May 23, 2001
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US welcomes India's invitation to Musharraf

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

The George W Bush administration on Wednesday lost no time in showering praise on India for its decision to invite Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf for talks that could finally break the logjam on the contentious and simmering 54-year-old Kashmir dispute that Washington believes is a potential nuclear flashpoint.

State department deputy spokesman Phillip Reeker said at the afternoon briefing, "We have just seen the press report on this development. We applaud India's invitation to Gen Musharraf to come for talks.

"We have encouraged both countries to engage in a process of dialogue," he noted.

Reeker said both India and Pakistan now "have an opportunity to make real progress toward a reduction of tensions and resolution of their differences through peaceful means".

"We continue to believe that it is important for all sides in Kashmir to exercise restraint and to seek to reduce violence," he added.

When one reporter challenged Reeker, saying the implication of his statement was that in Kashmir the US believes talks can take place even as violence continues, while in the Middle East it has been calling for an end to violence as a precursor for discussions between Israel and the Palestinians, Reeker dismissed the contention saying, "It's apples and oranges. Don't try to compare different situations in different parts of the world."

"Look," he asserted, "we are calling for restraint. We think the dialogue is important."

The announcement of India's decision by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh came even as the government called off the nearly six-month-old unilateral ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir, saying terrorist groups had not reciprocated the truce.

Interestingly, sources who were at the meeting on Tuesday between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans told India Abroad that Armitage had told them that when he met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his recent visit to New Delhi and suggested that he restart the dialogue with Pakistan at the highest level, the prime minister expressed doubts whether Pakistan would respond positively.

Evidently, the announcement on Wednesday indicates that Vajpayee has had a change of heart.

Privately, senior administration sources acknowledged that they were elated by this development since they had been pushing for resumption of such a dialogue at the highest level, but denied having exerted any pressure on India to do so.

One official said, "We are not going to take credit for Prime Minister Vajpayee's invitation to Musharraf."

The official said that even as the US kept urging a resumption of the dialogue, it always remained sensitive to India's concerns that such a dialogue could take place only if the right climate was created.

"Even as we kept calling for a resumption of the dialogue," the official said, "we kept talking to the Pakistanis and telling them that it is important that this take place in the appropriate environment." In other words, the US was urging Islamabad to stop fomenting the insurgency in Kashmir and sponsoring terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen -- which is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the US -- and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, on the verge of being designated as a FTO.

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