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First Step in India-Pakistan Peace 'Stepping Away From the Brink'

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

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 5, 2002 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his British counterpart, Minister of Defence Geoffrey Hoon, compared notes in London earlier today and agreed on the first step in resolving tensions between India and Pakistan.

"The first step is to back away from the brink. I don't think we can possibly plan what happens thereafter with both sides," Hoon said in a press conference after private meetings with Rumsfeld and U.S. Joint Chief Chairman, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers.

Rumsfeld and Myers are in Europe to attend an annual meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Belgium. Rising tensions over the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan are sure to be high on the list of discussion topics. After the London press conference, Rumsfeld and Hoon left together on the short flight to Belgium.

Rumsfeld said India and Pakistan are sovereign and have to make up their own minds about what's in their best interests. "It seems to be that there are a great many countries in this world who recognize that conflict between those two countries is not in their best interests, and certainly not in the best interests of the world," he said.

Rumsfeld called the 57-year period since nuclear weapons have been fired in anger "an impressive accomplishment on the part of humanity."

"I don't know of any other time in history where there has been a significant weapon that has not been used for that long of a period," he said.

Hoon called encouraging an earlier suggestion by Indian Prime Minister Atai Bihari Vajpayee that the two countries could jointly patrol the Kashmir region along their borders.

"It's a sign that the Indians are looking for the first step back from the brink, which is certainly something that we would encourage," Hoon said. "We want to look in more detail at precisely what are the conditions and whether they could be satisfied."

Later on this 10-day trip, Rumsfeld is to visit India and Pakistan in an attempt to defuse the escalating situation. The media pressed Rumsfeld and Hoon to describe their plan for easing tensions in the region, but both insisted the situation is too fluid to have such a plan.

Given how rapidly the situation is changing, the idea of having a blueprint or a plan where you go from A to Z just isn't sensible, Hoon later told U.S. reporters. "But if we can get A, maybe then we start on B, and C, and D, and so on."

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