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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Lashes Out at Pakistan

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Russia ratcheted up pressure on Pakistan on Monday, criticizing Islamabad's alleged aid to terrorists, while Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf reiterated his willingness to meet with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for direct talks to defuse their conflict over the Himalayan province of Kashmir.

Asked by reporters about what would be his preconditions for such talks, Musharraf said, "You need to ask this question of Prime Minister Vajpayee. What are his conditions? I don't have any conditions."

Hours before President Vladimir Putin arrived in Almaty to try to mediate between Musharraf and Vajpayee, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov accused Islamabad of allowing "terrorists" from Afghanistan to cross into India. He assailed Pakistan for conducting missile tests that further exacerbated the crisis.

"Armed terrorists and extremists from Pakistan keep infiltrating into Indian territory," Ivanov said, according to the Interfax-Military News Agency. "This is a fact you can't turn a blind eye to. Moreover, terrorists who are entering India previously have been ousted from Afghanistan."

Ivanov also said the recent test-firing of nuclear capable missiles by Pakistan had further escalated tension over Kashmir.

"Against the background of the conflict, the nuclear missile tests conducted by Pakistan were a provocative gesture," Ivanov said.

"Any nuclear weapons tests conducted in an atmosphere of extreme tension and suspicion ... are wrong and provocative," he said. "This will definitely push New Delhi to take proportionate retaliatory measures."

India conducted a similar test in January.

The Indian Defense Ministry tried to calm international concern about the danger that the conflict could erupt into nuclear war.

"The government makes it clear that India does not believe in the use of nuclear weapons. Neither does it visualize that it will be used by any other country," the ministry said in a statement released in New Delhi. "India categorically rules out the use of nuclear weapons."

En route to Kazakhstan, where he arrived Monday, Musharraf insisted that Pakistan would not start a war with India. He has in the past said that Pakistan would not use its nuclear weapons.

"Pakistan's president has clearly said ... that no country will be thinking of this kind of thing to settle the dispute," Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon told reporters in Almaty.

However, he refused to say why Pakistan would not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons as India has.

Vajpayee has refused to talk with Musharraf until infiltration of Pakistan-based Islamic militants, and attacks in Indian territory, are halted.

Vajpayee said Monday that he had won support from the Central Asian leader who is hosting the 16-nation security summit that opens Tuesday.

The India-Pakistan crisis revolves around Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries. The dispute has led to two of the three wars between the nations since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, both of whose countries belong to the 16-nation Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, were scheduled to meet separately with Musharraf and Vajpayee on Tuesday to encourage them to talk face to face. So far, Vajpayee has refused.

"We don't need to come all the way here to have a meeting. We could meet in our country or his [Musharraf's], if the circumstances were right," Omar Abdullah, the deputy Indian foreign minister, said Monday. "There will be no secret parleys, no dialogue, no discussion."

But Memon, the Pakistani information minister, expressed hope that the mediation efforts would make progress. He said Pakistan's first choice would be dialogue, the second mediation, and the third proximity talks or shuttle diplomacy. He would not describe the meetings scheduled Tuesday with Putin and Jiang as proximity talks.

India says Islamic militants crossing the border from Pakistan have carried out terror attacks, including a deadly assault on the Indian Parliament in December and on an Indian army base in Kashmir last month, which left more than 30 dead, including wives and children of army officers.

Memon, however, insisted Monday: "We deny any such camps to be there and that there is any action against India, cross-border terrorism. We have increased our own vigilance on the Line of Control, so if anybody who wants to harm Pakistan's interests by harming India is there."

Musharraf and other Pakistani officials have insisted they are cracking down, and they dispute India's contention that Pakistan actively helps the militants. They say that Pakistan provides only moral and diplomatic support for Kashmiris, most of them Muslims, who want either independence or a merger with Islamic Pakistan.

"There is no infiltration taking place. We've invited independent foreign observers to come and assess the situation for themselves but India does not accede to this request," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said Monday in Islamabad.

Sources in Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, said steady shelling by both sides had been reported Monday across the Line of Control dividing the disputed region. Firing also spread to the Lipa Valley, southeast of Muzaffarabad, making it the first time that this valley has been targeted since December. Firing was also reported in Chakothi.