No big deal if PM has preferred G-20 over UNGA this year: ex-diplomats

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New Delhi, Sep.21 (ANI): Former diplomats do not see anything amiss in the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, missing this year's United Nations General Assembly session in New York and opting to attend the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh later in the week.

Singh, who has developed a personal rapport with world leaders over the years, is certainly losing an opportunity to meet the who's who of world politics on one-to-one basis. However, as has been the practice earlier, the External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, will represent the country at the 64th session of the UNGA and will also participate in other high level engagements on its sidelines.

Former Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari did not see anything unusual in the Prime Minister skipping the UNGA.

"You can argue that the Prime Minister would have gone. But there is a large section which also believes that PM should not waste his time attending UNGA and the issues are to be dealt at a smaller level and at bilateral level. Ultimately, the Prime Minister has to decide what is productive and what is non-productive," Bhandari said.

"It makes no difference whether the Indian Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister attends the UNGA," said India's former envoy to Pakistan G Parthasarthy.

Former Foreign secretary Shashank was of the opinion that if the Prime Minister wanted to make a point in the General assembly, then it was fine for him to go, but sitting in the galleries during meetings of the UN Security Council would really be a waste of time.

He also said that attending the U.N. Security Council as an observer, which India already claims is a flawed set up as it is not in keeping with current realities, was really a waste of time.

Several foreign policy and security experts believe that the Prime Minister should have undertaken a visit to New York to increase pressure on the international community to insist that Pakistan act seriously against the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

The G-20, which is a firefighting mechanism to check the global financial meltdown, literally has no mandate for discussing such issues as the 26/11. It is being felt in certain quarters that especially after the Sharm-al-Sheikh faux pas, the UNGA was an apt forum for Dr. Singh to clear New Delhi's position on dialogue parameters with Islamabad.

Dr. Singh could have also used the UNGA forum to air New Delhi's concerns over Musharraf's revelations on US aid being diverted to strengthen Pakistan's defences against India, Pakistan's move to alter the harpoon missile and nuclear scientist A.Q Khan's chilling admission of Pakistan giving nuclear technology to Iran and Libya, besides other issues.

Ambassador Parthasarthy believes that on the issue of counter-terrorism, the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism has been under discussion for many years, and therefore, the presence or absence of the Prime Minister, would not make much of a difference to deliberations on the subject.

This year's UNGA session will witness the UN debut of US President Barack Obama. Obama is expected to have one-on-one talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao and new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Russia and China are key constituents of BRIC grouping along with India and Brazil. The BRIC has taken a common position on UN reforms, but there is a view that the absence of Prime Minister Singh could caste doubts on the importance India attaches to this issue.

Secondly, had Dr Singh met with the Chinese President, it would have put to rest many speculations and deescalated current Sino-Indian tensions.

Singh's meeting with his Japanese counterpart Yukio Hatoyama could have given a fresh impetus to a strategic relationship, especially in the wake of the Sino-Indian border tensions.

A visit by the Indian Prime Minister to New York could have also been used to discuss the next steps in the US-India civil nuclear cooperation as also New Delhi's stance on a new proposal on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, which may push non-signatories to sign both the NPT and the CTBT. By Naveen Kapoor (ANI)

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