enlarged Dialogue, what will India’s priority be?  

You know what the themes are. I indicated them to you. From our viewpoint all these themes are relevant. Especially, the issue of international terrorism is very important so far as we are concerned, and all the economic issues.
Can you just elaborate a bit on that? When you say international terrorism, what will India really be saying?

At the moment, the issue of international terrorism is on top of the global agenda. Despite the action against Iraq, you have seen that there have been very serious incidents of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco. We also find that the issue of terrorism has not gone away from our region. We have always said that all these networks are interlinked. We have also said that global terrorism has to be dealt with on a global basis and not on a selective basis. So, our effort would always be to keep the attention of the international community focused on this problem of international terrorism, of which the number of countries that are victims seems to be expanding.
I am just asking you regarding India sending its stabilizing force to Iraq.

I did not say anything of that kind.
I think in principle India has accepted that.

No, you are saying that. Who said that?
Anyway, you said that India will consult the authorities. Which authority do you mean?  

We said, ‘the Authority in Iraq as recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 1483’. We are talking about ‘the Authority’ which figures in the UN Security Council’s Resolution – that authority.
Do you think there is a shift in the Indian stand regarding sending of troops outside India?

No, no, no, we are not talking about that at all. We are not talking about that. The appeal is to assist the people of Iraq in their efforts to reform their institutions and to rebuild their country and to contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq. This is the language. This is not talking about the troops or anything of that kind. And it is not only talking about the security, it is also talking about reform of institutions, rebuilding the country, etc.

Now, for us to be able to understand the scope of this appeal and the parameters - to repeat once again – of this appeal, we need to consult and understand things better because of the very fluid situation and unstable situation on the ground and the respective roles of all concerned parties. It is a fact that the UN Security Council’s Resolution does speak about the role and responsibilities of the authority, it speaks about the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, it speaks about the setting up of the Development Assistance Fund and then who will control the Fund.

There are so many, so many things that are talked about. But the exact modalities of all this, how would all these elements that are going to be present in the Iraq of tomorrow and what would be the basis of this interaction, we need to understand that. Once we have clarity, then we can take appropriate decisions about what part India can play.

We have in any case, insofar as humanitarian relief and reconstruction is concerned, we have already announced decisions in that regard. But even with regard to operationalising of those decisions, it is not easy on the ground. It has not been, because we have not been able to so far either send wheat or send the other things on the medical side because of the difficulties on the ground.

When our Ambassador goes there, and that is the reason we have mentioned that he will return to Baghdad, he will be able then to give us a feedback on what exactly is the situation on the ground. His input will be very useful in terms of clarifying our own thinking as well as our own perspective on the months to come in Iraq.
We understand that informally the US has asked India to send its troops to Iraq as a part of the stabilizing force.

I think the situation has gone far beyond that. Here the UN has appealed to all its member-States. So, that point is not terribly, terribly relevant.
Has CCS asked India to report back on the modalities? Is that why India has postponed its decision to send troops?

No, no. I think we are jumping the gun. It is a fact that the United States has approached many countries for contributing forces to maintain law and order in Iraq and some countries have responded, etc. But now the situation is very different. It is not a US appeal, it is an appeal by the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1483. So, the whole context and the parameters of the appeal have changed.

Since we are members of the United Nations and since it is a Chapter 7 Resolution, we have to address this. How do we address this? In the first instance, by understanding what is implied by this appeal and what are the conditions under which this appeal can be responded. We must understand that fully. So, we will have two sources – one is our Ambassador who will provide inputs and the other the Ministry of External Affairs will initiate consultations with the UN as well as the authority and the concerned countries to obtain clarifications.
Mr. Sibal, the Resolution also speaks of deploying of the personnel also and makes it clear that it will be under the authority. In the past, as far as I know, the Indian troops have taken part in the peace-keeping operations under the command of the UN itself. So, if troops are to go, it looks as if they will be under the command of either the British or the United States which would be the authority. It is clear from the Resolution that it would be under the charge of the authority.

You have used the word if. When that condition is met, we will see.
Everyone knows that CCS met to discuss this issued of troop deployment.

No, no. The CCS met to look at the content of this Resolution and to have a position on this appeal. How do we have a position, unless we understand the nuances of everything and especially unless we have a better grip on what is happening on the ground? Very importantly, we have to have an idea about the political process which is going to be carried forward in Iraq because all these things are interlinked.
Was there any discussion on the Parliament Resolution … April 8 which calls for a speedy withdrawal of coalition troops and the fact that … did not even … in Iraq against …

That is all very well, but now you have a UN Resolution which, without specifically addressing the military action that took place in Iraq, has come to terms with the presence of coalition forces. Their presence has been recognized by accepting them in the Resolution as the authority. So, now it is a different ballgame.
I just have a follow-up Question on India’s role in Iraq. You keep saying that the UN Resolution has come to terms with the authority in Iraq. What is it then that is stopping India? You are saying that we are sending the Ambassador back and we have to check the situation on the ground, but you still have not explained what it is today. You seem to be quite happy with it.

What do you mean by quite happy? This is not a matter of emotion.
I am not talking about emotion Mr. Sibal. What is it that is preventing India today from acceding to the UN request?

We do not know what the parameters and the scope of this request are. There are things that we need to clarify to ourselves as to what is the situation on the ground, the law and order situation. What about, as I said, the political process? They are talking about an interim government, Iraqi government. What are the perspectives on that? There are so many fundamental questions that one has to ask about what is going to happen on the ground in Iraq in terms of the politics of it, the economics of it, and the security aspect before not only India but other countries can assist the people of Iraq in their efforts to reform their institutions and rebuild their country and to contribute to conditions of stability and security.
Have you had any consultation with other countries after the UN Resolution?

I have two Questions. Firstly, do you think that in Evian they will pass any Resolution on Iraq? Secondly, has India to say anything on Israel’s acceptance on Palestinian State in principle. 

Are you talking in reference to Evian?

Evian, I told you what the themes are.

Is it about to discuss this Iraq only, as to who will get what, etc?

No, Iraq is not mentioned at all. I just told you what the themes are.

This is what the G-8 meeting is about.

G-8 was first set up to deal with economics. The agenda was purely economics. Some countries are not happy that over the years the G-8 has started pronouncing on political issues. The French themselves have not been very happy because the French believe that it is only for the UN Security Council to deal with political issues, especially those relating to security. Yet, it has been the practice of the G-8 at the Foreign Ministers’ level to pronounce on political issues. They have in the past also pronounced on India-Pakistan issues, though fortunately their declarations have been positive from our point of view. So, the G-8 agenda at its core is economic. So, the issue that you are talking about may be discussed when there are informal bilateral meetings on the sidelines since these leaders are present, but not in the formal setting.
The day before yesterday Israel had accepted Palestinian State in principle.

The less one says the better because it is a saga that is continuing. Things are accepted, things are not accepted, they change, other problems occur, it is a very complicated thing. So, I do not think one should pick up one particular development and try and base one’s entire outlook on that. I  think one should keep one’s fingers crossed and hope that things are moving in the right direction. In the past, ever since they met in peace process, and Camp David, and everything else, hopes have been very high. The appearance of a breakthrough has been there and then things have actually not only collapsed but have become worse. So, when it comes to the Middle-East, the watchword should be prudence.
What is the timeframe for the MEA to get back to the CCS? Is it a week or a fortnight? Secondly, in seeking the clarifications from UN as well as other organizations, are you not precluding the option of sending troops to Iraq outside the banner of UN Plan? 

It has been said earlier also. What I say is that you are raising questions which are terribly premature. What the MEA has been asked to do is to make an assessment exercise. After we make an assessment exercise, we will know how we should respond to this appeal.
How long will it take for this exercise?

I do not think one works that way. There is no ultimatum to us that we have to take a decision in one week or ten days. Where is the scope for saying that MEA will report back in a fixed period of time? No. I think since we all work hard, we will work hard and try and come back as quickly as possible.
Before the UN Resolution, was India among the many countries which were was approached by the USA…

I think these are not very pertinent questions. You know that the United States had approached many countries. Now, I would understand the relevance of this question if India was one country US had approached and, therefore, we were in some suigeneris special position, it is not true. Now, we should address the issue of the UN Security Council Resolution because the appeal is now coming from the UN Security Council.
One of the appeals made by the UN is requesting the personnel from the member-countries. It seems clear from the Resolution that these will be under the command and control of the authority. What precisely is the clarification that India is seeking in this regard? And, are we open to the idea of contributing personnel under the authority?

There are certain things in the Resolution which are very clear. Therefore, we will also draw very clear conclusions. Since we have clarity of policy with regard to some of these issues, things are very clear. So, I think that is trying to trap me into saying something. I think let us not get into that.
Is there a sort of minimum bottom line that India has set for itself on to what extent it will go in cooperating?

Let me put it in perspective. India has had longstanding relations with Iraq. Before the 1991 Gulf War, 30 per cent of our oil supplies were coming from there. We had a very large population, very large expatriate community in Iraq, excellent economic relationship, etc., etc. Of course, if you look further backwards, there are longstanding historical, civilizations, cultural, religious links with Iraq. So, all that is there.

Then, we are present, in a very major away, in the whole of this area in terms of the number of expatriates, the amount of remittances that come back, energy supplies from this region. We have a very good network of political relationships with some of these countries. So, we have a longstanding interest and a long-term interest to be present in this area. So, we cannot walk away from Iraq. Now, the whole thing is, ‘How do we walk back in to Iraq so as to protect our future interests political, economic, security, energy and what ever?’

The situation in Iraq, especially after the second conflict, is very difficult. In the intervening years, of course, our relationship with Iraq virtually collapsed for obvious reasons. Then this military action has taken place and the consequences of the military action on the ground are there for all of you to see. Now the UN has come back into play and the process of the normalization of the situation in Iraq will, hopefully, begin. On the political side, the international community will hope to see the emergence of an interim government and eventually a representative government in Iraq which is internationally recognized.

On the economic side, everybody will like to see the rebuilding of Iraq, its infrastructure and everything else so that the basic needs of the people are met. Insofar as security is concerned one hopes that the current report that one gets about instability, of turmoil, of street demonstrations, some actual firings on the ground, that will be brought under control.
Now, when our Ambassador returns there, hopefully he will be able to monitor all this and keep track of all this and feed us information, vital information, about the process of normalization in Iraq. Once  that process of normalization begins to take root and becomes effective, then it is not only India but I think so many other countries would find that they will be able to play their role in contributing precisely to what the UN Security Council Resolution 1483 says about reforming the institutions, rebuilding the country and contributing to conditions of stability and security. So, we have this long-term interest clearly.
Are you saying that India will only go back to Iraq when it is completely safe? 

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