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America draws roadmap to talks

New Delhi, Oct. 18: Encouraged by India’s decision to withdraw troops from the international border with Pakistan, the Bush administration wants the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to take more de-escalatory steps to bring down the temperature in South Asia and create the right atmosphere for resuming talks with Islamabad.

In what appears to be Washington’s attempt to nudge India towards “the right direction”, US secretary of state Colin Powell phoned foreign minister Yashwant Sinha at his residence last night.

Describing the redeployment decision as a “positive step”, Powell wanted to find out what other steps India was willing to take now to cool the temperature in South Asia.

“The US secretary of state described the Indian decision as a positive step. Apart from this, he also apprised the foreign minister about the United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq,” Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said. He did not elaborate on the discussions.

But what the Americans wanted from the Indian leadership became clear when US ambassador Robert Blackwill met national security adviser Brajesh Mishra for nearly 45 minutes in South Block this afternoon.

Blackwill said though Washington was happy with the announcement made by India, it hoped that more de-escalatory steps, particularly those which will help strengthen people-to-people contact between the two South Asian neighbours, would follow.

“We are hoping that more de-escalatory steps will occur,” Blackwill told newsmen after his meeting with Mishra. He pointed out that a number of steps could be taken to improve people-to-people contact.

These, he said, can begin with the resumption of train and air links which were suspended after the attack on Parliament. Another suggestion was for steps that would ensure more opportunities for citizens of the two countries to interact and see their families on the other side of the border.

Blackwill stressed that ultimately it was the resumption of the dialogue between the two sides that can normalise India-Pakistan relations.

“We continue to believe that the resumption of serious dialogue between India and Pakistan over a long term and in a sustained and serious way on all issues that separate them, including Kashmir, is a good idea,” Blackwill said.

The US ambassador termed India’s decision on troop withdrawal a “major de-escalatory step”.

But Blackwill was quick to add that “the decision about how India relates to Pakistan is totally up to the Government of India. India is a great democracy”.

Responding to Delhi’s stand that it was not thinking of any further steps towards de-escalation, Blackwill said: “As India and Pakistan face differences, we think talking about them in a serious manner is better than not talking about them.”

India has stuck by its stated position that it will not move towards the talks table until Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism and dismantles the terror apparatus directed against Delhi.

“Our position about talks with Pakistan is well known. We have made it clear that there will be no talks with Pakistan till the Pervez Musharraf regime fulfils its international commitment to stop cross-border terrorism completely,” Sarna said.

Asked whether India was thinking of any more de-escalation measures, the spokesperson said: “At the moment, there is no decision on taking further steps.”

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