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July 30, 1999
US has gained 'new respect' for Vajpayee: Inderfurth
Vaishali Honawar in Washington
A top US State Department official yesterday lauded both the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers for their "courage" in averting a full-scale war between the countries, just two days after a Washington Post report gave credit to President Bill Clinton for the same.
"The course of events in Kargil shows the wisdom and effectiveness of restraint and the pursuit of diplomatic solutions. In the end, it required tough decisions by both India and Pakistan to prevent a dangerous situation from getting worse," Assistant Secretary of State Karl F Inderfurth said in a statement issued at a briefing for South Asian journalists in Washington.
"We have gained new respect for the political courage and leadership of Prime Minister Vajpayee, whose strict maintenance of discipline and restraint in the face of pressures for escalation enabled the crisis to be resolved," he said.
Inderfurth also gave some credit to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief who rushed over for a consultation with President Clinton in the midst of the Kargil conflict. "Prime Minister Sharief also demonstrated courage by making the difficult but necessary decision to take those steps needed to restore the Line of Control. He did so with full knowledge that he would come under some strong criticism at home."
The Washington Post had claimed in a front-page report on Monday that India had been preparing to invade Pakistan from the Rajasthan border and Clinton had intervened to stop what could have been a full-scale war.
But given the recent US tilt toward India after Kargil, and in an effort to clear the air about any possible assumptions that the US is interfering in what India considers a bilateral issue, Inderfurth said Clinton's role in resolving the conflict had been only "supportive." The US, he said, had no intention to mediate in South Asia.
"To prevent more Kargils, we believe there needs to be honest, frank and sustained dialogue between the two countries," he said, adding that Kargil demonstrated the "great concern and interest of the international community in a peaceful resolution of the latest Kashmir crisis".
"President Clinton has stated his 'personal interest' in promoting a return to the Lahore process, and the key to peace between India and Pakistan lies in the kind of enhanced bilateral contacts that process offers," he said.
The end of fighting on the Line of Control near Kargil did not mean that violence had stopped in Kashmir, Inderfurth said, citing recent attacks on civilians, both on the Indian and Pakistani sides. Such terrorist attacks, he said, made it more difficult to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
About Clinton's long-overdue trip to India and Pakistan, which was put off following nuclear tests in both countries last year, Inderfurth said the president "feels frustrated" that he has not been able to travel to South Asia. But the timing of the visit would depend on the steps India, Pakistan and the United States took to make it successful, he added.
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