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Senior US Official Arriving in India Amid Cooling Tensions With Pakistan - 2003-05-09

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrives in New Delhi late Friday on the last leg of a three-nation tour of South Asia. Mr. Armitage says he is cautiously optimistic about recent improvements the relationship between nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan.

When Mr. Armitage last visited New Delhi in June, his mission was to persuade Indian leaders to pull back from the brink of war with Pakistan.

This time, he comes when the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals are talking the language of reconciliation after last month's unexpected peace offer by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. That has been followed by a full restoration of diplomatic ties as well as air links in the last two weeks.

After meeting with Pakistan's leader in Islamabad Thursday, Mr. Armitage described the recent negotiations as the "beginning of a process" where there could be meaningful dialogue.

Indian leaders are expected to tell the U.S. envoy that real dialogue will depend on steps Pakistan takes to end its alleged support of Muslim militant insurgents waging a separatist campaign in Indian Kashmir.

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee told parliament Thursday he will strive sincerely to give peace another chance, but will move with extreme caution. He said Pakistan must end cross-border terrorism to create the right atmosphere for a dialogue.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has already assured Mr. Armitage that there are no militant training camps in Pakistan Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between them but claimed by both in its entirety.

Political analyst and former Indian Foreign Secretary JN Dixit says India is counting on the United States to put more pressure on Islamabad to put a permanent end to infiltration and violence by Muslim militants in Indian Kashmir. "Certainly a very categorical message can go to Pakistan that if they do not pull back, [from support to militants] then they would be subject to certain operational pressures. Because terrorism is a matter of supreme concern more than various territorial and other disputes, which have been there for several years," he said.

With regards to security, Prime Minister Vajpayee has rejected Pakistan's call for nuclear disarmament. He says while Pakistan's nuclear weapons only target India, India has broader security concerns that go beyond Pakistan.