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US on defensive mode: Kashmir a 'bilateral issue', says State Department

Richard Verma, the US ambassador to India during the last years of the Obama administration, said Trump "did a lot of damage" with his remarks on Kashmir and Afghanistan, which were "way off the mark"

Archis Mohan & PTI  |  New Delhi/Washington 

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar reiterated his ministry’s denial of Trump's remarks in both Houses on Tuesday | File Photo
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar reiterated his ministry’s denial of Trump's remarks in both Houses on Tuesday | File Photo

US President Donald Trump’s remarks claiming Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought his mediation in the Kashmir issue, triggered sharp reactions, including from the Congress, as the US State Department went into a damage-control mode.

The State Department on Tuesday said it was a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan, and the US “welcomed” the two countries “sitting down” for talks. It also said Pakistan taking “sustained and irreversible” steps against terrorism was key to a successful dialogue with India.

“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,” a State Department spokesperson told PTI in response to a question if Trump’s remarks reflect a change in the country's policy on Kashmir.

Richard Verma, the US ambassador to India during the last years of the Barack Obama administration, said Trump “did a lot of damage” with his remarks on Kashmir and Afghanistan, which were “way off the mark”.

In Washington, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Trump and Imran Khan’s first face-to-face talks has helped reduce the trust deficit. On New Delhi's reaction to Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir, Qureshi said, “India has always reacted this way, they do not want any sort of interference on the Kashmir matter. They always say that they want bilateral talks on Kashmir, then they never come to the table for these talks. They do not want mediation and they do not want bilateral talks.”

Qureshi said Pakistan believed the only solution to the problem was through talks.

The Opposition on Tuesday rejected External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s statement on the floor of both Houses of Parliament on US President Donald Trump’s comments on Kashmir, and demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarify on the issue.

Rajya Sabha saw several adjournments and an eventual walkout by the opposition on the issue, while in the Lok Sabha, the Opposition members protested the PM not speaking in Parliament and staged a walkout. The PM is scheduled to travel to the US in September, and is likely to meet Trump.

In a tweet, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said if Trump's claim that PM Modi has asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir was true, then Modi had “betrayed India’s interests and the 1972 Shimla Agreement”. “A weak foreign ministry denial won't do. PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him the US President,” Gandhi said.

In his statement in the two Houses, Jaishankar reiterated his ministry's denial of Trump's remarks to the press in a meeting with Pakistan PM Imran Khan on Monday. Trump said Modi, at their last meeting in Osaka on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, had asked him to mediate on Kashmir between the two neighbours.

“I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request has been made by the PM to the US President,” Jaishankar said, amid protests by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. He said it had been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. He said any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. Jaishankar emphasised that the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally.

In the Lok Sabha, Congress's Manish Tewari led the Opposition charge. The Opposition demanded why the PM was “mum” over Trump's claim. In the Rajya Sabha, Opposition members met in Leader of Opposition Ghulm Nabi Azad’s chamber in Parliament and called for suspension of all business.

While the Lok Sabha, where the government has a healthy majority, took up other business in the afternoon, opposition continued to insist in the Rajya Sabha when at convened at 3 pm after an adjournment that the PM should clarify. BJP's Bhupender Yadav said if the Lok Sabha can function normally, why can’t the Rajya Sabha. To this, Azad said the government should not try to run Parliament as some “department” of a ministry. Azad said the PM never responds and no minister in the government had the guts to tell him that it is his duty to respond to queries of members in both the Houses. Barring TRS, YSRCP and TDP, other Opposition members walked out.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar termed the protests by the Opposition to demand the PM’s statement “condemnable”. He said their attitude was inappropriate and irresponsible and they were putting politics above national interest.

In her statement, former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said Trump’s “disclosure” on third party mediation on Kashmir was a “huge policy shift” and India and Pakistan must seize the opportunity to forge peace through dialogue. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led faction of the Hurriyat welcomed Trump’s offer of mediation. It said people of Kashmir were the most affected party in the conflict and always strongly advocated resolution through dialogue at all levels and among India and Pakistan.

First Published: Wed, July 24 2019. 01:02 IST