26 January 1999
(Meetings can help the normalization process, asst. secstate says) (680) By William B. Reinckens USIA Staff Writer Washington -- Karl F. Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, said that progress is being made in the India-Pakistan dialogue. "These are not make-or-break sessions," Inderfurth said January 26 at a Washington briefing on the eve of his departure to India and Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Inderfurth, along with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and General Joe Ralston, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit India and Pakistan to examine ways to deal with nuclear proliferation and missile technology issues as well as regional stability concerns. "The Indian and Pakistani governments are approaching these important issues seriously and deliberately," said Inderfurth. However, he noted that U.S. relations with the two nations were "disappointing" last year because of the underground nuclear tests each carried out last May. This visit is the eighth round of talks between senior American, Pakistani, and Indian officials since the tests. "Our agenda is larger than non-proliferation," he said, stressing that the United States wants to return to a more normal relationship with the two countries. However, Inderfurth stated that "the greatest degree of restraint is urged" on both countries to refrain from testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. He also noted that the United States likes Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh's statement about wanting to "harmonize" security concerns for the region. Inderfurth rejected the idea that the United States rewarded Pakistan by partially lifting economic sanctions this fall. He said that the U.S. supports the International Monetary Fund's approved economic plan for Pakistan because it would assist Pakistan to "get through this rough economic time." "We did not want to see economic collapse in Pakistan," he said. "Our real objective is to remove all sanctions," against both countries. How fast that happens depends on the progress that can be demonstrated by all sides, he said. Inderfurth characterized the recent visit to Washington by Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif as statecraft which has created a "positive momentum" toward regional security and non-proliferation. "In both New Delhi and Islamabad, we will encourage the parties to move forward and make real progress," he said. He noted that the India-Pakistan senior level talks are scheduled shortly after the U.S. delegation's visit. It is expected that both countries will discuss peace and security, Kashmir, trade and commerce. Inderfurth praised the Government of India for the strong statements it has made condemning recent attacks on Christians in India. "Their condemnations are what we expected," he said. He also sees progress in the Indian-Pakistani dialogue with the arrival of the Pakistani cricket team in India and the opening of the Grand Trunk road between Lahore and New Delhi. The political situation in Afghanistan will also be discussed during the U.S. delegation's visit. "Pakistan can have a very important role to play in moving Afghanistan toward peace," Inderfurth said. He noted that Afghanistan's harboring of Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist organization is a stumbling block to normalizing relations and called for Afghanistan to expel Bin Laden so that he might be prosecuted for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa last year. He also noted that the United States supports the work of the United Nations "Six Plus Two" process. "It is clear that peace and stability cannot be restored militarily," Inderfurth said. After talks in India and Pakistan, Inderfurth will visit Sri Lanka. Asked during the briefing about the role of U.S. Special Forces in training Sri Lankan troops, he replied: "This program is transparent and not part of the conflict. Our position is that the conflict should be resolved quickly through a political process." Inderfurth also mentioned that President Clinton might visit the subcontinent at some point this year and noted that such a trip would include a stop in Bangladesh.