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Pakistan, India Express Readiness to Ease Strained Relations - 2003-04-28

Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali has telephoned his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee to discuss ways to improve strained relations between the two countries. The call follows a conditional offer of dialogue earlier this month by New Delhi.

This is the first high-level contact between the rival South Asian nations in nearly two years. An official statement says that Mr. Jamali has reiterated Pakistan's readiness for a dialogue with India at any level to resolve outstanding issues, including the long-running dispute over divided Kashmir.

It says the two leaders agreed to consider issues like restoring cultural, sports and economic links between India and Pakistan.

Speaking to VOA by telephone, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri says that Prime Minister Jamali has invited Mr. Vajpayee to Pakistan, and has also offered to visit India.

"If he [Mr. Vajpayee] does come he will receive a warm welcome, and we will do all we can to help reducing of tensions between the two countries," he said. "The very fact that he has taken the first call after 18 months to break an impasse between the two countries is a positive development."

Prime Minister Jamali's offer comes days after Mr. Vajpayee said he was willing to have peace talks with Pakistan. But the Indian leader qualified the offer, saying Pakistan will have to end support for an armed insurgency in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

Pakistan denies any involvement, and opposes any conditions for resuming dialogue with India. The two countries have not held formal talks since July 2001, and came close to war last year over Kashmir.

The United States and other world leaders have repeatedly urged India and Pakistan to ease tensions, and settle differences through talks. Washington is sending Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region next month to discuss the situation with leaders from both countries.