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US Concerned About Rising Tensions Over Kashmir - 2002-05-22


The United States is sharpening its appeals to both India and Pakistan for restraint and dialogue to end their confrontation over Kashmir. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue by phone with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who will visit the region next week.

Mr. Powell called his British counterpart from Air Force One as he headed to Europe with President Bush. At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker expressed concern about what he termed a worsening situation in Kashmir, including increased shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces across the "line of control."

"It's now heavy. We find this a very worrisome development. We've repeatedly stated our strong concerns about the potential for conflict between India and Pakistan and about the danger of it spiraling out of control. And I would reiterate once again that armed conflict can only add to the problems that divide these two nuclear-armed neighbors. It's not going to solve any problems," Mr. Reeker said.

Mr. Reeker said Pakistan needs to do all it can to stop the infiltration of extremists across the "line of control." He also reiterated the U.S. condemnation of Tuesday's assassination, in Srinagar in Indian Kashmir, of Muslim separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone, a moderate who favored dialogue with India over the Kashmir dispute.

"It was an attack upon the hopes for a fair political process in Kashmir. This was a figure, a leader, who sought to achieve goals through peaceful, democratic means and courageously stood up to extremists. And now he's been killed. And so we deplore that killing, we condemn that crime, and we call upon all parties to pursue a dialogue, a peaceful dialogue, to resolve their differences," Mr. Reeker said.

Secretary of State Powell, who made a crisis visit to the area in January the last time Kashmir tensions boiled over, has been in telephone contact in recent days with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Foreign Secretary Jaswant Singh.

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca has just returned from talks in Islamabad and New Delhi. And Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage is expected to visit both capitals soon, probably early next month.

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