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June 9, 2000
US team meets PM in secret over Kashmir
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Uncle Sam is not willing to abandon his efforts to persuade India to settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan to prevent what he perceives could be Armageddon in the fast-deteriorating security environment in South Asia.
Among the various formal and non-formal initiatives undertaken by Washington in this context, the secret meeting between a US delegation and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Kashmir issue on May 8 has raised eyebrows.
Confirming that such a meeting did take place, a senior official of the ministry of home affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told rediff.com that it pertained to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and the Americans' anxiety to see it resolved.
"It is a fact that numerous representations have been made by even external diplomatic and non-diplomatic agencies to our government to hasten the process of normalisation in J&K by solving the dispute. In deserving cases, the government gives out a patient hearing. But don't forget that India's stance on Kashmir is very clear - it is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan and it must be solved within the framework of our Constitution and under the Shimla Agreement," the official pointed out.
He said while the government heard out those who had been given appointments by the PMO, MEA and MHA, "it is the government's prerogative to accept or reject what it has been told by these parties".
Apart from the prime minister, others who attended the May 8 meeting with the US delegation were Union Home Minister L K Advani, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Defence Minister George Fernandes.
The US delegation is understood to have emphasised that while India is emerging as an economic and regional superpower, the Kashmir dispute was affecting its international prestige and standing.
The US delegation is learnt to have taken up the old American line -- that the deadlock on the Kashmir dispute is pushing both New Delhi and Islamabad into an arms race, and until the dispute is solved, Kashmir will continue to be a nuclear flashpoint endangering the entire world.
The official underscored that the prime minister reiterated the unwavering Indian stand to the US delegation -- that while New Delhi appreciated its concern, Kashmir was an integral part of India and there was no scope for any third-party mediation.
Home Minister Advani pointed out that while India was taking all initiatives for normalising relations with Pakistan, Islamabad should first stop aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism. Advani cited the recent massacre of 36 Sikhs in Chatti Singhpora as the latest example of the militants' outrage in the Kashmir valley because of the encouragement provided to them by Pakistan.
The official pointed out that Jaswant Singh told the delegation that in his talks with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and other American diplomats, he had conveyed the Indian position on Kashmir. It had been "understood and appreciated" by the senior Clinton administration officials, Singh told the delegation, according to the official.
It was also indicated by the official that US President Bill Clinton, after his hugely successful India visit, returned to his country with the impression that New Delhi was willing to discuss the Kashmir issue, given adequate encouragement. That is why the Americans have virtually redoubled their efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue, he added.
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