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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 11:44 GMT
Indian FM 'won't quit' over probe
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh
Natwar Singh says he is shocked by the UN charge
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh maintains he will not resign, despite being named as having benefited from the Iraq UN oil-for-food scandal.

When asked in an interview with the NDTV station if he would step down he replied: "Certainly not".

Mr Singh and the main party in the governing coalition, Congress, were both named in the report commissioned by the United Nations on the scandal.

The main opposition BJP party says that Mr Singh is unfit to stay in office.

The government has promised to investigate the UN report, which was published on Thursday.

Written by the former US Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, it said more than 2,000 firms made illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's government.

Report 'dismissed'

Natwar Singh told NDTV that he still had the full backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"I am told that I am doing a good job so do you expect me to go to the prime minister and say that since I am doing a good job I am putting in my papers?" he asked.

"I am dismissing [the Volcker report] here on behalf of the Congress Party and as the foreign minister of India."

The head of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, held talks on Saturday with the prime minister during which they are understood to have discussed the implications of the Volcker report.

Many observers say the foreign minister's position has become increasingly uncertain after the government announced its own investigation into the UN-commissioned Volcker report.

India media have quoted unnamed senior figures in the ruling Congress party as saying Natwar Singh should go to save the party from further embarrassment.

The government says it is deeply concerned at "unverified references" to Congress and Natwar Singh.

"The Volcker committee report, as it stands today, is insufficient to arrive at any adverse or definitive conclusion," the prime minister's office said on Thursday.

The government issued a legal notice demanding full disclosure of the report's source material and failing that "an unconditional apology".

'Forged'

Mr Volcker has dismissed Natwar Singh's claims that he had not been asked for his comments before publication.

Iraqi oil pipeline
Oil-for-food was supposed to ease the burden of sanctions on Iraqis

"We have indicated carefully everybody was notified that they are going to be listed and we also indicated what their response was if any," Mr Volcker said.

The opposition BJP on Friday criticised the government's attitude to the UN report.

BJP spokesperson, Arun Jaitley, said: "It's bizarre that just when the country is aspiring for a seat on the Security Council, the ruling party just to divert attention from the Volcker report should seek to create a confrontation with the international body."

Another BJP party spokesman, Sushma Swaraj, said on Friday the opposition alliance would request a meeting with President APJ Kalam for Monday and ask him to urge the premier to drop Natwar Singh.

Under the UN programme, Saddam Hussein's government could sell oil as long as the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods.


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