February 2000 News

Clinton restated long-standing Kashmir policy: White House

18 February 2000
The Hindu
By Sridhar Krishnaswami

WASHINGTON: One day after the President, Mr. Bill Clinton, stated at a press conference that the United States would be willing to play the role of a mediator between India and Pakistan over Kashmir if asked to by both the countries, the White House has made it known that the President was only restating the long-standing policy that Washington wants a peaceful resolution to the issue of Kashmir.

The White House was asked on Thursday if anybody had taken up the President on his willingness to mediate on Kashmir. ``Have we heard any nibbles?'' the spokesman was asked.

``I don't think so. I think the President was restating our long-stated policy that we want a peaceful resolution to the issue of Kashmir. It is best done through bilateral channels and bilateral dialogue between the Indians and the Pakistanis. If both sides want us to play a role, we would certainly be willing to do that. There hasn't been that kind of a request as yet. I don't think there has been anything since yesterday. So we will continue to hope that both sides can engage each other and try to make progress,'' Mr. David Leavy responded.

The White House was also asked if there was a cutoff date for Pakistan to comply with the President's guidelines after which it would be logistically not possible to go to that country. ``I don't think the President was intending to put any benchmarks or lay down any pre-conditions for his trip (to Pakistan). I don't think he said that,'' Mr. Leavy argued, going on to add that there are some areas of concern which the administration had been talking to Pakistan for sometime - such as terrorism, non-proliferation and the restoration of democracy.

``We haven't made a decision on any other stops for the trip. I'm not sure if there's a deadline for the trip per se. I think at some point it becomes logistically more difficult to do that.'' The spokesperson then stressed the fact that the trip ``stands on its own'' and should not be viewed through the lens of whether the President went to Pakistan or not.

``I think it is really important for all of you who are going to cover the trip or write about it to look at this as really an important milestone for the U.S. to go to the region. It will really deepen our engagement with India. It is a really diverse and important country for us with many, many issues we deal with them on from security, non-proliferation, health and the environment. And this is going to be an opportunity to deepen those relationships, deepen those contacts,'' Mr. Leavy said.

Knowledgeable people here, including senior diplomats, say that given the domestic political compulsions and America's immediate and longer-term interests in South Asia, Mr. Clinton will end up visiting Pakistan. A political snub to Islamabad is not seen to be in the interests of the U.S. Various scenarios are being projected as to when and how long Mr. Clinton could be in Pakistan.

But the bottom line is that while the Secretary of State is expected to make a recommendation on this subject, the final determination will be made by the White House.

By the same token, what is being pointed out is that given the tenor of the President's comments on India, Pakistan and South Asia as such, Mr. Clinton is most likely to discuss a range of issues that would include non-proliferation, peace and stability in the region and Kashmir. The President has shown a lot of interest in these issues and one argument is that little can be accomplished by leaving out Pakistan from the South Asia programme.


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