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US says Trump, Modi to talk Kashmir at G-7, dials down mediation to ‘assist’

The Unites States on Thursday said India’s decision on Article 370 for the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter but has regional implications and President Donald Trump expects to hear from Prime Minister Narendra Modi when they meet on the margins of the upcoming G-7 meetings what he plans to do to reduce regional tensions and uphold human rights in the state.

A senior White House administration official who briefed reporters on US President Trump’s agenda for the summit starting Saturday also dialled down Trump’s offer to “mediate” the Kashmir dispute to say it was readiness to “assist” in receding tensions if, and only if, both sides so desired, and made clear India never “requested formal mediation” as had been indicated by the American leader.

The US president is also calling for Pakistan to prevent cross-border infiltration across the LoC and stop groups bases on its soil that have attacked India in the past.

Prime Minister Modi and President will be among a host of world leaders gathering this weekend in Biarritz, a popular French seaside resort, to take stock of the world economy that appears to be teetering on the edge of recession, the digital economy, gender equality, climate change and other issues of global concern. Trump is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with Modi, UK’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Japan’s Shinzo Abe.

Trump and Modi will be meeting for the first time after India revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, which elicited a predictably strong response from Pakistan and its patron and ally China, who have sought to orchestrate a global outrage.

The White House official said the issue of India-Pakistan relations are expected to come up, and US President Trump “will likely want to hear from Prime Minister Modi on how he plans to reduce regional tensions and uphold respect for human rights in Kashmir”.

The senior official stated unequivocally that India’s decision to rescind Article 370 in Kashmir is an “internal decision but certainly with regional implications”.

President Trump is also expected to “stress the need for for dialogue among all sides of the conflict and lift restrictions currently in place in Kashmir.

About Trump’s offer to mediate the Kashmir dispute, the official said the president is ready to “assist if both sides are interested in helping to reduce their tensions” and India and Pakistan wanted him to. The official also acknowledged, for the first time perhaps by a US offical, that “India has not requested any formal mediation”.

The official also acknowledged, for the first time perhaps by a US official, that “India has not requested any formal mediation”, as New Delhi was quick to point out within minutes of Trump’s stunning claim last month that even Modi had wanted him to mediate.

At a press interaction with visiting Prime Minister Imran Khan in July, President Trump had first offered to mediate and has wrongly claimed even Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted him to. India had both denied that claimed and dismissed the mediation offer saying the Kashmir dispute can only be resolved bilaterally by India and Pakistan and only after the later ceased supporting terrorism.

Trump has since repeated his mediation offer twice, indicating clearly he is serous about it. But the White House is now describing it as an offer to “assist” — not mediate — “in helping reduce tensions and only if both countries wanted”. And despite a clear and firm no-thank-you from New Delhi, the Trump White House is keeping it on the table. It could not be immediately ascertained, though, if Trump will bring it up in his meeting with Modi in Biarritz.

The two leaders will also discuss strategic ties, trade and count-terrorism and “look for solutions on the trade front”. The United States has been pressing India to lower tariffs across a range of products and open its markets, specifically medical devices such as stents and dairy. Trade is an ongoing discussion between the two countries and also a key irritant that has defied resolution across administrations in both countries. It came up for protracted discussion at the last meeting of the two leaders in Osaka, Japan on the margins of the G-20 summit.