Obama Will Try to Avoid the K Word

By Paul Beckett for The Wall Street Journal

To some U.S. officials, it is known simply as the “K-word.” Kashmir. It’s a topic we expect U.S. President Barack Obama to try his level best to avoid during his three-day trip to India that starts next week.

The issue got the former British foreign secretary in hot water when he was here last year. And when Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan at one point suggested he tackle Kashmir too, the idea received a furious rebuff from the Indians.

If the topic does come up, Mr. Obama will likely follow the same tack taken by his advisers earlier this week in a briefing with reporters. When asked, “Will the President talk publicly or privately about Kashmir and the tensions between India and Pakistan?” this was the response from Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communication.

“The President believes that the U.S. relationship with India and the U.S. relationship with Pakistan does not take place within any kind of zero-sum dynamic.  It’s often been viewed that way in the past, that if we become closer to one it’s at the expense of the other. And we’ve tried to send the signal that it’s the opposite with this administration; that, in fact, actually you see that borne out in the fact that we had a very successful strategic dialogue here, with the Pakistanis in town last week, discussing greater security cooperation in governance and economic issues.

And as a part of that, the President met with the Pakistani delegation and ended up speaking to President Zardari yesterday to discuss that strategic dialogue and said that he’d very much like to visit Pakistan next year and is planning to visit Pakistan next year.”

If you’re counting, that almost 150 words – and not one of them is “Kashmir.”

William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, added his own non-Kashmir Kashmir response. “We have always welcomed dialogue between India and Pakistan and certainly encouraged efforts to improve relations between those two very important countries.  Obviously, the pace, scope and character of that dialogue is something that Indians and Pakistanis have to shape.  But we’ll continue to both welcome and encourage it.”

White House reporters being an intrepid bunch, another questioner brought up the topic again, using the K-word specifically.

“Just to follow Steven’s question on Kashmir. Will the President be making some public remarks explaining the U.S. position on Kashmir?  And will he also be addressing — explaining the U.S. relationship with Pakistan publicly?”

This time Mr. Rhodes was even more eloquent, going for a full 286 words, not a single one of them Kashmir.

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