Full story India, Pakistan hold ``constructive'' talks

By Paul Richardson

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Sep 01: Officials of India and Pakistan, which both carried out underground nuclear tests in May, held ``constructive'' talks on Tuesday on the eve of a Non-Aligned summit, a spokesman for the Indian delegation said.

The spokesman, KC Singh, said Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Vasundhera Raje spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz for about 40 minutes.

India and Pakistan, at odds over Kashmir, have not held formal talks at foreign minister level since the beginning of the year. Tension between the two rose sharply after the nuclear tests.

Delegations from both countries are attending the 12th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement which starts on Wednesday.

``The talks have been constructive,'' Singh said. ``They conducted them in a friendly atmosphere and they both agreed that the officials should continue their efforts in Durban and beyond to find the modalities for the resumption of foreign secretary level talks.''

He added: ``The talks at the foreign secretary level have not been held since January of this year because the modalities on which they have to be held need to be determined.''

He declined to say exactly what was discussed at the meeting, saying only that talks had covered ``a wide array of subjects.''

This year's nuclear tests triggered international condemnation and fears of a nuclear arms race between the two neighbors.

Aziz told Reuters on Tuesday night that the discussions had centered on ways to begin dialogue between the two countries.

The two also remain deeply divided over the disputed Kashmir province which straddles their border and which suffered some of the worst fighting yet seen in the long running conflict.

``The nuclear issue has increased the urgency of the whole issue (of dialogue) and the issue of Kashmir just can't be wished away,'' Aziz said.

He said he hoped to meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during the NAM summit and said Vajpayee was likely to meet Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, at the U.N. General Assembly in New York in three weeks time.

Sharif is not attending the summit as he plans to attend sittings of both houses of Pakistan's parliament which will be debating the country's foreign policy.

Singh said that Vajpayee, who arrived in South Africa on Monday night, had met Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday to discuss the nuclear standoff and the situation in Afghanistan.

``They discussed peace and stability in the region. They were also of the same view that the question of nuclear disarmament is a global one and should not be seen and projected in a regional context,'' Singh said.

``Both sides agreed that there cannot be a military solution and that the Afghani people should draw their own destiny and that there should be no foreign interference,'' he added.

Iran is currently conducting a big military exercise on its northeastern border with Afghanistan, its largest maneuvers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Singh said Vajpayee had also held talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro, but had no details of their discussions.