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India Wants More Confidence-Building Before Dialogue With Pakistan - 2003-05-03

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has reacted cautiously to a formal invitation from his Pakistani counterpart for talks to resolve the differences between the two countries. The invitation was made as part of recent peace initiatives between the two hostile neighbors.

Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali's invitation for Mr. Vajpayee to join a high-level bilateral dialogue arrived in New Delhi a day after Mr. Vajpayee said he wanted to re-establish full diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

India's reply to the Pakistani invitation was quick, but cautious. The foreign ministry says Mr. Vajpayee has written to Mr. Jamali emphasizing the need for "careful preparation on the ground, so that meaningful talks can take place at the highest level." The Indian prime minister has said he remains committed to improving relations with Pakistan.

But Mr. Vajpayee also called for an end to what New Delhi calls "cross-border terrorism" by Pakistan, to create a positive atmosphere for a sustained dialogue.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting and sponsoring Muslim militant groups waging a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir - Pakistan denies the charge.

Political analysts say New Delhi wants to see more confidence-building measures before opening a high-level bilateral dialogue.

The peace initiatives between the two countries started two weeks ago, when Mr. Vajpayee offered a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan.

The Pakistani prime minister responded by making a telephone call to Mr. Vajpayee, establishing the first high-level contact between the two countries in nearly two years.

Bilateral relations deteriorated sharply following an attack on the Indian parliament by suspected Pakistan-based Muslim militants in December 2001.

The first concrete steps to improve ties came Friday, when India said it will appoint an ambassador to Pakistan, and restore air links that were suspended last year.

The United States has welcomed the moves by India and Pakistan to repair their frayed ties. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha Saturday, as well as with the Pakistani prime minister. Pakistan said it will soon announce measures aimed at reducing tensions with India.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, including two over the disputed region of Kashmir, which is divided between them. The rivals were engaged in a 10-month military confrontation last year, and came to the brink of war.

Western countries have been urging the bitter rivals to resolve their differences through dialogue.