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July 19, 1999
Jaswant's team looking forward to meeting with Albright
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The external affairs ministry is preparing for Jaswant Singh's meeting with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, scheduled for July 25 at Singapore, with great care, since this meeting is expected to make clear the American position on Kashmir.
The external affairs minister travels to Singapore on June 24 for the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting, which is to be held on July 26 and 27.
In Singapore, he will hold a one-to-one meeting with Albright where the fallout of the Kargil conflict that concluded on Sunday, July 18, will be discussed.
"At Singapore, we will find out what exactly Clinton meant when he spoke about his 'personal interest' in Kashmir," said an external affairs ministry official.
The official pointed out that Albright has the president's ear on most matters concerning foreign policy. "What Albright tells Clinton will be very important in shaping US policy towards India and Kashmir. Hence it becomes important to present our case well," he said.
Albright, who has earned a reputation for toughness in her dealings with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic over the Kosovo crisis, has strong opinions on Kashmir, where her father served on deputation with a United Nations military group.
The other aspect is to hear what message Albright brings from Clinton. "From Albright we are likely to know what exactly Clinton and the US establishment have in mind on Kashmir, now that the war is over," the official said.
There is some worry that in ensuring the Pakistani pullout, Clinton may have given Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharief a personal assurance to bring up the Kashmir issue and force India into negotiating the matter sooner rather than later. And so Indian officials remain cagey despite Washington promising time and again that it has no intention of mediating in the dispute.
India insists the Kashmir matter must be resolved bilaterally, as decided in the Simla Agreement and reiterated in the Lahore Declaration. But Pakistan has always been keen to involve a third party, claiming that the Simla Agreement does not bar such mediation.
Jaswant Singh will not be meeting only Albright, though that is clearly the high point of his Singapore visit. He is also expected to meet the foreign ministers of China, Japan, Russia, the European Union and Singapore, though the timings are still to be worked out. All these countries are, like India, members of the ARF. Pakistan is not.
"We have never had it so good," laughed the MEA official. "Usually before such conferences, it is we who call up the others and request meetings with their side. Now, they have been calling us up continuously, requesting time for a one-to-one meeting with Singh. And his schedule is really tight."
Since this will be Jaswant Singh's first meeting with all these leaders after the Kargil conflict, the ministry is ensuring that the sessions all go off smoothly with India getting its view across strongly.
"Even though the war [on the border] has been won, the diplomatic war remains. The very fact that the Chinese defence attaché refused to accompany the diplomatic delegation to see the situation in Kargil shows that we still have to be careful," said the official.
He explained that by not sending its defence attaché along, China was trying to reassure its ally Pakistan. "Beijing had no choice but to back India when Pakistan attacked us because the whole world was on our side. To oppose India would have been to go against the world. But at the same time, China is keen to ensure that its relations with Pakistan stay on good terms."
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