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Armitage Ends South Asia Trip with Cautious Optimism - 2003-05-10

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage wrapped up a three-nation tour of South Asia late Saturday, saying he was cautiously optimistic about relations between India and Pakistan.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage held talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other senior officials, following visits to Islamabad and Kabul earlier in the week.

Meeting with reporters before he returned to the United States, the U.S. diplomat praised Mr. Vajpayee for initiating a process he said could lead to a real thaw in relations between South Asia's two nuclear-armed neighbors.

"I said in Islamabad, and I will say again here, that I am cautiously optimistic that the process begun by the active statesmanship of the prime minister of India could possibly lead to a step-by-step process that would eventually resolve all issues," Mr. Armitage said. "We would like to see two great nations, India and Pakistan, living side-by-side in peace, stability and harmony. We would like to see the United States to have the ability to have a relationship with Pakistan in and about Pakistan, and a relationship with India in and about India, and not have to take into consideration other interests."

A recent speech by Mr. Vajpayee calling for dialogue with Pakistan has resulted in India and Pakistan renewing diplomatic and transport links.

A spokesman for India's Foreign Ministry says Mr. Armitage did not come as a messenger, and that New Delhi still wants Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration in Indian-administered Kashmir, something Islamabad says it has already done.

Navtej Sarna, India's Foreign Ministry spokesman, says Mr. Vajpayee's initiative was not a substitute for India's demand to a halt what New Delhi calls cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

"We heard claims; we have heard declarations before, and we have received assurances before. But these have not been translated into reality. For us, we will judge Pakistan's actions by what they do, and not what they say," he said.

For his part, Mr. Armitage condemned the violence in Kashmir, calling it terrorism and saying all violence must end.