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Indian, Pakistani Leaders Prepare for Nepal Summit

India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today rebuffed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s offer to meet one-on-one during the summit this weekend, but maintained their conflict would be resolved through diplomatic channels.

“War is not a must,” Vajpayee said today before flying to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu to attend the summit of seven South Asian leaders.

“Efforts are being made to avoid war through diplomatic channels. If that succeeds, there will be no need to opt for other alternatives.”

Pakistani President Musharraf, who met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing on his way to Nepal, warned India that his country would retaliate fully if Indian troops launched a full attack.

But, according to the Chinese official Xinhua News Agency, Musharraf told the premier that Pakistan “is against war, and wants to soothe the current tense situation through dialogue.”

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh today commented that Pakistan took “steps in the right direction” when it arrested nearly 50 members of Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which India blames for the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian parliament that killed six policemen and a gardener.

Foreign Minister Singh, who is attending the Nepal summit along with India’s prime minister, said he recognized that Pakistan needed time to dismantle “all these edifices of terrorism that it has either permitted or constructed over the past two decades.”

Singh previously described Pakistan’s arrests of members of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and another group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, “cosmetic.”

Pakistan has denied India’s accusations that it supports or participates in any terrorist activities.

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani troops traded gunfire overnight and Islamic militants in Pakistan reportedly threatened more attacks in the Himalayan province of Kashmir, which both sides claim in its entirety.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Bangladesh today on a tour of South Asia, said he would urge the two countries to resolve the crisis peacefully.

“The dangers are obvious. Two very powerful countries in an area where traditionally there has been a lot of conflict and instability,” Blair told reporters. “It’s extremely important given the military capability of both powers that we do everything we can to calm the situation.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the summit “could be an opportunity for [India and Pakistan] to seek ways to make progress toward resolving their current differences and reducing tensions.”

The Nepal summit is sponsored by the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation, and will host leaders from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Bhutan.

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