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Cautious US leaves peace pace to Delhi

New Delhi, May 10: US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage today said it was up to India to pace the peace process with Pakistan that could finally lead to a summit level meeting between the Prime Ministers.

This came after the Indian side made clear to Armitage that the peace initiative taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was “designed at creating an easier condition” for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to fulfil his international commitment of ending infiltration across the Line of Control.

“It is not my job to give assurances or to tell India what to think and what to do. It is for India to make its own assessment of the statements that has come out of Pakistan,” the US deputy secretary of state said after meeting several Indian leaders, including Vajpayee and his deputy .K. Advani.

Commending Vajpayee’s “far-reaching statesman-like gesture… in extending his hand of friendship”, Armitage said the road to bilateral peace was neither easy nor short and no overnight solutions could be expected.

“It is a long trip to get there. But we hope the process which has begun will take the two countries towards peace.”

The US official reiterated the purpose of his visit was not to judge whether Musharraf had lived up to his promise to stop export of terror and thrust his assessments on India.

“It is for India to judge when a conducive atmosphere has been created that can lead to a summit level meeting between the two sides,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna later said, elaborating on the views shared by the deputy secretary with Indian leaders.

But Delhi made it clear that though it was committed to peace, the ball was now in Islamabad’s court. Musharraf had to take appropriate steps to end cross-border terror and dismantle the terror apparatus if an atmosphere conducive for talks between the Prime Ministers could be created, possibly by year-end.

No one should see the current Indian stand as a dilution of its stated position on terror, officials said.

Although Armitage declined to make a clear comment on whether he was satisfied with the steps Musharraf had taken, he said Washington was not willing to dilute its stand on terror.

“People are dying everyday. Women, children and non-combatants are victims for some political cause, one has to call them terrorism.”

The US deputy secretary, who arrived here last night, also met foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, finance minister Jaswant Singh and leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi.

Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal hosted a lunch for him and the American delegates during which a host of bilateral, regional and internal issues, including the situation in Iraq and developments in Afghanistan, were discussed.

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