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Bush Calls For Calm Between India, Pakistan - 2002-05-21

President Bush is calling for calm between India and Pakistan as violence continues in the disputed region of Kashmir. The latest U.S. expression of concern follows the assassination of a moderate Kashmiri separatist leader.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president has long been concerned about the deteriorating relationship between India and Pakistan.

He says a conflict between the nuclear powers not only threatens the region but could also distract from the international fight against terrorism.

"We call on India and Pakistan to work to resolve the current crisis peacefully and through dialogue that can eventually result in a permanent solution," he said. "The president thinks it is very important that India and Pakistan take all steps they can to reduce tensions and to avoid a war that would destabilize the region and distract from the war against terrorism."

Mr. Fleischer says the Bush Administration is engaged in on-going diplomacy to ease tensions between India and Pakistan, including an upcoming visit to the countries by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

U.S. concerns follow the assassination of Kashmiri separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone who was shot by masked gunmen at a memorial rally for another separatist leader.

In a written statement, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was saddened and angered to hear of the murder, calling it a direct attack on Mr. Lone's hopes for what the secretary calls "a fair political process in Kashmir."

Mr. Lone was seen as a moderate leader who wanted to take steps toward talks with the Indian government to find a political solution to the dispute.

Secretary Powell says his killers are "clearly among those who oppose a peaceful political resolution," calling the assassination a terrorist act designed to undermine hopes for free and fair elections.

India and Pakistan have massed nearly a million troops along their border since December, when Islamic militants attacked the Indian parliament.