WASHINGTON: The US president “does not make things up”, says a top presidential adviser, rejecting the Indian claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had never asked President Donald Trump to mediate between Pakistan and India on the issue of Kashmir.
Addressing a joint press conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday, President Trump said that the Indian leader had asked him to mediate on Kashmir and that he would if both countries asked him to do so.
Shortly after the news conference, India rejected Mr Trump’s claim as false, saying that Mr Modi never asked for mediation as New Delhi maintains the traditional policy of only having bilateral talks with Pakistan.
The US State Department, while showing deference to the Indian position that Kashmir was a bilateral issue, did repeat Mr Trump’s offer to help both countries in getting this longstanding dispute resolved. “The Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” said a State Department official.
State Department defends US response to Modi’s request for mediation on Kashmir
The White House, however, strongly defended Mr Trump’s position. It’s “a very rude question”, said Mr Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow when asked at a White House briefing on Tuesday afternoon if the US president “made up” the comments he attributed to Mr Modi. “The president doesn’t make things up,” Mr Kudlow added.
An official White House transcript of the Trump-Khan news conference shows President Trump clearly stating that the Indian prime minister had asked him to arbitrate.
“So, I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator? I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir’.
“Because this has been going on for many, many years,” said Mr Trump when a Pakistani journalist asked him if he was willing to help resolve the Kashmir dispute.
“I was surprised at how long; it’s been going on a long,” said Mr Trump, pausing to recall how old was this dispute. “Seventy years,” PM Khan added.
Neither Mr Khan nor the journalist had used the word mediation, as Mr Trump was asked if he was “going to play any role in Kashmir,” where millions have suffered since 1947.
“I think they’d like to see it resolved. And I think you’d like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It shouldn’t be [going on like this],” President Trump added.
“I mean, it’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that.”
While immediately accepting the US offer, Mr Khan said: “Mr President, I can tell you that, right now, you would have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue.”
President Trump took another step forward, adding that he would speak to Mr Modi and see if he (Mr Trump) could play a role in bringing peace to Kashmir. “It should be resolved. So, it — but he (Mr Modi) asked me the same, so I think there’s something. So maybe we’ll speak to him or I’ll speak to him, and we’ll see if we can do something because I’ve heard so much about Kashmir,” he said.
“Such a beautiful name. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now, there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation. Been going on for many years. If I can do anything to help that, let me know,” said the US president.
While the statement was welcomed across Pakistan as Islamabad has always sought international mediation on this and other disputes with India, it provoked a firestorm in India.
President Trump’s statement also supported the Pakistan’s claim that Kashmir was in a state of constant turmoil and there could be no peace in South Asia until the Kashmir issue was resolved.
In India, leader of the opposition party Congress Rahul Gandhi sought a response from PM Modi on Mr Trump’s claim, alleging that the Indian prime minister had “betrayed India’s interests”.
“President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir! If true, PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests and the 1972 Shimla Agreement,” Mr Gandhi tweeted.
Opposition lawmakers also staged a protest in the Indian parliament, compelling Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to explain: “I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request has been made by the Prime Minister [Modi] to the US President. I repeat, no such request was made by the Prime Minister to the US President.”
Expressing ‘surprise’ at the Indian reaction, PM Khan stated: “Surprised by reaction of India to President Trump’s offer of mediation to bring Pakistan and India to (the) dialogue table for resolving the Kashmir conflict, which has held subcontinent hostage for 70 years.
“Generations of Kashmiris have suffered and are suffering daily and need conflict resolution.”
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2019