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U.S. Tries To Ease Tension Between India, Pakistan

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The U.S. is trying to ease those tensions between India and Pakistan. Both countries are U.S. allies, and both are essential to keeping South Asia stable. For more on this, NPR's Jackie Northam joins us. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Renee.

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MONTAGNE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to go to New Delhi this week and to do exactly what?

NORTHAM: Well, when President Bush dispatched Secretary Rice to New Delhi, he said it was to express U.S. condolences directly to the Indian government. But really this is part of a full-court diplomatic press to really try to keep the lid on this situation. President Bush, Secretary Rice, other high-ranking officials have been working the phones ever since this Mumbai attack got under way. You know, the president has offered India any help that it needs in the investigation - you know, technical help or that type of thing. He's sent the - or the FBI has sent investigators. You know, that's all sort of the public side of it.

But former State Department and White House officials I've spoken with have said there's no doubt there's also a flurry of activity going on behind the scenes in Washington as well, really trying to keep the fragile relationship together between Pakistan and India. And as one former official said, things are in a crisis-prevention, crisis-management mode right now because there's a lot at stake for U.S. national security concerns in this region.

MONTAGNE: Well, what has been the response from the Obama camp?

NORTHAM: Well, it's been fairly muted, but that's keeping in line with Mr. Obama's belief of having only one president at a time. President-elect Obama has made calls to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and has sent condolences as well. He's also talked several times to Secretary Rice as the situation unfolded. And certainly his incoming national security team is up to speed on this.

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During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama talked about the importance of mending relationships between India and Pakistan. And this weekend, an earlier idea about, you know, creating a special envoy for this region, in particular the Kashmir region, was raised again. And the name for that envoy was none other than former President Bill Clinton. We'll see what happens there.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, how have U.S. relations been shaping up with the relatively new Pakistani government? And especially in light of this tension now with India.

NORTHAM: They've been shaping up quite well, with - certainly with the new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari. He's considered pro-American. And that relationship is going to help as the U.S. tries to convince Pakistan to cooperate with the investigation of the Mumbai attacks. It's also been helpful in trying to get Pakistan onboard with fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. And the U.S. wants to make sure that Pakistan doesn't get swayed from that.

And the problem - the concern in Washington right now is if this situation with India spins out of control and the two sides start to head towards their mutual border, India and Pakistan, that that will take Pakistan troops away from the Afghanistan border. And this is something the U.S. does not want because finally the Pakistani government is becoming active in fighting militants along that region. So it's a very tense situation right now. And again there's a full diplomatic press to try to make sure this situation with India and Pakistan does not spin out of control.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jackie Northam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.