Voicing “a great sense of confidence, optimism and determination,” India and Pakistan on Thursday opened their two-day Foreign Secretary-level talks here and discussed the issue of peace and security, including confidence-building measures on Kashmir.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who arrived here on Thursday morning, and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir began the first round of their talks, which have been divided in three segments.

The first round of parleys is dealing with the issue of peace and security, including confidence-building measures on Kashmir. On Friday, two more rounds will take place on the issues of Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges.

At the beginning of the talks, Mr. Bashir said they were approaching the parleys with a “great sense of confidence, optimism and determination.” Agreeing with him, Ms. Rao said this was an “apt” statement.

Mr. Bashir said this is an important point in the relationship and will also help the two sides to prepare the agenda for the ministerial meeting in the near future.

Ms. Rao said “we have a clear agenda in front of us for discussions” and noted that there have been good meetings in the past few months.

“We are approaching these talks with an open and constructive mind,” she said.

The two sides first held restricted talks, which were followed by the delegation-level meeting in which Ms. Rao was accompanied by Joint Secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) Yash Sinha, Joint Secretary (Nuclear Disarmament) Venkatesh Verma, Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal and other senior officials.

Warmly welcoming the Indian side, Mr. Bashir said “We wish to engage with you in not only walking the trajectory but also exploring new avenues further.”

“This series of meetings is of great importance,” he said.

Soon after her arrival in Islamabad, Ms. Rao had said she had come to Pakistan with “an open mind and a constructive spirit” in order to work towards building trust and confidence in bilateral relationship and thereby leading to an eventual normalisation of ties for the well being and prosperity of the people of the two countries.

She said “this is an important visit as it marks the penultimate leg of the resumed dialogue process before the visit of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to India by July 2011” and added that they would discuss the issues that have been mandated to them by their leadership.

During the two-day talks, nuclear and conventional confidence-building measures would also be discussed.

Earlier this year, the two countries decided to resume talks on all bilateral issues under the Composite Dialogue, two years after the parleys were suspended in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Following the resumption of talks in February, the Defence, Interior and Commerce Secretaries have met in the last few months while Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani visited India in March to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final at the invitation of his counterpart Manmohan Singh.

The Foreign Secretaries will also take stock of the progress made in the meetings between the Interior, Commerce and Defence Secretaries.

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