Oppn demands PM's clarification as Trump's Kashmir comment rocks Parliament

Senior Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad addresses the media over the Kashmir issue as other opposition leaders look on, at Parliament during the Budget Session (PTI Photo)

Donald Trump's stunning claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue triggered a massive political row on Tuesday even as the government asserted that no such request was made to the US president and all issues will have to be resolved with Islamabad bilaterally.

The issue rocked both houses of Parliament with the Opposition demanding Modi's statement on Trump's controversial remarks, holding that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and no third party can intervene.

As the opposition ramped up the attack on the government, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in the Rajya Sabha that Modi had never made any such request to Trump and stressed that all outstanding issues with Pakistan can be discussed only bilaterally.

"Any engagement with Pakistan will require an end to cross border terrorism," he said, adding that the Simla and Lahore accords signed between India and Pakistan provide the basis for resolution of all issues bilaterally.

The External Affairs Ministry made a similar statement on Monday night after Trump's controversial comments that he met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House.

Not satisfied with the government's statement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said if Trump's claim that Modi asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue is true, the PM had betrayed the interests of the country.

Gandhi also asserted that a "weak" foreign ministry denial wouldn't do and Modi must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him and the US president.

"President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India & Pakistan on Kashmir! If true, PM Modi has betrayed India's interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement," the Congress leader said in a tweet.

In Washington, the State Department, in a damage control exercise, said Kashmir was a "bilateral" issue between India and Pakistan, and the US "welcomes" the two countries "sitting down" for talks.

It also said Pakistan taking "sustained and irreversible" steps against terrorism are key to a successful dialogue with India.

"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," a State Department spokesperson told PTI in response to a question if Donald Trump's remarks reflect a change in the country's policy on Kashmir.

In New Delhi, scores of senior opposition leaders slammed the government on the issue.

"We demand PM's clarification," TMC MP Derek O'Brien said.

Trump claimed that Modi asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue when they met in Osaka, Japan, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit last month.

"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know," Trump said in response to a question, adding he is ready to help, if the two countries ask for it.

"I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, 'would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said, 'where?' (Modi said) 'Kashmir'," Trump said.



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