WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Monday said he had been asked to mediate the decades-long Kashmir conflict by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and would be happy to help, but his claim was swiftly denied by New Delhi.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three full-scale wars over the Himalayan former kingdom since gaining their independence from Britain in 1947.
Trump was hosting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday, who was asked by a reporter whether the U.S. could play a role in resolving the dispute, and replied: "Only the most powerful state headed by President Trump can bring the two countries together."
Trump responded: "So I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject and he actually said, 'Would you like to be a mediator, or arbitrator?'
"I said 'where?' He said: 'Kashmir, because this has been going on for many, many years.'"
"I was surprised at how long it's been going on, I think they would like to see it resolved and I can help, I would love to be a mediator," said Trump, who prides himself on being a dealmaker.
"Right now there's just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go you have bombs and it's a terrible situation... If I can do anything to help that, let me know."
Trump's offer would amount to a shift in long-standing US policy that the issue must be solved bilaterally.
And the claim that Modi had sought his intervention was flatly refuted by India's foreign ministry, which took the unusual step of issuing a statement late into the night in response.
"No such request has been made by Prime Minister to the U.S. President," Raveesh Kumar, India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesman said.
"It has been India's consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally."
It is far from the first time that Trump has offered to intervene in a seemingly intractable international dispute.
On Friday, Trump said he remained ready to help South Korea and Japan solve their lingering dispute over World War II-era forced labor that has blighted their trade ties.
In 2017, he offered to mediate territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China, Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific countries — a proposal that did not move forward.
India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir, a part of which is also controlled by China, for decades.
In February, a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 41 Indian troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir, prompting tit-for-tat air strikes between the two countries.
But the crisis was averted after Pakistan returned an Indian pilot who was shot down and captured.
In early July, Pakistan's military accused India of killing five soldiers during a blast along the de facto border.
And last month, India's Central Reserve Police Force said militants attacked a patrol, killing three of the paramilitaries.
Some 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have died over the past 30 years in Indian-administered Kashmir, monitoring groups say.
The fighting is between Indian soldiers — who number around 500,000 on the ground — and rebels wanting either independence or union with Pakistan.
— Agence France-Presse