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Rumsfeld Heads to S. Asia for Talks

Diplomacy: The Defense secretary will attempt to follow up on diminished stresses between India and Pakistan when he meets with their leaders.

June 12, 2002|From Reuters

NEW DELHI — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld began a peace mission to India and Pakistan on Tuesday, aiming to build on an easing of tensions that had brought the nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In Washington, President Bush said American efforts to lower the heat had made progress, but he cautioned that with 1 million troops in place along the India-Pakistan border, the risk of war had not passed. India did announce earlier that it was ordering warships back to port, and it has reopened its airspace to Pakistani flights.

"The situation is getting better, but so long as there's troops amassed and people are still hostile, there's always a threat something could happen," Bush said.

Rumsfeld said that although recent comments from the South Asian neighbors had been positive, intelligence data appeared to suggest that the situation on the ground had not improved as much as the public statements implied.

"I cannot say that I see a trend line that is getting better or worse. It feels to me like it's roughly level," he told reporters traveling with him from Qatar.

"What's important is what actually happens on the ground, as opposed to words, but words are helpful," Rumsfeld added.

Rumsfeld was due to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and key Indian ministers today before heading to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, for talks with President Pervez Musharraf.

The secretary said he had come as a "friend" rather than a mediator and not with a set remedy. "First of all, we're not going in with a single proposal, and nor am I a mediator as such," Rumsfeld said.

Indian analysts said a key challenge for Rumsfeld would be to find a way acceptable to both sides to verify a commitment from Musharraf that he would stop Pakistan-based militants from infiltrating the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir.

Musharraf told a news conference in Abu Dhabi at the end of a visit to the United Arab Emirates, "The real response that we are looking for is initiation of a dialogue ... on the core Kashmir dispute and all the other issues which bedevil relations between India and Pakistan."

At least eight people, including four members of one Pakistani family, were reported killed Tuesday in what has become a daily exchange of artillery and mortar fire across the Line of Control that divides the two nations in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and have ballistic missiles. A special envoy of Musharraf, however, said in Paris that there was a "zero percent" chance of nuclear conflict.

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