Thursday, February 05, 2009

FW: Narayanan's (sound) bite, Obama's bark

PMO in damage control mode after the National Security Adviser is judged to have put his foot in it...

5 February 2009
The Hindu

Quotes taken out of context have given a distorted view: Narayanan
National Security Adviser clarifies remark that Obama was “barking up the wrong tree”

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: In a case of one man’s (sound) bite being worse than another’s bark, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan has rushed to clarify that his remarks about the new American President “barking up the wrong tree” on Kashmir were really aimed at underlining the “high expectation India had from the Obama administration.” And that “selective quotes taken out of context have tended to give a distorted idea of what was actually said” by him.

The canine metaphor used by Mr. Narayanan in an interview on Monday to CNBC TV 18 was reproduced widely in the international media under headlines like ‘India warns Obama over Kashmir.’ According to South Block sources, a formal clarification was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the Ministry of External Affairs concluded the NSA’s remarks were likely to hinder rather than help the process of establishing a good political rapport with President Barack H. Obama and his incoming foreign policy team.

In the interview, Mr. Narayanan had said “references made by President Obama which seem to suggest that there is some kind of link with settlement on the Pakistan’s western border and the Kashmir issue certainly have caused concern. I think we are in a nascent state. I do think that we could make President Obama understand, if he does nurse any such view, that he is barking up the wrong tree.”

He was answering a question about the link Mr. Obama made between his fight with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and a solution to Kashmir.

MEA officials told The Hindu that when the Obama administration had already met India’s concerns by limiting the remit of its special representative for South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, to just Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was no need for any public airing of doubts, nervousness or apprehension by New Delhi.

In damage control mode, the PMO statement said Mr. Narayanan “has clarified that references made in the course of an interview by him to Karan Thapar were answers to specific questions put by the interviewer.” The statement “further clarified” that the “underlying theme of the reply to the question on Indo-U.S. relations was the high expectation India had from the Obama Administration with a hope being expressed that it would be possible for India to make the new Administration appreciate India’s positions and views on the region, including Kashmir.”

Describing Kashmir as “one of the quieter and safe places in this part of the world,” Mr. Narayanan had said in his interview that it was possible that “elements, perhaps in the administration” were “harping back to the pre-2000 area.”

The PMO statement said the reference by the NSA to the internal situation in Pakistan “and the role of former President Musharraf” had also been made “in the context of specific questions put by the interviewer.”

Mr. Narayanan was asked whether Pakistan had become a more difficult and complicated country since President Musharraf’s resignation. Answering yes, the NSA said it had been possible for India “to do business with him.” A “great deal was achieved in terms of trying to arrive at the modus vivendi on some of our most difficult issues and questions,” he said.

In his clarification, Mr. Narayanan said “selective quotes taken out of context from the detailed answers have tended to give a distorted idea of what was actually said.”

Significantly, the PMO clarification did not refer to Mr. Narayanan’s assertion that Pakistan had “reverted” to India with queries on the Mumbai probe, a claim External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee refuted on Tuesday.

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