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Britain's FM to meet Indian leaders

Pakistan announced a third missile test Tuesday -- a move India has condemned as
Pakistan announced a third missile test Tuesday -- a move India has condemned as "irresponsible behavior"  

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is set to meet Indian leaders in New Delhi Wednesday after arriving from Islamabad in a bid to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Tension has escalated between the nuclear-armed rivals since Pakistan test-fired another missile Tuesday capable of carrying nuclear warheads into India. It was the third missile tested by Pakistan since Saturday.

Straw met officials in Islamabad on Tuesday before flying on to India. However, his visit has been overshadowed by a £1 billion arms sale to India that has been severely criticized in Britain. (Full story)

Straw's visit came hot on the heels of a visit by the Russian deputy foreign minister and will be followed next week by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in ex-Soviet Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

The two leaders have not agreed to hold talks with each other, however, a top Russian official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

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Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh reiterated India would not resume dialogue until Pakistan stopped attacks in India-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

"You cannot put a pistol of terrorism to my temple with the finger on the trigger and say, 'Dialogue with me, or I will release this trigger of terrorism,"' Singh said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, India's defense minister said fighters from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and from Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban are in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

"We have information that the number of terrorists who are on the other side of the border ... (are) people who have fled from Afghanistan, al-Qaida men and Talibanis," Defense Minister George Fernandes told Star News Television.

Singh warned that American forces in the region were not a deterrent to a possible attack on Pakistan, but restated India's policy that it would not strike first with nuclear weapons if a war should erupt.

After a NATO luncheon in Italy, Secretary-General Lord Robertson said U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin and 18 other alliance leaders "share a deep common concern" and urged India and Pakistan "to de-escalate and resume talking together."

Responding to Monday's address by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, India said it would "match any positive moves" by the Muslim nation to reduce tensions between the two nuclear neighbors.

India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said the speech restated earlier unfulfilled assurances from Pakistan and was "dangerous and disappointing."

"Tensions have been added to, not reduced," he said shortly after Pakistan announced the final missile test.

"General Musharraf has nevertheless voiced a desire for peace," Singh said.

"It is in his hands to do it. Let him simply fulfill the assurances that he has himself given all these months. India will reciprocate."

Pakistan has denied the tests are linked to the military confrontation with India, describing them as routine missile tests.

India accuses elements within the Pakistani state structure of arming, funding and training Islamic militant groups it blames for a series of attacks on Indian targets.

Labeling Pakistan "the epicenter of international terrorism" Singh said Musharraf had done nothing to follow through on pledges made in January to halt terrorist operations using Pakistan as a base.

He said the international war against terrorism could not be considered complete until militant training camps inside Pakistan were closed down.

Pakistan denies the charge saying only that it gives moral support to groups seeking self-determination for the people of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Fears of conflict

Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have increased dramatically following an attack earlier this month on an army camp in Indian-administered Kashmir in which 30 people died.

Between them India and Pakistan have deployed around a million troops along their shared border and the so-called Line of Control that divides Kashmir, and fears are growing that even a small spark could spark a major conflict.

In recent days both sides have exchanged heavy artillery, mortar and machinegun fire across the Line of Control.

In his address Monday, Musharraf denied that cross-border incursions were occurring.

He said that while Pakistan did not want war with India, its armed forces were ready to defend the country with full force.

No first use

Outlining India's response to the speech, Singh accused the Pakistani leader of using his address to indulge in "belligerent posturing."

However, despite escalating tensions on the subcontinent, Singh said India remained committed to its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has declined to rule out first use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack.

Singh said India reserved the right to "take measures as necessary" but added officials were categorically not talking of a nuclear conflict with Pakistan.

"India is not talking about it now," he said, adding "General Musharraf and some of the ministers in his government and others have spoken very casually about nuclear war.

"India has an unambiguous stand and its stated policy is no first use," Singh said.

He said India had to date shown patience and restraint with Pakistan over its pledge to crack down on the militant groups, but added that India could not continue to be penalized for its patience.

The threat of a fourth war between the two South Asian powers has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity with world powers dispatching a series of envoys aimed at reducing tensions.


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