- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

NEW DELHI | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denied Saturday that the United States pressured the Indian government into making concessions to Pakistan last week that reversed a previous linkage between peace talks and fighting terrorism.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed during a Thursday meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt that five-year-old peace negotiations between the two nuclear rivals “should not be linked” to Pakistan’s actions against terrorists.

Specifically, India wants Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of last year’s Mumbai attacks to justice.

“Clearly, any decision that is made between the governments of India and Pakistan to begin talking together to explore the very difficult issues between them is up to those governments,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters during a visit to Mumbai.

“The United States, as you know, is very supportive of steps that the governments take, but we are not in any way involved in it or promoting any particular position,” she said. “We respect the sovereignty of the decisions that lie in the hands of the Indian government.”

New Delhi suspended the peace talks after the November attacks, and Mr. Singh’s signing on to a statement issued by the two countries on Thursday stunned many in India. Some accused the prime minister of “selling out” and “capitulating” to Islamabad and asked whether Washington might have pressed Mr. Singh to make those concessions.

Officials in Islamabad told The Washington Times last week that Pakistan, and to a lesser extent India have been under pressure from the U.S. to restart talks on normalizing relations between the longtime rivals.

During an interview with the Times Now television channel, Mrs. Clinton was asked if she was concerned that those Pakistanis responsible for the Mumbai attacks have not stood trial yet.

“I’m concerned if there is not a trial and if there is not justice for those who planned the [Mumbai] attacks of [November 26],” she said. “I do have some understanding of how difficult these cases are because, as you know, we are still holding people that we haven’t tried who we believe were involved with the 9/11 attacks. So what I’m looking for is a commitment and one that is carried through. The timing I’m understanding of, but there must be an eventual reckoning of justice.”

Lisa Curtis, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said that “pushing for a resumption of Indo-Pakistani peace talks without concerted action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks could well embolden” terrorist groups.

“The U.S. gains little by continuing to publicly press for a resumption of Indo-Pakistani talks as an end in itself,” she said. “It should instead quietly encourage changes in the dynamics of the Indo-Pakistani relationship that will reduce tensions and uproot terrorism from the region.”

Ten attackers from Pakistan seized several sites in India’s financial center for four days in November, and the attacks left 166 people dead. All but one of the attackers were killed by security forces.

Mrs. Clinton stayed at one of the hotels that were attacked, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, and met with employees who had been held hostage.

“I was deeply touched to visit with the staff,” she said. “This hotel and this city suffered grievously and endured painful losses because of the extremism and violence. … The great men and women who work in this hotel and elsewhere in the city courageously stood in the face of senseless violence and helped to stay by and prevent greater damage and harm to others.”

Friday’s bombings at two hotels in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, “provide a painful reminder that the threat of such violent extremism is still very real,” she added. “It is global, it is ruthless, it is nihilistic, and it must be stopped.”

The war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan, a linkage the Obama administration has emphasized repeatedly, have received perhaps more attention during the administration’s first six months in office than any other foreign-policy issue.

In an attempt to keep the focus on India during her trip, Mrs. Clinton decided not to go to Pakistan, which she said she plans to visit in the fall. Still, questions about Pakistan were on many Indians’ minds.

Mrs. Clinton was unusually critical of Islamabad in public earlier this year, accusing it of “abdicating” to the extremists for signing an agreement with them. When the militants advanced toward the capital, the government waged a heavy fight against them in the Swat Valley that displaced more than a million people.

The secretary has praised that action, but on Saturday she said it was “too early to tell the outcome of this commitment that we see coming from Pakistan.”

Continuing the Bush administration’s policy of strengthening relations with India, Mrs. Clinton has said that India should play a more active global role, including on issues such as climate change. India, China and other large developing countries have refused to make specific commitments to reducing carbon emissions out of fear that such a move could limit their economic development.

“There is no inherent contradiction between poverty eradication and moving toward a low-carbon economy,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The United States wants to see India continue to progress in its development in lifting millions and millions more people out of poverty and providing greater opportunity for people to pursue their own dreams. And that is something that they would not expect any country to turn away from.”

Much like she did in Beijing in February, Mrs. Clinton urged India not to repeat the environmental mistakes the West made during the Industrial Revolution.

“We acknowledge [that] we, along with other developed countries, have contributed most significantly to the problems that we face with climate change. We are hoping that a great country like India will not make the same mistakes,” she said.

“Just as India went from, a few years ago, having very few telephones to now having more than 500 million mostly cell phones by leapfrogging over the infrastructure that we built for telephone service, we believe India is innovative and entrepreneurial enough to figure out how to deal with climate change while continuing to lift people out of poverty and develop at a rapid rate,” she added.

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