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Rumsfeld: India - Pakistan War Would Be Catastrophic - 2002-05-24

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says war between India and Pakistan is not an option, given the dangers of possible escalation in any conflict between the two nuclear powers. Mr. Rumsfeld's comment came during a wide-ranging news conference at the Pentagon Friday that also touched on the war in Afghanistan and the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld says a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be catastrophic.

He tells reporters at the Pentagon U.S. authorities are urging both sides to show restraint in what he terms the dangerous situation that has developed in South Asia. "War is not an option given the dangers of escalation and the risks of uncertainty in an armed conflict between two nuclear-armed powers," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says tensions between the two countries are having an impact on the U.S.-led counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. He says because of the military stand-off with India, fewer Pakistani soldiers have been deployed along the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan to search for escaping al-Qaida and Taleban fighters.

In Afghanistan itself, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, appearing with Mr. Rumsfeld, says coalition forces have raided a possible Taleban leadership compound west of Kandahar, detaining some 50 suspects. "As they were going into the compound where there was suspected Taleban leadership, they were fired upon," he said. "They fired back. Initial reports are that they killed one and wounded two and that there were no friendly casualties. They have also detained approximately 50 folks who were on the ground at that site and are going through the initial processing of those individuals."

Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace were asked repeatedly about the prospects of U.S. military action against Iraq and published reports that military leaders are reluctant to take action now because forces are stretched too thin by the operations in Afghanistan.

General Pace says the military stands ready to do whatever is asked of it.

But Mr. Rumsfeld had a strong reaction when asked specifically if an invasion could come before the end of this year. "The dumbest thing anyone could do would be to stand up here and start previewing things that somebody's thinking about or not thinking about," he said.

On another subject, Mr. Rumsfeld has voiced renewed concern about Iran's development of weapons of mass destruction, including its efforts to acquire nuclear arms.