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August 12, 1999
US Urges India and Pakistan To Abide By 1991 Agreement
A P Kamath in Washington
The United States has urged India and Pakistan to abide by an 1991 agreement to avoid the kind of incident that made page one news in key American newspapers including The New York Times.
The State Department, referring to the downing of a Pakistani plane by India, said the agreement forbids aircraft from flights within ten km of the border without pre-notification. In the event a violation occurs, it is to be promptly investigated and the headquarters of the other air force is informed without delay through diplomatic channels, James Rubin said at the State Department briefing, addressing questions by reporters.
Saying both countries have violated the agreement, he added:
"The basic point is to avoid tensions; and instead of contacting each other, to shoot down the plane is clearly not consistent with the objective of the agreement."
He added that the agreement prohibits the flight of combat or reconnaissance aircraft within ten km of the border.
Have both sides violated the agreement, he was asked.
"And clearly both sides have done that. I think that is as obvious as that two plus two equals four," he said. "But nevertheless, a non-notification is one level of problem; a shoot-down is a whole more serious level of action inconsistent with the agreement."
The situation on India's border occupied most of the State Department briefing on Wednesday, August 11. Citing the current situation and the attempted retaliation by Pakistan, he said Washington felt pessimistic about the resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad.
"We regret the loss of life of 16 Pakistani crewmen and call upon both countries to act in a responsible way to prevent further tragedy and reduce tensions," said Rubin.
"We do understand there was an incident today near the site of the wreckage, in which a Pakistani missile was fired at an Indian aircraft," he continued.
"We are deeply concerned that India and Pakistan are firing on each other's aircraft along the international boundary."
Though Washington is in touch with Indian and Pakistani ambassadors in Washington and American ambassadors have discussed the situation in New Delhi and Islamabad, Rubin said America has no plans to send a special envoy to either of the countries.
A reporter followed up.
"Over at the White House, your counterpart, Mr Leavy (David Leavy, a spokesman for the National Security Council), said something a little bit different; maybe that's just what they seized upon over there. That seemed to indicate that you all were backing away from this conflict a little bit. He said the United States is not going to act as the referee between India and Pakistan. That seems to be sort of a new message here. Is that the intention or can you clarify that or expand upon it?"
Rubin said 'referee' was not the right word to describe American efforts.
"I think that is not at term we at the Department use -- "referee;" we do diplomacy over here. What our policy is, is we have said that we will only mediate or involve ourselves in the work that is being done if both parties want us to. That is with respect to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. That is our view.
"Now, in the last analysis, we also act in our national interest. When the Kargil situation threatened to escalate to dangerous proportions, the President did meet with Prime Minister Sharief and was instrumental in developing and urging an approach that led to the resolution of the problem. So while we may not necessarily come down in each case on a factual question as a so-called referee, we do believe we have a role to play."
Another reporter asked Rubin: "Has either party asked you to act as a mediator in this situation?"
"Not to my knowledge," Rubin said. "I think what we have done is try to make clear that we do regret this loss of life. There was an agreement that should have been implemented, whereby the Indians and Pakistanis talk to each other before a shoot-down occurred. That is our view. "
He was asked if there are any "encouraging signs" in the Administration that both parties appear willing to resume dialogue.
"It's hard to be optimistic at this stage," Rubin said. "If anything, today's events are an indication that we're going in the wrong direction. Both sides continue to blame the other; they continue to make claims. The only thing I think they can agree on is that the plane was two miles within somebody's airspace. But one says it's two miles of the other, and the other says it's two miles of the one.
"We don't have any ability to confirm in this part of the world with precision precisely where the aircraft was when it was shot down. We do, as I said, believe that there was a mechanism to deal with such problems, and clearly that mechanism was not used prior to the shoot-down. Instead, a plane was shot down and, as I said, we regret very much the loss of life."
Asked if the United States giving any consideration to any United Nations action on this dispute, he said, "Not at this point."
"I do believe that Pakistan would like to see that happen. I'm not saying we're not considering that, but I don't believe we're taking an affirmative step toward that at this time."
Where did America see the present conflict heading?
"Hopefully, both sides will see that neither has anything to gain by an escalation of this conflict and that reason and cooler heads will prevail, and that the people of India and Pakistan's interests will be put above petty political interests and the interests of Pakistan and India's nations will be put ahead of any other interests and reason will prevail."
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