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International relations

Trump backtracks on offer to mediate Kashmir dispute

Diplomatic win for Modi as president says India and Pakistan can find a solution

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump laugh during a meeting Aug. 26 on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in France.   © AP

NEW DELHI -- U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack on his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, telling reporters Monday ahead of a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the two South Asian neighbors can handle the dispute themselves.

"We spoke last night about Kashmir," Trump said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their talks on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France.

"The prime minister really feels he has it [the Kashmir situation] under control," Trump added. "They speak with Pakistan, and I'm sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good."

His remarks can be seen as a diplomatic win for Modi, as New Delhi has always maintained that Kashmir is an issue for India and Pakistan to solve themselves.

"All issues between India and Pakistan are bilateral [in nature], and that is why we don't trouble any country of the world regarding them," Modi said, sitting alongside Trump. "I'm confident India and Pakistan, which were one country before 1947, can discuss their problems together and solve them as well."

But Pakistan had been trying to internationalize the issue with the help of its ally China. Islamabad said on Aug. 20 it would take the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The U.S. and Indian leaders met for the first time since the Modi government this month scrapped a constitutional provision that conferred special status to the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both nuclear-armed South Asian countries have had a sovereignty dispute over the territory since their partition at the end of British rule in 1947.

The special status granted to India's only Muslim-majority state had let the territory frame many of its own laws and bar property purchases by citizens from other parts of the country. Besides revoking the provision, Modi's government split the region into two "union territories" under direct rule.

Since the Aug. 5 decision, mobile phone and internet communications remain suspended in the region, and the movement of people has been restricted as well.

Trump's remarks on Monday followed offers in July as well as earlier this month to mediate what he called the "explosive" Kashmir situation.

Modi, however, has firmly rejected any scope for third-party mediation.

Ahead of their meeting, Trump last week described Kashmir as "a very complicated" place and said he had spoken by phone with both Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan about the issue.

Trump, during his July meeting with Khan in Washington, had said that Modi asked him in June to meditate on Kashmir -- a claim rejected by India.

After their joint media appearance, Trump and Modi held a 40-minute meeting "principally focused" on the issues of trade and energy, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters in Biarritz.

Modi spoke of the importance of energy imports from the U.S., and "there was also some discussion on trade issues," he said, without elaborating.

The bilateral trade ties became strained following a tariff row between the two countries earlier this year. India exported duty-free goods worth around $6 billion to the U.S. in 2018, but Washington ended this preferential treatment in June in an attempt to correct what it called unfair trade ties. New Delhi responded by imposing higher tariffs on some U.S. products, including almonds and apples.

Gokhale said that in the latest meeting between Modi and Trump, the Indian leader suggested a "constructive approach" to resolving the issues, and the two sides agreed their trade ministers will hold talks soon.

It was a "very warm and very positive meeting," he said of the Trump-Modi talks, their second following their June encounter at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

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