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Talks with Pakistan on nuclear issues on June 19, 20

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, JUNE 1. The External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, announced today that India-Pakistan expert-level talks on nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) would take place here on June 19-20 while the Foreign Secretaries would meet for the first round of their resumed composite dialogue on June 27-28.

Mr. Singh said at his first press conference that the National Security Adviser, J.N. Dixit, would be India's pointman for discussions with China — taking over as Special Representative from Brajesh Mishra. The Special Representatives would meet very soon. The Minister also said that India, China and Pakistan could work out a common nuclear doctrine.

With the fixing of the dates for talks on the nuclear CBMs and the first round of resumed Foreign Secretary-level talks, any uncertainty surrounding the composite dialogue process has ended. The Foreign Secretaries will discuss the issues of peace and security, including CBMs, as well as Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Singh made it clear that while India would play a role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Sri Lanka's northern and eastern parts, New Delhi would not agree to "Tamil Eelam" under any circumstances. While the request for the extradition of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief, Velupillai Prabakaran, remained on the table, India did not want to give it priority to ensure it did not become an impediment in the current peace process in Sri Lanka.

The future of India-Pakistan relations, he said, did not lie in the past. "We cannot forget the past, neither can we be prisoners of the past," Mr. Singh said, stressing that the past was strewn with booby-traps and high-tension wires. "We want to put an end to that."

Asked about the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's recent statements that progress on Kashmir was a must, Mr. Singh said India was not shying away from discussing anything. However, there could be difficulties if the approach was that without progress on Kashmir nothing could move forward, he said adding that India, too, had a point of view on Kashmir.

`Plebiscite issue dead'

Referring to the points raised by his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Mr. Singh said no public announcement had been made by India that the border could not be altered; the plebiscite issue was dead, the Shimla Agreement was the bedrock of bilateral relations and that no formal proposal had been made about applying the India-China model to Pakistan.

India was committed to the Shimla Agreement, the Lahore Declaration of 1999 as well as the January 6 joint press statement issued by the two countries, Mr. Singh said adding that he had made these points at every meeting and referred to a "continuous chain" in India-Pakistan agreements.

"We are not running a static or sterile foreign policy," he said. About turning the Line of Control into an international border, he stated that no policy statement had been made. There had to be a national consensus on the issue.

Mr. Singh said the Congress had given broad support to the Vajpayee Government on Pakistan even though the policy was not consistent. For instance, the Congress while favouring a suspension of the bilateral dialogue with Pakistan after the December 2001 Parliament attack, did not want that bus, train and air links, over-flights or cricket matches between the two countries be stopped. "The diplomatic drawer should not be shut," he said

On the agreement between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf during last night's telephone conversation that statements and counter-statements should be avoided, Mr. Singh said it would take "50 years" to reach the level of belligerent statements made by the former Prime Minister on Pakistan.

To a question, he said that if Gen. Musharraf wanted friendship with the new Indian leadership, it, too, would be friendly. These issues could not be personalised, Mr. Singh said, adding that the calculation in Islamabad was that the Vajpayee Government would be returned to power. "But things went wrong."

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