Secretary of State Colin Powell held talks late Thursday with the new Indian Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, who is in Washington for memorial events for former President Reagan. Mr. Singh said his government would reconsider its earlier refusal to commit troops to peacekeeping in Iraq but made no specific commitments.
It was their first meeting since the new Indian government took power last month. But the Secretary and Mr. Singh, a veteran Indian political figure, have met many times over the years dating back to Mr. Powell's tenure as White House National Security Adviser under Ronald Reagan.
In a talk with reporters after an hour-long meeting, both men said they hope and expect that the U.S.-Indian relationship, which has warmed considerably in recent years, will continue to strengthen under India's new Congress Party-led government.
Mr. Powell said the United States was grateful for support from India for the U-N Security Council Resolution approved Tuesday endorsing Iraq's new interim government. While declining to say whether he had made a specific request to India, he said the United States has made such appeals to a number of countries to contribute troops to Iraq and that he and Mr. Singh had discussed the subject.
Mr. Singh noted that India had in the past rejected sending troops to Iraq. But he said the new U.N. resolution has changed the situation and that his government, which favors having the United Nations have the "central responsibility" in Iraq, will revisit the issue:
"There's a resolution of the last parliament on this issue, in which we have given our opinion that we are against sending troops to Iraq. Now the situation has changed. There is a resolution unanimously passed by the United Nations, there are Arab members in it. We will look at it very carefully," he said. "But I must emphasize that this matter will have to be placed before the government at the highest levels, and it would be premature for me to say yea or nay."
Under questioning, Mr. Powell rejected an Indian reporter's suggestion that the Bush administration had hoped that the Hindu nationalist government of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,which embraced pro-business policies would have remained in power. Mr. Powell said U-S officials know better than to try to predict the outcome of Indian elections.
"The people of India have spoken. India is a great democracy and we will work with the government that the people of India have selected. And we have demonstrated out here I think today that it will be a warm productive relationship that is intended to move us forward and build an even stronger relationship with India. We don't place bets on elections. I've learned that long ago. And we will now support the government and work with the government, that the Indian people have decided upon," he said.
Mr. Powell also said he and Mr. Singh discussed the problem issue of Kashmir, which has provoked two military crises between Indian and Pakistan since 2002.
Mr. Powell said the United States believes the level of infiltration into Kashmir by Pakistan-based militants has gone down. But he said U.S. officials continue to express concern to Pakistan about the infrastructure of the militant groups that remains behind on Pakistan's side of the Kashmir line of control.