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India, Pakistan Leaders Move to Thaw Relations - 2004-01-05

The leaders of Pakistan and India have met on the sidelines of the South Asian regional summit in Islamabad. The much-anticipated meeting, the first in more than two years, is another step in the thawing relations between the nuclear rival nations.

The meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being described as "friendly and warm."

The two men met during the summit of the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional cooperation, known as SAARC.

After the meeting, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said the two leaders exchanged views on measures the two nations have taken to improve normally tense relations.

"Both leaders welcomed the recent steps toward the normalization of relations between the two countries and expressed the hope that the process will continue," said Mr. Sinha.

The most pressing issue is the dispute over Kashmir, which has been the cause of two wars and nearly sparked a third in 2002.

But in the past year, India and Pakistan have restored diplomatic ties and resumed road, rail, and air links, which New Delhi cut after accusing Pakistan of aiding terrorists who attacked the Indian Parliament in 2001. Pakistan denied the allegations.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Masood Khan says the first meeting between the leaders in two years is a major step forward.

"These meetings are good, and they are a good beginning because they can facilitate a composite dialogue, more intense engagement between the two countries," he said.

Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tanveer Ahmed Khan says this could be the beginning of a new type of conflict resolution.

"There is a new realism in India and Pakistan that the only way to solve their outstanding problems is through negotiations, and I think that augurs well for the future," he commented.

Before his meeting with President Musharraf, Prime Minister Vajpayee called for uninterrupted talks between the two countries to resolve disputes.