WASHINGTON: The United States has described the cancellation of talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan as ‘unfortunate’ and urged both countries to take steps to improve their ties.

The foreign secretaries were to meet in Islamabad on Aug 25 for exploring various options for improving their strained relations. But on Monday, India cancelled the talks following a meeting in New Delhi between Pakistan High Commission­`er Abdul Basit and Kashmiri leaders.

“It is unfortunate that planned talks between India and Pakistan have fallen through,” US State Depart­ment Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said at a briefing in Washington.

“We continue to support efforts by India and Pakistan to improve all aspects of their bilateral relations. And that is a position we will continue making clear to both parties here,” she said.

Pakistan has defended its consultations with Hurriyat leaders, pointing out that it was a “longstanding practice” to consult them before talks with India. It also urged India to reconsider its decision, which it said was a “setback” for efforts to improve ties.

But India insisted that Pakistan would have to abandon this practice and decide whether it wanted to hold talks with New Delhi or stay engaged with the Kashmiri leaders.

The US official, however, refused to get involved in a discussion over who and what caused the cancellation of the talks.

“Irrespective of why either side says the talks were cancelled, or why, in fact, they were cancelled, what matters now is that both sides take steps to improve their bilateral relations,” Ms Harf said.

“We’ve been very clear about that directly in conversations with both.”

The State Department official also made it clear that the US policy on Kashmir had not changed.

She acknowledged that the Kashmir issue raised strong sentiments on both sides but urged India and Pakistan to stay engaged with each other on all issues.

“We know there are a lot of issues on the table. There’re a lot of emotions involved here — as there are many issues — but what we think needs to happen now, again, is additional steps,” Ms Harf said.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2014

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