By Arul Louis
New York– A senior White House adviser says that US President Donald Trump has “a good and enduring relationship” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India tries to move beyond Trump’s recent remarks about Kashmir mediation.
Asked by a reporter on Thursday if Trump had made up the claim about Modi asking for his mediation on the Kashmir issue, his Counsellor Kellyanne Conway said, “We have a good and enduring relationship with Mr Modi and the Indian government.”
And pressed about the Indian government’s denial that mediation was requested, she said tersely, “You will have to ask them.”
India has, meanwhile, officially decided “it was time move on” and instead concentrate on the larger picture of India-US ties.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar made a similar assessment that the India-US relationship “is an extremely important” one.
Later, asked by a reporter at the State Department if there was a change in US policy towards Kashmir, spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Thursday, “I don’t have anything to say beyond the President’s statement.”
Both Conway and Ortagus did not address the veracity of Trump’s statement or its implications.
While preparing to meet with visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Trump had told reporters, “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.'”
As the claim was roiling India, Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice G Wells tried to ease tensions with India by tweeting under her initials, AGW, on her bureau’s twitter account, “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes #Pakistan and #India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist.”
Ortagus statement appeared to be a step back from this clarification, but not unexpected given the frequent foreign — domestic — policy confusions brought on by a mercurial president and efforts by officials to salvage situation while working at cross purposes.
Explaining India’s stand, Kumat said, “Our position on the matter has been explained by the External Affairs Minister in both houses of parliament, and by the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) too. The State Department has made a clarification that their position on this matter remains the same, and there is no change.”
“We are very strong strategic partners, and we have brought in deep convergences across a range of issues. We have excellent trade and investment linkages, in the area of defence cooperation; in high defence technology tie-ups. So there are plenty of things on the table,” he added.
At her briefing on Thursday, Ortagus sidestepped another question by a reporter asking how US-Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations would proceed after Khan’s admission on Tuesday that there were 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists in Pakistan who had fought in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Ortagus said, “This was an initial meeting. This meeting, of course, gave the chance for the President and the Secretary (of State Mike Pompeo) to meet with Prime Minister Khan, to build a personal connection and rapport. And now we think it’s time to make progress on the success of this first meeting.
Without addressing the presence of terrorists, she added, “I would note one of the things that the prime minister says, that he vowed to urge the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan Government. We are committed to peace in Afghanistan. We think that was an important step. And there was a number of issues that were discussed not only in the President’s meeting but with the Secretary’s meeting as well, and now is the time to build upon that meeting and to build upon those commitments.”
But asked about it in New Delhi, Kumar pointed out that counter-terrorism had figured in statements on Khan’s interactions in Washington.
“The press statement issued by the State Department following the US Secretary of State’s (Mike Pompeo’s) meeting with Imran Khan, in each and every statement there is reference to counter-terrorism,” Kumar said.
“Several times the issue of terrorism and counter-terrorism came up. We really hope that Pakistan fulfils all the promises it has made in the meetings, and the Pakistani leadership has made in the media interviews on eliminating the infrastructure of terrorism in the areas under their control, in an irreversible and credible manner. We hope they stand up to what they have said,” he said. (IANS)