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Bush says no mediation by US on Kashmir issue

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 03: US President George W Bush has firmly ruled out his country's mediation between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and promised to convey in strong terms to Gen Pervez Musharraf that there must be an end to support to terrorist groups operating from Pakistani soil.

At his one-one-one talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here yesterday, Mr Bush categorically said the US did not wish to set up itself as a medium for negotiations between India and Pakistan on Kashmir or other issues.

According to sources who are privy to the conversation between the two leaders, Mr Bush also said he felt encouraged by the Composite Dialogue Process launched by India and Pakistan to sort out various issues between them.

Dr Singh, on his part, explained to the US President the steps taken by both countries to enlarge the areas of confidence and increase people-to-people contacts. "That is the way to go," Mr Bush is understood to have remarked.

The US President is learnt to have said that terrorism remained a matter of concern and that there should be an end to the menace as well as dismantling of training camps for terrorists in Pakistan.

Mr Bush, who visits Pakistan after a three-day trip to India, said he would convey a "strong message" in this regard to Gen Musharraf during their talks.

The US President also expressed concern over yesterday's blast in Karachi.

He said Pakistan had been an important ally in the war against terror and expressed admiration for Gen Musharraf's role in this regard.

The two leaders dwelt at length on Iran and its nuclear programme. Dr Singh put the issue in perspective by pointing out that Iran was a very important country and a very old civilisation that was legitimately proud of itself. He pointed out that it might not be very effective to push such a country into a corner and that better results could be achieved by handling the issue through diplomacy and dialogue. He also felt that the new Iranian leadership was still finding its feet and adjusting to international realities.

At the same time, the Prime Minister said India had concerns about the emergence of another nuclear state in its region. He, however, preferred that the issue should be handled in as diplomatic a manner as possible and as much patience that the international community could muster.

Mr Bush said the US concerns were not limited to Iran's nuclear programme but also extended to its alleged support for militant groups such as the Hamas and the Hezbollah as well as its 'unhelpful role' in Iraq. "We have given them time for negotiations and we hope these would yield results," he said.

The two leaders also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, which Mr Bush had visited before arriving in India in the evening of March 1. The US President expressed great appreciation for India's role in the reconstruction of the war-torn country and the restoration of democratic institutions there and hoped there would be an even greater engagement by India in the times to come.

The summit meeting also covered the human rights situation in Myanmar and the continued detention of dissident leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Dr Singh explained to Mr Bush that Myanmar held special significance for India, given that it was in its sensitive neighbourhood and contiguous to India's north- eastern states. He talked about India's security compulsions in this regard and pointed out that, in various high-level meetings with Myanmarese leaders, India had always advised them to move fast on the path to multi-party democracy and release Ms Suu Kyi at the earliest. He said India had also offered assistance for capacity and institution-building to Myanmar.

The two leaders also discussed the situation in Nepal.

The one-to-one meeting between the two leaders came shortly after the two sides had reached agreement on their historic civil nuclear deal and this helped to provide a "positive backdrop" to the talks.

Mr Bush said he was pleased with the plan for separation of India's civil and military nuclear facilities and conveyed to Dr Singh that he remained committed to the agreement.

Later, the two leaders were joined by their delegations at the talks. The Indian team included Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, Mr T K A Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

Explaining why the US attached such great importance to its relationship with India, Mr Bush spoke about this country's vibrant democracy and pluralistic society.

He said the US was impressed by the manner in which people of different religions and ethnicities lived in harmony in India and by the efforts being made to bring about major transformations in society and the economy within the parameters of democracy.

Mr Bush said Americans were also full of admiration for Indian skills and talents and the contribution of the Indian American community to the growth of the US.

He said though the focus was on the civil nuclear deal between the two countries, the relationship was much more broadbased.

Mr Mukherjee referred to the Framework Agreement on Defence Cooperation between the two countries, signed last year, and said it was working well. He said there was greater contact today between the defence establishments of the two countries.

In this context, Mr Bush talked about the recent Indo-US defence exercises and said, "Our chaps were bedazzled by the skills and professional quality displayed by Indian pilots." The talks also covered the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture launched by the two countries, under which universities and research institutions would benefit from closer cooperation. The US has committed 25 million dollars for the programme.

Mr Pawar was confident that the initiative would help usher in another Green Revolution in India and create vast opportunities for employment in the farm sector.

Dr Singh praised the US President for resisting protectionist lobbies in his country and for taking a bold stand on outsourcing.

"I sincerely believe that free trade is good for the US. It will help create more jobs and wealth," Mr Bush responded.

On India's concerns about visa restrictions, the US President said he would try to liberalise the system further to enable freer movement of people between the two countries.

The US has also pledged 15 million dollars for the Bi-National Science and Technology Commission, which will be an umbrella organisation for ongoing and new joint projects. Mr Bush said US science institutions were genuinely interested in working with their Indian counterparts and promised to liberalise travel of scientists and scholars between the two countries.

On high-tech cooperation, the US has liberalised the regime further and come up with a "license exception" scheme.

This would provide a "green channel" of sorts for companies in which the US had "complete confidence", sources explained.

This would help increase the flow of hitherto restricted dual-use technologies to India.


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