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India Will Continue Peace Process with Pakistan, says New Foreign Minister - 2004-06-01


A top official of India's new government says it will continue on the road to peace with Pakistan that was started by the previous government. India's new foreign minister says the two countries will hold peace talks in New Delhi later this month.

India's foreign minister, Natwar Singh, says his government is deeply committed to pursuing peace with Pakistan and will hold talks on nuclear confidence building measures in New Delhi on June 19 and 20. A week later (June 27 and June 28) the foreign secretaries of the two countries will discuss how to push forward a peace process set in motion earlier this year by India's previous government.

Mr. Singh told a news conference the new Congress-led coalition government wants cordial relations with Pakistan, and wants to continue the journey started by the previous government down the road to peace.

"The objective is to have a relationship which is friction-free, crisis-free and therefore we have welcomed this changed atmosphere," he said.

Mr. Singh spoke after differences emerged between India's new government and Pakistan over the approach to solving the Kashmir dispute, raising fears that peace efforts could slow down.

The Himalayan territory is divided between the two countries, but claimed in its entirety by both, and is the main issue that will have to be tackled atpeace talks between the two countries.

Last week, Mr. Singh suggested that a 1972 agreement between the two countries should form the bedrock of future ties. The agreement is seen in India as implicitly paving the way to turn the line of control that divides Kashmir between the two countries into a permanent border.

Islamabad reacted sharply, saying such a solution was not possible.

Foreign minister Singh now says New Delhi will take a pragmatic approach to solving all disputes with Pakistan.

"The future of Indo-Pak [istan] relations no longer lies in the past," he said. "We can't forget the past, but neither should we be prisoners of the past."

Mr. Singh also said his government remains committed to building friendly ties with the United States, and with Islamic countries.

The comment came amid speculation in New Delhi that the new government may change its policy toward the United States due to influence of its leftist allies.

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