Indian students grill Powell on key issues

Youths' questions reflect anger and confusion over Iraq, weapons and trade

March 17, 2004|By T. Christian Miller | T. Christian Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI - They were students, and so they came seeking answers.

Why did the United States invade Iraq and not other dictatorships? Why did the United States preach free trade but closed some of its markets to developing countries? Why is it OK for the United States to have nuclear weapons, but not other nations?

For 30 minutes, college students hand-picked from India's best universities fired questions. And for 30 minutes, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered a wide-ranging defense.

The exchange was an unusually in-depth look at the anger, ambivalence and confusion that many in developing countries continue to harbor toward the United States nearly a year after the invasion of Iraq.

And it provided a window into the frustration that even well-educated and politically astute students feel toward a U.S. foreign policy that many see as hypocritical and unfocused.

The reason for the war "was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which haven't been found yet. Do you believe it was a mistake and that America owes an apology?" asked one young woman.

"No, we don't believe it was a mistake. We believed at the time of the decision to go to war that Iraq had stockpiles. We had good reason to believe that," said Powell, who is in the middle of a trip through the region.

Aman Sethi, a 20-year-old chemistry major, drew applause when he questioned why the United States had criticized India and Pakistan for developing nuclear weapons.

"Why doesn't America give up its weapons as well?" Sethi said.

"I hope for the day when no one has nuclear weapons because no one has a need for them," Powell shot back.

The taping of the talk show came on a trip when Powell faced questions from Indian leaders as well, especially on the outsourcing of jobs. Although both countries say their relationship is at a high point, the issue of sending high-tech and other jobs overseas has become politically potent in the United States and India.

Many Indians see the uproar as a double standard, with U.S. politicians complaining about economic damage to U.S. workers while demanding that India put an end to tariffs in areas such as agriculture that could hurt rural Indian farm workers.

Powell stressed that the United States remained committed to free trade. But he acknowledged the United States needed to do more to provide training for American workers who had lost their jobs. "It is a reality of 21st-century international economics that these kind of dislocations will take place," he said. "And what we have to do is work to minimize these dislocations and provide new opportunities for workers."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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