November 22, 2002

US "Very Much Involved" in Defusing India-Pakistan Tension: Bush

President George W. Bush said Friday that the United States was "very much involved" in defusing tensions between Pakistan and India sparked by what he denounced as a terrorist attack on parliament in New Delhi.

"A flare-up in that region could really create severe problems for all of us that are engaged in the fight against terror," he said of the nuclear rivals during a roundtable with a small group of reporters.

Speculation has been mounting that the United States will be forced to plunge deeper into peacemaking in South Asia, especially if rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals become even more inflamed, especially over Kashmir.

But asked whether he would appoint a special envoy to the region, Bush replied -- "no, we don't need one" and said US Secretary of State Colin Powell had been in contact by telephone with officials in the region.

In the past two days, Powell has spoken once each with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and twice with Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, according to US officials.

"We're mindful of the potential there in the area and we're on the phone," said Bush, who renewed his offer of anti-terror aid to India and his condemnation of the attack on New Delhi's parliament.

"One of the things that we can do is help provide information to the Indians to get to the root of that terrorist attack," last week in which 14 people, including six gunmen, were killed, said Bush.

"We're interested in routing terror where it may exist that's why I strongly condemn the terrorist attack that took place on the Indian parliament," the president said in the Oval Office.

"President Musharraf strongly -- he feels the same way I do, that's why he condemned the attack," said Bush, who declared a US-led global war on terrorism after September 11 suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The United States said earlier that Bush had every confidence in Musharraf's capacity to combat terrorism, as Islamabad mulled a US request to take aim at militant groups targeted by the president.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would support Musharraf as he moved to combat terror groups, as tensions escalated between India and Pakistan over an attack on the parliament blamed by New Delhi on Islamic extremists.

"President Bush has every confidence in President Musharraf's capacity to act against the terrorists," he said.

"The president calls on him to take action against the Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Jaish-i-Muhammad and other terrorist organizations, their leaders and their finances."

Both groups, which are based in Pakistan and active against Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, were named by India as chief suspects in the parliament attack last week in which 14 people, including six gunmen were killed.

India accused Pakistani intelligence of backing the attack, and threatened retaliation.

Bush Thursday froze the assets of the Lashkar-i-Taiba, in the latest stage of his global war on terrorism.

In Islamabad, a government spokesman said Pakistan would freeze the assets and accounts of another group -- Pakistani-based Umma Tameer-e-Nau, which Bush also has moved against.

The spokesman, Anwar Mahmood, said the government would issue an advisory to the central bank to freeze the group's assets.

An announcement about action against Lashkar-e-Taiba is scheduled for Saturday, Mahmood told AFP.

Bush said Umma Tameer-e-Nau had provided nuclear arms data to Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Mounting Indo-Pakistan tensions reached new heights as India recalled its ambassador from Islamabad and Pakistan threatened "counter-measures" against a build-up of Indian troops along the border.

But the United States said the ambassadorial recall was an internal Indian matter, and reacted calmly to rising anger in South Asia.

"As we've always said, we think it's important for India and Pakistan to avoid fighting each other. At this point, they've avoided fighting each other," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

(China Daily December 24, 2001)

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