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Aug 18, 2:46 PM EDT

India calls off talks with Pakistan

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NEW DELHI (AP) -- In a blow to efforts to improve often-hostile ties, India on Monday called off talks with Pakistan over a meeting between its ambassador and Kashmiri separatists.

External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit's meeting with the separatists had undermined efforts to thaw relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

India and Pakistan agreed to resume talks on improved relations in May when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the inauguration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two countries' foreign secretaries were to meet next week in Islamabad to discuss the resumption of a formal dialogue.

Last week, Basit announced plans to meet with Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi, a move that angered India.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh on Monday warned Basit against meeting with the separatists, saying he could either have a dialogue with India, or talk with the separatists.

Akbaruddin said in a statement that India told Islamabad "in clear and unambiguous terms that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere in India's internal affairs were unacceptable."

India said the high commissioner's action "raises questions about Pakistan's sincerity and undermines the constructive diplomatic efforts" initiated by India's new prime minister.

The ministry said "no useful purpose" would be served by the foreign secretary's visit to Islamabad.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it was "unfortunate" that the India-Pakistan talks have fallen through. She said irrespective of why that happened, it's important that both sides still continue take steps to improve relations.

Since their independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. Both countries control parts of the Himalayan region and claim it in its entirety.

About a dozen Islamic groups have been fighting since 1989 for the independence of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and financing the militants. Islamabad denies the charge and says it only gives them moral and diplomatic support.

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