The United States Monday lamented India's refusal to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, but stressed that the decision, announced in New Delhi Monday, would not affect the improving overall relationship between the two countries.
The Bush administration had asked India to provide a division of troops, about 17,000 soldiers, to join the stabilization force and patrol the region of northern Iraq around Mosul.
But after some two months of deliberations, the government of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Monday it would not contribute forces without an explicit United Nations resolution for that purpose.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration believes that ample authority for peacekeeping was provided in last May's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483, which, in addition to lifting U.N. sanctions against Iraq, encourages member states to "contribute to conditions of stability and security" there.
But he said a decision to send troops is one that a country needs to make on its own based on its interests and concerns. While making clear U.S. unhappiness over the Indian announcement, the spokesman said it should not affect the overall relationship.
"We would have hoped that India would have made a different choice, that they would be there," he said. "But I think, at the same time, we need to reiterate that India remains an important strategic partner for the United States. And that the continuation of the transformation of Indo-U.S. relations is something that's important to us, and that we expect to see."
While Mr. Boucher did not elaborate, officials here said privately they were concerned that the Indian decision could affect other countries as they consider whether to contribute to the stabilization force.
But they said the spokesman deliberately did not express "regret" or "disappointment" over the announcement by India, and that the administration hoped to minimize any political fallout from the matter.
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said in New Delhi that his government was ready to contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure, but that the Indian security cabinet would only approve troops if there was an "explicit U.N. mandate" for that purpose.
India has the world's fourth largest military and has taken part in past U.N. peacekeeping operations including those in Angola, Cambodia and Somalia.
Mr. Boucher said a "substantial number" of countries including Poland and Spain will join in the Iraq stabilization force, and that the NATO members collectively have agreed to provide support for the Polish deployment.