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'Amateurish and Delusional' Comments From Trump on Mediating Kashmir Dispute Set Off Political Row in India

"Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation re Kashmir."

President Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with reporters during their bilateral meeting Monday, July 22, 2019, in the Oval Office.

President Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with reporters during their bilateral meeting Monday, July 22, 2019, in the Oval Office. (Photo: Shealah Craighead, White House Flickr)

Comments from President Donald Trump during a Monday news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan about the disputed south Asian territory of Kashmir set off a firestorm in India Tuesday.

Trump, during his remarks in the media, claimed that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally asked the American president to step in and help "mediate" the decades-long conflict over the territory, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, as well as China. 

"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?'" said Trump. "I said, 'Where?' He said, 'Kashmir.' Because this has been going on for many, many years."

"I was surprised how long," the president added. "It's been going on a long time."

The modern-era dispute traces back to 1947, when India and Pakistan both achieved independence from the British Empire. Trump was born in 1946. 

If Trump's recollection of the conversation is accurate—if the conversation happened at all—it would likely have happened at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28 and 29. 

The American president's comments represent a major break from Modi's public policy in India, which rejects any third-party mediation of the conflict with Pakistan. Modi's nationalist government was outraged at the prospect of Trump's involvement in the dispute and demanded answers. 

Modi "has betrayed India's interests," declared Indian National Congress representative Rahul Gandhi, who said that Modi owed the country an explanation.

"A weak Foreign Ministry denial won't do," Gandhi tweeted. "PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him & @POTUS."

Pakistan's Khan, meanwhile, said he was surprised at the Indian reaction. In a tweet, Khan expressed his hope that the dispute could be ended, even if that meant turning to the U.S.

"Surprised by reaction of India to President Trump's offer of mediation to bring Pakistan and India to dialogue table for resolving Kashmir conflict which has held subcontinent hostage for 70 years," said Khan. "Generations of Kashmiris have suffered and are suffering daily and need conflict resolution."

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But in a series of tweets, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar firmly and flatly rejected the proposal. 

"We have seen @POTUS's remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India and Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by PM @narendramodi to US President," tweeted Kumar. "It has been India's consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally."

Kumar added that India would need to see a commitment from Pakistan on terrorism before beginning negotiations, a reference to the current freeze on talks since January of 2016 when Pakistani-allied forces attacked Pathankot Air Force Station.

"Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism.," said Kumar. "The Shimla Agreement & the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally."

In a statement to The Times of India, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. was ready to help the peace process if need be. 

"While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down, and the United States stands ready to assist," the spokesperson said. 

According to Eric Lutz, writing for Vanity Fair:

Trump, who entered office without any government or military experience, has always been a liability on matters of foreign policy thanks to his unique combination of ineptitude and overconfidence. But his Kashmir blooper may be among his biggest global affairs follies, inserting himself into a delicate powderkeg with seemingly no concept of he was doing. 

On Monday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, expressed his frustration over the president's tweets.

"Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation re Kashmir," tweeted Sherman. "Everyone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing."

"Trump's statement is amateurish and delusional," Sherman added. "And embarrassing."

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