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South Asia: Foreign Ministers Of India, Pakistan Meet In China

Pakistani President Musharraf has proposed a September meeting with the Indian PM (file photo) The foreign minister in India's newly elected government met for the first time today with his Pakistani counterpart. Islamabad is expressing hope for peace between the two nuclear capable neighbors. But Pakistan says the peace process in the divided region of Kashmir needs to move forward.

Prague, 21 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The meeting between foreign ministers of India and Pakistan was the first since the new Indian government was sworn into power in May.

The talks between foreign ministers Natwar Singh of India and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri of Pakistan took place on the sidelines of a regional conference in China, following a weekend of meetings in New Delhi between their aides.

Kasuri expressed hope that the peace process will move forward under India's new center-left government, led by the Congress Party. But he told journalists after today's talks that Pakistan and India still need to do more to push the peace process forward in the divided region of Kashmir.

The Indian Foreign Ministry described today's meeting as a warm and productive working lunch that lasted nearly two hours. New Delhi says the two foreign ministers agreed to stay in contact in order to provide continuous political guidance for the peace process.

Masood Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, called today's meeting "significant."

"The real significance of this meeting is that after the political transition in India, after the change of government, this is the first meeting between the two foreign ministers. So it's also a kind of ‘get to know’ meeting. Probably, they know each other already. But in this changed setting, they [were] meeting for the first time. And that's why this is a significant meeting," Khan said.
"The rounds of talks we had [on 19-20 June] were productive. And now, of course, the challenge for both Pakistan and India is to implement these measures faithfully." -- Masood Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry

During the weekend talks in New Delhi, lower level officials from the two foreign ministries renewed pledges that neither country will conduct experimental nuclear explosions except under "extraordinary" circumstances.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna read the joint statement that emerged from those talks: "Each side reaffirmed its unilateral moratorium on conducting further nuclear test explosions unless, in exercise of national sovereignty, it decides that extraordinary events have jeopardized its supreme interests."

The joint statement also says that an emergency telephone "hotline" link will be created between the two Foreign Ministries: "The existing hotline between the director generals of military operations would be upgraded, dedicated, and secured. A dedicated and secure hotline would be established between the two foreign secretaries through the respective foreign offices to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues."

Khan, the Pakistani spokesman, agreed that the most important development at the weekend talks was the progress on confidence-building measures between the two nuclear-capable countries.

"The main thrust was elaboration of nuclear [confidence-building measures] between India and Pakistan, and we have done that successfully. I think they have made progress and there has been forward movement. The rounds of talks we had [on 19-20 June] were productive. And now, of course, the challenge for both Pakistan and India is to implement these measures faithfully," Khan said.

Kasuri said it is now essential for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to meet directly with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh so that a solution to the decades-old dispute over Kashmir can be resolved in a way that satisfies the expectations of Kashmiris as well as Indians and Pakistanis.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has proposed that he meet with the Indian prime minister in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. But that meeting has yet to be confirmed.

Khan noted that further meetings between Foreign Ministry officials have been scheduled during the next two months to complete the groundwork for the proposed September summit.

"[The foreign ministers] are expected to meet next month during the [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] ministerial [meeting], which will be held in Islamabad," Khan said. "And according to the calendar of activities finalized by the foreign secretaries in relation to the composite dialogue process, the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India are scheduled to meet [again] in August. So they will have more opportunities to meet each other."

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars during the past half century over Kashmir, which is divided between Indian and Pakistani administrations. The two countries came to the brink of a fourth war in 2002, but that crisis was defused through international diplomacy.