- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

ALMATY, Kazakhstan Russian President Vladimir Putin tried without success yesterday to persuade Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of a regional security summit.

"We tried hard," said one Russian official who declined to specify what arguments Mr. Putin had brought to bear.

Though they did not meet privately, the leaders of India and Pakistan did sit with other leaders in the same room. They appeared to avoid each other as leaders mingled afterward.

Throughout the summit, the leaders of the two nuclear-armed nations did not budge from positions that have driven South Asia to the brink of war over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Indian officials said Mr. Vajpayee gained political capital with his nationalist constituency by resisting international pressure.

"We have invested a lot of effort in making this conference a success. It would be unfortunate to draw attention away from the success of this conference by holding an unproductive meeting," said Brajesh Mishra, Mr. Vajpayee's national security adviser.

Gen. Musharraf had a long meeting with Mr. Putin that yielded an invitation to Moscow. Gen. Musharraf accepted enthusiastically.

"This is a great achievement," he said. Pakistan has never had close relations with Russia, and Gen. Musharraf has never visited that country, Pakistani officials said.

Closer ties, according to Russian officials, will help Mr. Putin maintain his credibility as a mediator.

Gen. Musharraf told reporters in a final press conference: "Let's bury the past and think of the future."

Mr. Vajpayee, who is in his mid-70s and walks with difficulty, has given no press conference so far. He leaves this morning.

Gen. Musharraf created some confusion when he said that both he and Mr. Vajpayee had been invited to Moscow, apparently together.

Indian officials later said Mr. Putin and Mr. Vajpayee agreed that Mr. Putin would visit New Delhi in December.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev hosted the summit to inaugurate a new security organization, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The organization will likely receive funding from its 16 members to set up a secretariat in Almaty, Kazakhstan's economic capital.

Meanwhile, Pakistan said a number of Indian troops and two Pakistani civilians were killed by shellfire in Kashmir yesterday.

Together, the two nations have massed 1 million troops on their common border since a December attack on the Indian Parliament by Muslim terrorists.

An Indian army officer in Jammu, winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, said the two sides traded heavy machine-gun fire in the area, but described the exchanges as routine.

The two sides have staged daily artillery duels since a deadly raid on an Indian army camp in mid-May that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, and there are now fears a fourth war could involve nuclear weapons.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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