US presses India to improve relations with neighbors

US presses India to improve relations with neighbors

washnWASHINGTON: Amid persisting tensions between India and Pakistan, the United States has pressed New Delhi to take steps to improve relationships with its South Asian neighbors.

Speaking in the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi last month, a State Department spokesperson described Washington’s relationship with both Pakistan and India as strong and vital.

“We believe the (Obama’s) visit to India was a very important one, and we believe that India should have good relationships with its neighbors as well and take steps to improve those relationships,” Marie Harf said, in response to a question regarding Pakistani concerns on some US-India agreements.

The State Department comments come at a time when New Delhi refuses to hold dialogue with Islamabad towards a resolution to the UN-recognized

Jammu and Kashmir dispute, considered critical to normalization of relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Islamabad has voiced serious concern over New Delhi’s attempt to alter demographics of the disputed Kashmir region as well as India’s contemplating a change in the special constitutional status of the occupied territory.

At the daily briefing, Harf reaffirmed US position on fostering close relationships with both Pakistan and India.

“When it comes to our relationships in the region, look, we have relationships with India and with Pakistan. They are both strong, they are both vital to our strategic interests, and they both stand on their own.”

When questioned about US assessment of the religious freedom in India under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the spokesperson said she would check from the relevant officials but reiterated President Obama’s call for religious freedom.

“Well, you heard the President (Obama) speak about this when he was just there (in New Delhi). This was part of his message during his trip to India and also part of his message at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning that freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom, that every nation is stronger when people of all faiths are free to practice their religion free from persecution and fear and discrimination.

“So certainly, we encourage all governments around the world to respect and ensure freedom of assembly for individuals who are worshiping or who are doing so for religious reasons, and that is a universal right we think should be adhered to.”

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