By Arun Kumar, Washington, Aug 19 IANS | 4 months ago

As India called off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan over its envoy's meeting with Kashmiri separatists, the US termed the cancellation "unfortunate" and said it continued to support their efforts to improve bilateral relations.

"It is unfortunate that planned talks between India and Pakistan have fallen through," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Monday in response to a question. "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.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was to travel to Islamabad on August 25 to hold talks with her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry after a gap of two years, but cancelled the visit after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit's meeting with the separatists.

"I think 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," Harf said.

"We've been very clear about that directly in conversations with both," she added, but could not say whether anyone in the State Department had reached out to Delhi or Islamabad following the development.

"I would guess our folks on the ground have, but let me check and see if there are specifics," Harf said. "I don't believe the Secretary (of State John Kerry) has,"

Asked if the US saw the cancellation of talks as a setback to peace process in Pakistan, the spokesperson said: "We do think it's unfortunate that the planned talks have fallen through."

But "irrespective of why, what needs to happen now is both sides need to take steps to improve their relationship."

"We know there are a lot of issues on the table. There's a lot of emotions involved here, but - as there are on many issues. But what we think needs to happen now, again, is additional steps," she said.

Asked if the cancellation indicated to the deeper question of Kashmir dispute Harf said the US "policy on Kashmir hasn't changed."

"We continue to believe that the pace and the scope and character of any discussions on Kashmir are for India and Pakistan to determine between them. That hasn't changed, and that, I think, will remain our position going forward," she said.

Asked what was the US take on such meetings between the Pakistani envoy and the Kashmiri separatists, Harf saud: "I don't know the answer to that. Let me check with our team and see if we have a position on that."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

(Posted on 19-08-2014)

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