Prague, 12 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi today to discuss how to ease tensions with Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Senior U.S. defense officials say the talks will focus on possible ways to monitor infiltrations into Indian-administered Kashmir by Pakistan-based Islamic militants. The aim is to create an independent mechanism to monitor the situation on the ground along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Reports say some options under discussion include the use of surveillance experts from Britain, the United States, India, and Pakistan. But Washington says the deployment of U.S. or other foreign troops is not an option.
Rumsfeld said his talks earlier today with Indian National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and Defense Minister George Fernandes had been "constructive." "We feel that there are steps being taken which are constructive, and we must say that the leadership here in India has demonstrated their concern and their interest in seeing that things are resolved in an appropriate way," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld, who also met today with Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, said U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are "deeply interested" in relations between Washington and New Delhi.
Bush said in Washington yesterday that the U.S. diplomatic initiative is making progress on the dispute, which has led to the deployment of more than 1 million soldiers on the common borders of the two nuclear-capable countries. "The situation is getting better, but so long as there are troops amassed [on the India-Pakistan border] and people are still hostile toward each other, there is always a threat that something could happen. But I'm pleased with the progress we've made," Bush said.
Although the U.S. diplomatic initiative has brought about more cordial diplomatic language from both Islamabad and New Delhi during the past week, Washington and London have been careful to warn that the situation remains tense.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said last week that there is no doubt Pakistan has in the past supported infiltrations by Islamic militants from bases in Pakistan into Indian-administered Kashmir.
But Straw yesterday also supported Islamabad's view that the only resolution to the root causes of the Kashmir dispute is through direct negotiations between India and Pakistan, a position that has been rejected so far by India. "The dispute between India and Pakistan is, at root, a bilateral matter which can only be resolved by direct dialogue between the parties. But it is a dispute with potent international implications, both because of the potential scale of any military action, including the possible use of nuclear weapons, and because post-11 September, new imperatives have been imposed on all [United Nations] member states," Straw said.
India announced yesterday that it is withdrawing five warships deployed recently to the northern Arabian Sea. The ships had been positioned within striking distance of Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.
Pakistan today welcomed that move. But officials in Islamabad say the redeployments are "preliminary steps" and that they still see negotiations on Kashmir as the only way to resolve the ongoing dispute over the mostly Muslim region.