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USIS Washington File

14 March 2000

Wisner Stresses Importance of Clinton South Asia Trip

(Former U.S. ambassador to India briefs reporters at White House)
(700)
By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington -- President Clinton's March 19-25 visit to Bangladesh,
India and Pakistan "is a terrific opportunity" for the United States
"to root itself in the region, to get some traction on the issues,"
former U.S. Ambassador to India, Frank G. Wisner, told reporters at a
March 14 White House briefing on the upcoming trip.

"It will be extraordinarily important to the United States in this
century to maintain security in Asia, to see America's economic
prospects advance as that region grows economically. And you really
can't face some of the new challenges of the new century without South
Asia -- challenges of population, the environment, the new diseases,
HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria strains that we've not known before," Wisner
said.

"The focal point of the visit" will be India, Wisner said, noting that
Clinton is the first U.S. President to visit that country in 22 years.

"We aim ... to be able to turn a new page in the relationship with
South Asia, and notably with India, the dominant power in the region,"
he said.

Relations between India and the United States have changed since the
end of the Cold War, "where India was seen to be closer to the
erstwhile Soviet Union," Wisner said. "Today we have a real chance to
see the relationship broadened politically, economically, right across
the board."

Wisner, who currently is vice chairman of American International Group
Inc., told the journalists that he had "just come back from India. For
those of you who will be going on the trip, I think you will sense a
vibrancy and enthusiasm about a new day with the United States, a new
relationship, and it gives me quite a lot of confidence."

Tensions in South Asia need to be addressed, Wisner said, "from Kargil
to the coup in Pakistan, to the skyjacking, to now increasing violence
along the [Kashmir] Line of Control, the region is showing a marked
increase in tension."

He urged reporters to read Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's
March 14 speech to the Asia Society which he said "laid out an agenda
of great importance."

She "came down firmly that the United States will continue to pursue
its non-proliferation dialogue with the nations of South Asia," he
said. "But she made explicitly clear that in the nuclear age borders
cannot be changed; they must be respected. The differences have got to
be pursued, be they Kashmir or any of the other perennial problems
that have been the troubles of South Asia.

"She made it clear the United States will not mediate unless asked by
all sides. But at the same time, it's critically important that the
President keep lines of communications open to both parties, India and
Pakistan in this case. And she underscored the importance of
respecting the Line of Control in Kashmir, and reducing the violence
that is occurring along it.

"Mrs. Albright made it absolutely clear that the use of terror across
frontiers and inside of other nations can't be permitted and will be
actively discouraged by the United States, whether it flows from
Afghanistan or stems out of Pakistan," Wisner said.

The former U.S. Ambassador to India said he agrees with Clinton's
decision to visit Pakistan. "If you're going to do business with a
country as important as Pakistan certainly is, at a time when there
are real issues on the table, you have to be able to communicate and
to be able to communicate, you've got to communicate at the very
highest levels," he said.

"If we decide not to communicate, then we don't have influence. We
can't use our influence in a constructive way. So I'd support
whole-heartedly the president's decision to go to Pakistan, to engage
the chief executive and to engage the leadership of the country."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
usinfo.state.gov)