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Rumsfeld Praises India for Steps Forward

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 12, 2002 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrapped up his visit to India earlier today by praising Indian leaders for their concern and interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan "in an appropriate way."

Rumsfeld spoke to the press twice today in New Delhi -- this morning after meetings with Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and Defense Minister George Fernandes, and this evening immediately before departing for Islamabad. New Delhi is nine hours and 30 minutes ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.

The secretary spent his afternoon in meetings with Minister of External Affairs Jaswat Singh and, later, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In his evening briefing, Rumsfeld noted Mishra was the first foreign dignitary he met in bilateral meetings after being sworn in as President Bush's defense secretary. The two met during a defense conference in Germany in February 2001.

"In the intervening period between February of 2001 and today, that relationship has matured and strengthened," Rumsfeld said. "Particularly on the military-to-military side, we feel that we have fashioned a series of connections and relationships which are beneficial to both of our countries."

A senior defense official who was in the meetings said an overriding tone throughout was the desire to get beyond the current crisis with Pakistan and to further develop U.S.- Indian ties.

Rumsfeld has insisted he is not in South Asia as a mediator, but as a friend. The official said the secretary brought no proposals to the table. "He said he's just here to help," the official said.

The suggestion of placing U.S. sensors in Kashmir to deter incursions across the Line of Control came up in the talks, but, Rumsfeld said, no decisions or commitments were made.

"It is something that needs to be discussed and thought about. It is unclear to me whether or not and to what extent that conceivably would be helpful," he said. "No conclusions could be reached because it's the kind of thing that technical people ought to discuss."

There was no other mention of U.S. assistance in Kashmir, the senior official said.

Rumsfeld praised India's recent moves such as its moving naval forces further south, restoring overflight privileges to Pakistan, and indicating it will soon return a high commissioner to Pakistan.

He also praised the Pakistani government for its assistance in capturing al Qaeda members.

"The Pakistan government has been very cooperative with the United States in helping to locate, and in a number of instances, they have actually captured al Qaeda and turned them over to us, which has been a very helpful thing," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary arrived in Islamabad this evening and will meet President Pervez Musharraf and other government leaders tomorrow to further discuss the situation in the disputed Kashmir region. He is scheduled to return to Washington later this week.

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