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    Indian Prime Minister Open to Peace Talks with Pakistan

    In a wide-ranging policy speech to India's Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed hopes of restarting peace talks with Pakistan.  The prime minister also called for a high-level dialog with Australia, in response to recent racist attacks on Indian students there.  
    Following months of tension in wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack, India's prime minister is expressing a willingness to resume peace talks with Pakistan, which could cool tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

    India blames last November's terrorist siege of its financial capital on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.  The attack left dead nearly 170 people.

    Speaking to Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, with the fate of 1.5 billion people at stake, India is willing to meet "more than half way" its neighbor and long-time military rival.

    "It is in our vital interest, therefore, to try again to make peace with Pakistan.  But I recognize it takes two hands to clap," he said.

    The biggest barrier to peace is the divided Kashmir region, which both nations have claimed since winning independence from Britain in 1947.  The territorial dispute has been the catalyst for repeated battles between the armies of India and Pakistan during the past 62 years.

    In his Parliament speech, the prime minister made clear progress in resuming the slow-paced peace talks would depend on Islamabad bringing to justice terror suspects New Delhi blames for attacks on Indian soil.

    Mr. Singh also made note of the recent attacks on Indian students in Australia.  The spate of physical assaults, which Indians say are racially motivated, has caused a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Canberra.

    Mr. Singh told lawmakers he has been discussing the issue with his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, who he says has assured him action will be taken to protect the nearly 100,000 Indians studying there.

    "I propose to engage the authorities in Australia in a high-level dialog with a view to taking stock of the situation and to providing adequate security for Indian security," he said.

    Remarking on relations with India's major economic rival, China, Mr. Singh deemed the Chinese a "strategic partner" and says the multi-faceted bilateral relationship should not be viewed in "antagonistic terms."

    Responding to legislators' concerns about repeated Chinese incursions into Indian territory, Mr. Singh said no country should make no mistake in doubting India would act to protect its boundaries.

    Indian media report a surge of incursions by China along the un-demarcated border since 2007.  The alleged incidents occurred in Ladakh (an ethnic Tibetan region in Kashmir), the state of Arunachal Pradesh and in formerly independent Sikkim.  China maintains territorial claims in all three areas.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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