G8 refuses to lighten up over simmering crisis

G8 foreign ministers warned India and Pakistan that there would be no let up in the intense diplomatic drive to ensure their simmering crisis does not escalate into a nuclear war.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham, said on Wednesday that ministers meeting in the western ski resort of Whistler for two days, discussed who to send to the region next, following a volley of peace shuttles by US, British and European officials.

Graham warned that any new terror attacks on Indian targets by Pakistan-based militants could pitch the region back to the brink of a disastrous conflict, despite encouraging signs over the last few days.

“The discussion certainly was around who had gone and who might go in the future,” said Graham, who did not rule out undertaking his own mission as Canada currently holds the Group of Eight nations chair, should it be needed.

“We are all committed to sustain diplomatic activity both to ensure that Pakistan continues its efforts to curtail terrorism and that India exercises restraint,” he said.

“We are looking at ways to coordinate travel, ways that will continue to take the international community’s message to India and Pakistan.”

Ministers met here for their annual talks as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited India and Pakistan, following a mission to the region earlier this month by Deputy US Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

European Union commissioner in charge of external relations, Chris Patten, has also returned from a recent trip to the region, and was here to brief ministers.

Despite a recent reduction of tensions, Graham said ministers still believed the situation in the region was very grave.

“We are concerned of course that if anything did happen and a recourse to arms was had, there is the possibility of it escalating to a nuclear conflict. But we believe that the risk of that in the last three weeks is reduced.”

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has mounted a marathon campaign of personal telephone diplomacy to head off the South Asian crisis, said earlier he was pleased with the progress made in recent days.

“What we have to do now is to steadily move forward to keep the steps going in the right direction,” he told reporters on his plane heading for the G8 talks.

Graham said he hoped a series of travel warnings by western nations for citizens and non-essential diplomats to leave the region, would soon be lifted.

- Sapa-AFP

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