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Senior US Official to Encourage Dialogue Between India, Pakistan - 2003-05-07

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has arrived in Islamabad as part of Washington's ongoing efforts to encourage the peace dialogue between India and Pakistan. Mr. Armitage will travel to New Delhi later this week for similar talks with Indian leaders.

Mr. Armitage begins official talks with Pakistani leaders by meeting with Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, President Pervez Musharraf, and other senior officials in Islamabad.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said the discussions will focus on bilateral relations and the latest peace gestures from both India and Pakistan, which have signaled the most dramatic cooling of tensions between the rival nations in nearly two years.

Before leaving Washington, the deputy secretary of state said his mission is to encourage the diplomatic thaw between India and Pakistan. But Mr. Armitage stressed that the United States does not see itself as a mediator.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jamali told a news conference that his government has agreed to India's offer last week to restore full bilateral diplomatic relations and transportation links. Mr. Jamali says this should set the stage for a meaningful dialogue with India.

"We believe that all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan must be addressed sincerely and constructively through a sustained dialogue with a sense of priority. Such a commitment is in the interest of harmony and stability in the region and for the prosperity of its billion-plus people," Mr. Jamali said.

Indian leaders reportedly said Mr. Jamali's initiatives are inadequate since they do not address what India calls cross-border terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region.

New Delhi has been demanding that Islamabad stop Islamic militants from crossing into Indian Kashmir to fuel an insurgency there. Pakistan denies any involvement.

Kashmir has been the subject of two wars between India and Pakistan and soldiers from the two countries regularly exchange fire across the military line of control dividing the region.

Pakistani officials on Wednesday alleged that Indian shelling left six people dead, including two military officers.

The tentative steps toward peace are the most important between the subcontinent's nuclear rivals since an attack on the Indian parliament in December, 2001. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack, and downgraded diplomatic relations with Islamabad, which denied involvement.

Mr. Armitage will visit neighboring Afghanistan before traveling to India to conclude his South Asia mission.