By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 28: Union Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has kicked off yet another political controversy when he told visiting Indian mediapersons here late on Saturday night that he valued Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor to resolve the bilateral crisis between India and Pakistan.
“We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us,” he said. The minister’s remarks are a clear departation from India’s long-standing view that there should be no role for a third party in the resolution of bilateral problems with Pakistan.
But with the BJP and other political parties reacting sharply to his comments back home in New Delhi, the minister retracted his statement clarifying that by interlocutor he does not mean “mediation”.
Even as the External Affairs Ministry was busy chalking out a damage control exercise, Dr Tharoor as usual twitted that his remarks had been misinterpreted. “If I speak to you, you are my interlocutor! I mentioned the Saudis are our interlocutors, ie the people we are here to speak to. Some misinterpretation”.
Later in the day, Dr Tharoor issued a one-sentence statement blaming a section of the media for “misreading” the remarks. “What I basically said was that Saudi Arabia is a valuable interlocutor for India. Any other interpretation was neither meant nor warranted”.
Dr Shashi Tharoor, who attended a dinner party at the residence of Talmiz Ahmad, Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, late on Saturday night, held an impromptu press briefing.
When a reporter sought his views on Saudi role in resolving Indo-Pak crisis, the minister said he valued Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor. Though several other dignitaries too interacted with the media, they wanted it to go “off the record”.
Dr Tharoor is part of the high-level Indian media delegation currently visiting the oil-rich Arab kingdom, along with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. "We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us”.
The minister, who is known for his frank twitters on various issues, has often been in trouble. The latest is his remarks on Saudi being an interlocutor.
Stating that Saudi Arabia has its own issues with Al Qaeda, he said "We expect to have a constructive conversation on the issue. The tentacles of terror have already spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and latest is Yemen," he added.
To a question he said when India tells Saudi Arabia about its experience, the Arab nation “listens as somebody who is not in any way an enemy of Pakistan but rather is a friend of Pakistan”.
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