Reversing Trump’s offer to ‘mediate’, US says it’s ready to ‘assist’ as before
The United States rolled back President Donald Trump’s unexpected and stunning offer to “mediate or arbitrate” in the Kashmir dispute to its traditional position that it was “ready to assist” and it was for India and Pakistan to resolve it, rejecting once again Pakistan’s appeal for mediation made this time by visiting Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday.
The United States went on to sternly remind Pakistan of its own responsibility and accountability in the resolution of the dispute, saying it needs to deliver peremptorily on counter-terrorism. “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,” said a US state department spokesperson.
The spokesperson also said that 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”.
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And a senior administration official told the Hindustan Times. “As the President made clear, the United States stands ready to assist if requested by both India and Pakistan.” In other words, clearly, Khan’s request alone, as others by Pakistani leaders and officials before, won’t cut it.
These were significant departures from the stunning position ad-libbed by the American president at the prompting of the Pakistani prime minister earlier in the day, and made clear there was no change in US policy on Kashmir. And the Pakistani attempt to draw the United States into the dispute had been rejected once again, as many times in the past, tried by every Pakistani leader big or small visiting the US.
Trump had appeared to have reversed decades of US policy endorsed by every administration, Republican or Democratic, with his mediation offer. He can be unpredictable and disruptive as he did recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But in his Kashmir mediation offer, he seemed to have winged it.
There was no mention of the offer, or even a mention capturing a sense of it couched in the most arcane of diplomatese, in the three-paragraph readout of the president’s luncheon meeting with Khan shortly after their Oval Office remarks, each leader accompanied by their respective delegations.
The read-out, which was not a joint-statement as might have been expected from a first meeting of the two leaders and with their delegations, was focussed on counter-terrorism and Afghanistan instead, notably, in that order. “The President and Prime Minister discussed the threat that terrorism presents to regional stability and discussed ways in which Pakistan can support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” read the opening para of the White House readout.
And it added that Trump acknowledged “initial steps” Pakistan had taken to advance the Afghanistan peace process and, returning to the issue of terrorism, the American president “affirmed Prime Minister Khan’s stated commitment to take action against militants and terrorists”.
The White House readout and the state department spokesperson’s statement together should allay concerns in New Delhi — and smother celebrations in Islamabad — of a sudden pivot by the Trump administration in its position on Kashmir, which, it was clear to most observers and experts would have been “dead on arrival” even if deliberately intended.
“If you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” Trump had said earlier Monday, following up an appeal from Khan, who had pitched it as a vanity project calling Trump the leader of the “the most powerful state”. Trump, who is known for his weakness to flattery, took the bait. “If I can do anything to help that, let me know.”
President Trump also suggested, falsely and incredulously, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made him the same request — “he asked me the same, so I think there’s something”.
Modi hadn’t. The response from India was swift, crisp and clear and it was delivered even before Trump and Khan led their delegations to their luncheon meeting. “No such request has been made by PM @narednramodi to US President”, the external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar wrote on Twitter, and added that it has been India’s position that “that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally” and any engagement with Pakistan “would require an end to cross border terrorism”.
The state department echoed that. “These actions,” the state department spokesperson said referring to US expectations of “sustained and irreversible” counter-terrorism measures, “are in line with Prime Minister Khan’s stated commitments, and Pakistan’s international obligations”.
“We will continue to support efforts that reduce tensions and create an environment conducive for dialogue. This first and foremost means tackling the menace of terrorism. As the President indicated, we stand ready to assist.”