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Vajpayee Departs for Russia, then on to US, Britain - 2001-11-04


Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has begun a 10 day-tour that will take him to Russia, the United States and Britain. The prime minister says he will focus on improving ties with the three countries, but India will also seek reassurance that its concerns on terrorism will be addressed.

Prime Minister Vajpayee's first stop is Russia where he will meet President Vladimir Putin, and other senior Russian leaders.

Russia was India's strong ally in the Cold War period, and the visit to Moscow (November 4-7) was planned before the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.

But the international campaign against terrorism will now top the agenda. Mr. Vajpayee is expected to voice India's strong opposition to the inclusion of any Taleban elements in a future government in Afghanistan - a view echoed by Russia. Pakistan has said moderate Taleban members could play a role in Afghanistan's future, but New Delhi insists a moderate Taleban does not exist. Both Russia and India want the Northern Alliance to play a leading role in Afghanistan.

The visit will also focus on closer cooperation in combating terrorism, and strengthening military ties between Russia and India. The leaders of the two countries will sign a declaration on international terrorism, and a memorandum of understanding to construct a nuclear power plant in India's southern Tamil Nadu state.

From Moscow, Mr. Vajpayee travels to Washington where he will hold talks with President Bush. He will also meet senior congressional leaders. New Delhi has been upbeat about its warming ties with the U.S., but it has been rattled by Washington's renewed alliance with Islamabad.

The visit will serve as an opportunity for India to assess how responsive Washington remains to its concerns. New Delhi wants Washington to include Islamic militant groups active in Kashmir in its campaign on terrorism.

Mr. Vajpayee is also expected to come under heavy pressure to ensure that the sharply increased tensions between India and Pakistan do not escalate into a military conflict between the two countries.

Brahama Chellaney, a political analyst with the independent Center for Policy Research, said Mr. Vajpayee will calm fears about the situation in Kashmir. "I am quite sure Prime Minister Vajpayee would be saying that India is making all the effort possible to preclude the possibility of even an accidental war between the two countries, that India does not want a war, India is only engaged in defense measures, but India cannot sit back and allow Pakistan to infiltrate armed terrorists into Indian Kashmir," he explained.

Mr. Chellaney pointed out that on the eve of Mr. Vajpayee's visit, several senior Indian officials said that New Delhi has decided to observe restraint "as of now," despite domestic pressure to wage war on militants in Kashmir.

The Indian Prime Minister has refused to meet Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly session - a proposal made by Islamabad and backed by several Western countries. But conceding to international pressure to continue the dialogue between the two countries, the foreign ministers of the two countries may meet in New York.

Mr. Vajpayee will also stop in London for a day to hold talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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