Donald Trump irks India offers to mediate in Kashmir dispute

S. Jaishankar, foreign minister said that he had conveyed to the US in clear terms that any talks to resolve the Kashmir dispute can only be held between India and Pakistan, and that he will not invite third-party mediation.

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This came on a day US President Donald Trump seemed to issue a qualified offer to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute, though he seemed to be stepping back from his earlier position that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate between the two countries.

Jaishankar’s meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo took place on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and other meetings in Bangkok.

“Have conveyed to American counterpart @SecPompeo this morning in clear terms that any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally,” Jaishankar said in a post on Twitter on the second meeting between the two. “Wide ranging discussions with @SecPompeo on regional issues,” Jaishankar said in another post, along with a picture of the two shaking hands in Bangkok.

Jaishankar’s comments follow last month’s controversy which erupted after Trump claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought his mediation on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, something the Indian foreign ministry and the US state department later denied.

A US state department statement on Friday said: “The two discussed our shared commitment to upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and democratic values in the Indo-Pacific region. The secretary reaffirmed the positive trajectory of the US-India strategic partnership.”

But Trump on Friday seemed to give the controversy a new lease of life. Answering a question from a reporter at the White House about his earlier offer to mediate on the Kashmir issue, Trump said: “If they wanted somebody to intervene and I spoke to Pakistan about that… I spoke frankly with India about it… if they wanted me to I would certainly intervene.”

Trump’s latest comment was different from his statement on 22 July when he said that Modi, during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, had sought US mediation or arbitration on Kashmir. The fact that Trump had made the offer in public was seen as a major step away from the US’s established stand of viewing the Kashmir dispute as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. It also seemed contrary to the US’s position that New Delhi is being seen as its “natural” strategic partner, given the rapidly warming ties over the past two decades.

India has always sought bilateral talks with Pakistan to sort out the Kashmir dispute, though Islamabad has been keen to seek outside intervention, calling on mediation by the UN, the US and others.

Soon after Trump’s earlier offer in the presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Jaishankar had said that Modi had not made any such request to Trump.

The US state department, too, had issued a clarification stating the Kashmir dispute was a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan , and the US “welcomes” the two countries “sitting down” for talks. Later that week, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said New Delhi wanted to “move on” from the controversy.

“It (India-US relationship) is an extremely important relationship. What I am trying to tell you is that our position in this matter has been explained… We have broad and deep convergences across a range of issues. It is a full service relationship. We have excellent trade and investment linkages. In the area of defence cooperation we are moving towards defence technology tie-ups. So, there are plenty of things on the table,” Kumar had said.

Former Indian ambassador to the US Arun Singh was of the view that Trump’s remarks on Kashmir were “clearly a transactional ploy” to get “more cooperation from Pakistan in the context of the Taliban in Afghanistan”.

He was referring to the US looking to Pakistan for help to conclude a peace deal in Afghanistan that would allow American troops to exit the war-torn country after 18 years.

“It (Trump’s offers for mediation) will achieve nothing more, if even that. India’s position has been firm and consistent in rejecting any third-party role in Kashmir,” Singh added.

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