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India, E.U. differ on Kashmir

By Amit Baruah

COPENHAGEN OCT. 10. India and the European Union today differed publicly on the issues of Kashmir, dialogue in South Asia and cross-border terrorism as they dropped all references to the situation in the sub-continent in a joint statement issued this afternoon.

Addressing a joint press conference at the end of the third India-E.U. summit, the Danish Prime Minister and E.U. President, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, when asked why there was no reference to Kashmir in the agreed text, said: ``To be honest and frank, we did not agree on a text. But I would like to... urge all parties in this conflict to find a peaceful solution... we did not think it would facilitate further progress to write a text.''

The Indian delegation, which was clearly angry at Mr. Rasmussen making the differences public, hit back with a separate briefing by the External Affairs Minister, Yaswhant Sinha, who claimed that the E.U. did not want any reference to the issue of cross-border terrorism while calling for a dialogue with Pakistan. Hence, all references to South Asia were dropped from the joint statement, which had been under negotiation for some time.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Rasmussen, reiterated what had been dropped from the E.U. formulation, a visibly perturbed Mr. Sinha told Indian journalists. Right through the press conference, Mr. Sinha, the Disinvestment Minister, Arun Shourie, and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, were consulting each other.

An aggressive Mr. Rasmussen said at least on three occasions at the press conference that India should talk to Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, however, said in Mr. Rasmussen's presence that if Pakistan ended cross-border terrorism then India would resume its dialogue with it.

Mr. Rasmussen, who showed little appreciation of the successful elections in Jammu and Kashmir, stuck to his agenda till the end when he said that ``concern'' about the recent missile tests had been expressed at the summit meeting with Mr. Vajpayee.

The E.U., he said, had sent a ``clear signal'' to India about restraint. ``We condemn the terrorist attacks on India. At the same time, we urge India to de-escalate the tense relations with Pakistan. We urge India to engage in a direct dialogue with Pakistan and to establish confidence-building measures on security issues, including on nuclear arms and in relation to Kashmir. Tensions in Kashmir should be lowered. We see a need for a dialogue among the stakeholders in Kashmir.''

While there were the usual references — platitudes about the growing relationship between India and the E.U. in the bland joint statement — the summit itself appeared to have been hijacked by the very public differences on Kashmir and Pakistan.

For his part, Mr. Vajpayee stated that de-escalation required a peaceful, congenial atmosphere and reminded his hosts that it was he who had travelled to Lahore and then invited the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, to Agra.

On the Kashmir elections, he said the important thing was the fact that the polls were free and fair — not who triumphed.

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