New Delhi: The US State Department Tuesday said it stands “ready to assist” both India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, as it looked to downplay President Donald Trump’s embarrassing remarks hours ago.
“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,” Alice G. Wells, acting US assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs, said in a tweet.
The statement came hours Trump remarked that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approached him a couple of weeks ago to mediate on Kashmir.
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) July 22, 2019
In a separate statement to journalists, the US State Department said, “We believe the foundation for any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan is based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists on its territory.”
India was quick to reject Trump’s remarks on PM Modi. However, the controversy now comes at a time when New Delhi is walking the tightrope with the US on several sensitive matters ranging from trade to defense.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is even busy preparing for Modi’s visit to the US in September. Apart from a bilateral meeting with the US President, the prime minister will also be attending the annual UN General Assembly meet.
Official sources told ThePrint while India rejected Trump’s remarks even before the White House issued a statement, the issue will cause “unease” when both leaders meet in September to iron out differences that have crept in the bilateral relationship.
While not denouncing Donald Trump’s remarks, the State Department tried to put the comments in perspective reiterating US position that the issue needs to be addressed bilaterally.
However, the co-chairs of the India caucus from both parties and Chairman Foreign Relations Committee of the House issued statements supporting India’s position.
“Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that #India consistently opposes third-party mediation re #Kashmir. Everyone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing. I just apologized to Indian Ambassador @HarshShringla for Trump’s amateurish and embarrassing mistake,” tweeted US Congressman Brad Sherman, who is also Chair of the House Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific.
Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that #India consistently opposes third-party mediation re #Kashmir. Everyone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing. 1/2
— Rep. Brad Sherman (@BradSherman) July 22, 2019
Within minutes of Trump’s remarks, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said “no such request” has been made by Modi to the US President, even as he reiterated that any dialogue with Pakistan would happen after “an end to cross border terrorism”.
…that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Shimla Agreement & the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally.2/2
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) July 22, 2019
‘Misunderstood our statement’
Sharat Sabharwal, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, said, “Trump’s statement comes as a double embarrassment to India. Firstly, we are having to contradict Trump at a sensitive time like this and secondly, he has misunderstood our statement.”
He added that during crisis situations earlier in the year — the Pulwama attacks followed by the Balakot airstrikes — India did seek cooperation from “influential countries” to mitigate the situation.
“So, when we seek that kind of intervention and countries did do their bit for de-escalation of tensions it gives a feeling to many countries that they can mediate the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan,” said Sabharwal.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based think-tank Wilson Centre, said, “He (Trump) made an off the cuff remark that appears to be at odds with reality. Though this is the US President, a big deal will be made of it. But at the end of the day, it means little. And the White House will certainly not pursue this idea of mediation.”
‘Would love to be a mediator’
The controversy started during Donald Trump’s joint press conference with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House Monday, as he made the remarks in response to a question.
“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ (Modi said) ‘Kashmir’,” Trump said.
“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know,” Trump said, adding that he is ready to help, if the two countries ask for it.
The offer goes against India’s consistent stance that the basis to resolve all issues with Pakistan will be based on the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration.