India's leader says his nation was ready to re-open dialog with Pakistan — but only if that nation stops cross-border raids into Indian-held territory in Kashmir.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf are attending an Asian security summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week, but despite intense diplomatic pressure from Moscow, the chance of a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders is slim.
Although Indian and Pakistani officials have been holding talks with Russian diplomats in Almaty, Vajpayee has refused to meet with Musharraf. India maintains there will be no talks until what it calls cross-border terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based Islamic militants stop.
The Indian and Pakistani leaders are expected to be in the same room on Tuesday during a session at the 16-nation Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Almaty. Many analysts regard the summit as the best possible chance of starting a peace process between the two nuclear rivals.
Putin is expected to hold separate meetings with Musharraf and Vajpayee before Tuesday's session.
Speaking to reporters in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, today, Musharraf said he was willing to hold "unconditional" talks with the Indian leader "anywhere and at any level." But India maintains that Musharraf has not lived up to his earlier promises to halt "cross-border terrorism" and trust runs low on both sides.
Speaking to reporters in Almaty today, a senior Indian official played down hopes of a likely meeting between the two leaders. "We don't need to come all the way here to have a meeting," said Omar Abdullah, the deputy Indian foreign minister. "We could meet in our country or his [Musharraf's], if the circumstances were right."
But Pakistani officials believe Russia, a key Indian ally and one of India's major arms supplier, is in a good position to persuade New Delhi to begin talks on the contentious Kashmir issue.
India Plays Down Fears of Nuclear War
Earlier today, the Indian Defense Ministry sought to allay fears that nuclear weapons would be employed by either country during the current — or any upcoming — conflicts.
"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," said a statement released by the Defense Ministry today. "India categorically rules out the use of nuclear weapons."
And reports in the Indian press today hinted at a possible easing of tensions with growing reports that India had evidence of new Pakistani attempts to curb "cross-border terrorism."
The current escalation of tensions began with the May 14 attack on an Indian army camp, in which 30 people, including the wives and children of Indian soldiers, were killed. India blames Pakistan-backed militants for the attacks, but Pakistan denies the charge.
Last month, Pakistan tested ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads deep into India, further escalating tensions between the two populous South Asian nations.
India and Pakistan have amassed 1 million men between them along their border, backed by missile batteries, tanks and fighter planes, accelerating international concerns about a likely war.
Pakistani Official Denies Reports of Troop Redeployment
Meanwhile, cross-border fighting in the disputed Kashmir region continues, with new artillery and mortar skirmishes breaking out over the weekend. Thousands of villagers on both sides of the Line of the Control, which divides Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, have fled their homes.
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States has denied reports that Pakistan was moving troops from its western border with Afghanistan, where they are assisting U.S. troops in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
"As yet, no significant movement has taken place, but of course if the situation continues to worsen, we will have to move more," Maleeha Lodhi told CNN on Sunday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage are set to visit India and Pakistan later this week and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is also expected to add his weight to the diplomatic push to get the two sides to meet on the sidelines of the summit in Almaty. ABCNEWS' Jim Sciutto in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.