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India: No Talks with US on Kashmir


India's Foreign Ministry has ruled out talks with the United States on the Kashmir problem, calling it an internal matter. Indian officials also say Pakistan must respond to India's request to extradite 20 criminal and terrorist suspects. Secretary of State Colin Powell is to go to India Thursday, following stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Indian officials say they are looking forward to Mr. Colin Powell's visit to New Delhi and that the current crisis with Pakistan will be at the top of the agenda.

One thing Indian officials say they will not discuss with Secretary Powell is the situation in India's Jammu and Kashmir State. Speaking to reporters as his plane flew to South Asia, Secretary Powell said he believed there were things India could do to ease tensions in the insurgency-wracked state and that he would raise the issue with India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.

India's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Nirupama Rao says the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is strictly an internal matter. "The state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian union," he said, "and the constitution and the democratic framework of India provides the adequate and satisfactory space for a discussion of all issues concerning the people of Jammu and Kashmir. So that is our position, and that position is well known to the outside world, including the United States of America."

In his remarks to reporters, Secretary Powell said he did not expect the United States to become a mediator in the dispute between India and Pakistan. He said the United States would like to be helpful, but ultimately it is up to Indian and Pakistani officials to start talking to each other.

Tensions between the two countries rose sharply after the December 13 attack on India's parliament. Indian officials say the attack was carried out by two Pakistan-based militant Kashmir separatist groups.

In a speech Saturday, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf banned the two groups and several other groups involved in sectarian violence in Pakistan. General Musharraf also pledged not to allow Pakistani territory to be used as a base for terrorism in India's state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian officials have welcomed the steps, but say they will wait to see if violence de-escalates in Kashmir before they engage in a dialogue with Pakistan.

Indian officials also want Pakistan to hand over about the 20 suspects accused of criminal and terrorist activities in India. India says most of the suspects are Indian citizens.

Pakistan says India has not provided enough evidence to back up its claims. Nirupama Rao says Pakistani officials know where the suspects are and should act quickly to address India's concerns.

"It is our conviction and our belief that Pakistan has information about the whereabouts of these persons," said Mr. Rao, "and it is up to Pakistan now to take appropriate action in response to our demands for the handing over these people."

Ms. Rao says both countries have an agreement dating to 1989 that allows for the extradition of criminal and terrorist suspects between the two nations.

India Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Nirupama Rao says while the outlook for India's relations with the United States is extremely positive, relations with Pakistan can only be improved if Islamabad takes steps to ease tensions in the region.

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