London (CNSNews.com) - American and British troops could be sent to the divided province of Kashmir to monitor the line of control between India and Pakistan, U.K. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said.
After a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday, Hoon said the joint mission was one option under consideration to defuse the conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Cross-border raids by militants operating in Pakistan have been one of the chief sources of tension between the countries.
"There has been a general discussion on the need to find a practical way of giving both sides reassurance, particularly India because there have been some infiltrations across the line of control," Hoon told reporters.
"We're willing to look at every option to give Pakistan and India a reason not to launch an attack against each other," he said.
But the defense minister said that India was "not yet wholly persuaded" of the need for an U.S.-British force.
Ministry of Defense officials stressed that the possibility of a joint force is just one of a range of options being considered and that there are as of yet no concrete plans to go ahead with the mission.
India is opposed to international monitoring troops and has instead suggested that a joint India-Pakistan force could patrol the Kashmir dividing line.
The idea of an U.S.-British monitoring force was again rejected Thursday by an Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman.
"It is absolutely unnecessary to have third-party monitoring," Nirupama Rao said in New Delhi.
Also on Thursday, the Independent newspaper reported that U.S. Defence Secretary Donald would propose sending helicopters and 500 troops to the region.
British troops, meanwhile, are already engaged in several peacekeeping missions around the globe, including Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Hoon has admitted that the armed forces are stretched by its commitments.
Earlier this week, Rumsfeld, Hoon and Prime Minister Tony Blair met in London for talks dominated by the Kashmir crisis. The British government has advised all of its citizens to leave both India and Pakistan as soon as possible.
On Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage traveled to New Delhi on the second leg of a diplomatic mission to prevent a full-scale war.
Earlier, Armitage managed to wrest a promise from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that Pakistan would do everything possible to avoid war with India.
Thursday's meeting of defense ministers in Belgium included the first official meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a new alliance to give Russia input into the alliance's security and anti-terror operations. The Russians will not have any influence, however, over NATO's military operations.
E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.
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