PACIFIC COMMANDER ADMIRAL BLAIR TELLS PACIFIC ISLANDS LEADERS: RADICAL GROUPS

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COULD SET OFF NUCLEAR CONFLICT IN SOUTH ASIA

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (March 15, 2002 – East-West Wire)---The commander of U.S. Pacific Forces said at the East-West Center yesterday that radical groups in South Asia are the uncontrollable "wild cards" that could lead India and Pakistan into nuclear conflict.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Command, said he agreed with Indian authorities that Pakistani intelligence had provided support to radical groups, but Pakistan didn't control what the groups did. Radical organizations that want war between the two countries "could set off a spiral of events that result in nuclear conflict. That is the nightmare."

Blair told the members of the Standing Committee of the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders gathered at the East-West Center that the United States had been "dancing this line" for the last six months between improving its relations with India and working closely with Pakistan in the war against terrorism. "We absolutely condemn terrorism against India and are willing to assist India but we're not willing to bomb Pakistan." He said the United States must continue to work with Pakistan. "If radicalization continues (there), it's bad for the region. It will become more like Afghanistan."

Blair believes, however, that Indian, Pakistani and U.S. officials understand the complex problems and will be able to work through them.

He said the war on terrorism had led countries to focus on ways they could cooperate with one another. "But I don't think global terrorism will be the thing that can get us above the rivalry aspects." He noted that China's cooperation has been "pretty superficial" and that India's help was "deeper but with constraints."

Asked about the difference between terrorists and "legitimate freedom fighters," Blair answered that terrorism was not a "legitimate tool for freedom fighters," although the U.S. government had stopped short of saying so. "You can't blow up women and children and call it legitimate."

Blair expects more U.S. military forces to be stationed on U.S. bases in Hawai‘i and Guam and that U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan would remain at around 70,000 troops unless there were dramatic developments toward peace on the Korean peninsula. He also noted the quick responses of support and cooperation received from Asia-Pacific countries in the war on terrorism. "The cooperation came faster and forces flowed through the Asia-Pacific rather than Europe."

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