US Favours Direct India-Pakistan Talks - Hillary Clinton

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Feb 25 (IANS) As the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan prepared to meet in New Delhi, the US said it had encouraged the two countries to resume direct talks at the highest political level.

"With respect to India and Pakistan, we've encouraged the resumption of the direct talks which were suspended when (Pakistan) President (Pervez) Musharraf left office," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Those talks between Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "had actually been quite productive particularly in producing results on the ground in Kashmir", she said at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on her department's budget for Fiscal Year 2011.

"But they've been in abeyance now for I think slightly more than two years," Clinton said in reply to a question from Republican senator Judd Gregg who wanted to know what the US was doing on the issue of the India-Pakistan relationship.

"So we've encouraged both countries to begin a dialogue. They are going to be doing so. There will be a meeting within days as I recall the date," she said.

"We are sensitive to the concerns that they each have, that it's their issues that they have to address," Clinton said. "But we continue to raise it and make the case to each separately as to why it's in their mutual interest to proceed."

On US relations with India, she noted: "We've had a very successful start to this Administration building on, frankly, the success and the investment of the prior two administrations in working with India, creating more opportunities for investment, more relationship building between our two governments."

With Pakistan too US was "trying to create a new relationship with Pakistan that is of longer duration and making the Pakistanis know that we're in it for the long term".

"So I think that in these two areas, which are two of the most significant areas for America's long term security, we are working very hard and you know trying to make even very small but significant progress in any way we can," she said.

"What's going on in Pakistan right now is very significant," Clinton said, referring to "the increasing efforts by the Pakistani military and intelligence services to capture Taliban leaders" and "work with the United States both on the civilian and the military side, better to assist in what they're doing to reclaim territory from Swat to North Waziristan".

The $52.8 billion State Department budget, a $4.9 billion increase over 2010, includes $3.6 billion for supporting efforts in "frontline states", Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

The request for Pakistan includes $3.2 billion "to combat extremism, promote economic development, strengthen democratic institutions, and build a long-term relationship with the Pakistani people".



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