July 1999 News

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Albright to hold talks on India-Pakistan tensions

17 July 1999
Reuters
By: Carol Giacomo

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will meet Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in Singapore later this month in a bid to encourage the resumption of direct talks between New Delhi and Islamabad, a senior official said on Friday.

"That meeting is on," the official said.

It will mark the highest U.S.-Indian contact since Pakistan agreed to withdraw forces from the Indian side of the line dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir after an incursion that sparked the worst clashes between the two South Asian nuclear rivals in 30 years.

The Clinton administration has praised India for exercising restraint in the latest confrontation. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed the insurgents concerned should withdraw when he met President Bill Clinton in Washington on July 4. The pullout, which began earlier this week, is expected to be completed in a few days.

During the White House meeting, Clinton pledged to take a renewed "personal interest" in promoting talks between the two states.

The United States has since stressed it has no plans to mediate in the crisis -- the kind of formal, visible outsider role that has been anathema to India.

But Albright's decision to schedule early talks with Singh reflects a heightened U.S. attention to the problems of the subcontinent and Washington's keen interest in improving ties with India, the world's largest democracy.

The meeting will take place on the fringes of the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which Albright will attend from July 24 to July 27. An exact date has not been announced.

"We want to have the Lahore dialogue resumed and get these issues between India and Pakistan resolved ... We're prepared to be helpful," said the senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He referred to talks in Lahore, Pakistan last February that gave rise to hopes the two longtime adversaries could begin a sustained process to ease their differences.

Senior U.S. officials have told Reuters that India has given assurances it intends to resume a direct dialogue with Pakistan.

But they have also acknowledged that the dialogue may take at least several months to resume, because of the shattered trust between New Delhi and Islamabad and the complication of Indian elections scheduled for the fall.

India is facing its third election in as many years "and that's never a recipe for a sustained policy," one official said. The hope is that the poll will produce a government that is strong enough and secure enough to move forward.

Some Pakistanis have expressed concern that once the military pressure was off, India would not revive the Lahore process through which the two sides agreed to deal with key issues of bilateral concern, including Kashmir.

Although Albright's meeting with Singh is likely to draw considerable media attention, U.S. officials say they largely expect to be involved in "quiet diplomacy," which seems to have the best chance of success in the South Asian environment.

U.S. officials have said India averted an escalation of the Kashmir conflict by putting long-term diplomatic gains before military expediency.

Pressure mounted on the New Delhi government during the two-month-long clash to sanction a dash across the cease-fire line into Pakistani-held territory and choke off supply routes sustaining hundreds of infiltrators in mountains on the Indian side. But India did not do so.

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