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US-Pakistan ties not at India's cost: Blackwill

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

As Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived in the US on Wednesday afternoon from Moscow, US Ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill, who met him on arrival, predicted that US President George W Bush in his November 9 meeting with Vajpayee would assure the Indian prime minister that renewed US-Pakistan ties would not be at the cost of blossoming US-India relations.

In an exclusive interview with rediff.com, Blackwill, who arrived in Washington on Monday on the same plane with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- who visited New Delhi for talks with Defence Minister George Fernandes -- indicated that the US has been urging India to resurrect its dialogue with Pakistan.

He implied that Washington would like Vajpayee to meet with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, while both leaders are in New York.

But he acknowledged that it is clearly India's prerogative whether to do so or not.

India has ruled out any such meeting till Pakistan's eschews fomenting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

In the interview, Blackwill also categorically ruled out any diplomatic activism by the US to insert itself to help resolve the simmering Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan, particularly following increased tension after a suicide bombing attack on Srinagar's legislature that killed at least 35 people.

Blackwill said, "In the first instance, we trust that the talks will give some further momentum to the US-India bilateral relationship. As you say, they haven't met before, and although they have spoken on the phone several times, they've exchanged many messages and letter, but they haven't actually met. So that will be important for the two leaders actually to sit down and have a chance for a prolonged conversation."

"Second," he said, "they will discuss a variety of issues, which are already on the international agenda in addition to our bilateral cooperation. Of course, the war on terrorism is an extremely important one. India was one of the very first countries to wholeheartedly join the international coalition on the global war against terrorism. So we would expect that to be a major subject of discussion."

Blackwill also said another important agenda item would be the 'future of Afghanistan'.

"This is an issue that India, the United States and a variety of other countries and the United Nations are vigorously discussing and seeking to assist the anti-Taleban forces inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan to assist them to come to a new broadbased coalition post-Taleban regime. So that undoubtedly will also be discussed," he said.

The envoy, who is said to be the catalyst for a Bush-Vajpayee summit, when it was learnt that the latter would be coming to the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly session, acknowledged, "I would probably say that we will undoubtedly urge the prime minister to have high-level discussions with Pakistan on issues of mutual concern between India and Pakistan. We believe that these discussions will further the post-Agra dialogue between the two."

"But, of course, it will be entirely up to the two governments to see whether that happens or not," he said.

Blackwill also predicted the summit there would be a significant boost to the US-India economic relationship.

"So it will be a very full agenda and I know the president is very much looking forward to having this sustained discussion with the prime minister," he said.

Blackwill acknowledged that the US could very well understand India's angst over Washington's all encompassing embrace of Pakistan in its anti-terrorism campaign.

"It seems to me that it's quite natural for India to be concerned with Pakistan and to be concerned with the US relationship with Pakistan, and indeed, given the history of these relationships, it would be peculiar if India wasn't preoccupied with these subjects."

Blackwill declared: "We see enormous promise in the transformation of the US-India relationship and therefore that stands alone. Second, with respect to Pakistan, we believe that the United States can have good relations with India and with Pakistan. We do not believe this is a zero-sum game. We do not believe that if progress has been made in the US relationship with Pakistan that means by definition that somehow India has suffered. We don't believe that's the case."

"And thirdly," he noted, "we have assured the government of India frequently that we will take no steps with Pakistan that will endanger India."

On US policy toward Kashmir, Blackwill said, "It has not changed. It's exactly the same as before. We do not see a role for an intermediary evolution in American policy toward Kashmir. We are not going to become diplomatically involved in Kashmir."

But he said, "We will urge the two countries to discuss the issue as appropriate and we will say that if we can be helpful in those discussions in a general sense, we are happy to do so."

He reiterated, "We do not envision any American diplomatic activism with regard to Kashmir."

Blackwill also said President Bush would assure Vajpayee that the US-led coalition's anti-terrorism campaign was global, including terrorism perpetrated against India.

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