Pakistani, Indian foreign ministers, top diplomats to meet on G8 sidelines? (Lead)

June 23rd, 2009 - 4:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Islamabad, June 23 (IANS) Will the foreign ministers and the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India meet separately on the sidelines of a G8 conclave beginning at Trieste, Italy, Thursday?
Media reports Tuesday suggested the two meetings could take place.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is expected to meet his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna in Trieste as they would be attending the three-day G8 foreign ministers’ meeting that the two ministers had been especially invited to attend, Online news agency reported.

Quoting sources, Online noted that though the meeting had not been scheduled and “it was premature to say something about the formal meeting between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India”, it was “hoped that the two might face each other”.

The News daily said “hectic efforts” were underway “for setting up a date and venue for a meeting between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Shivshankar Menon before the six-day Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, starting on July 11″.

“Efforts are being made so that the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India could meet in a third country preferably before the NAM summit in Egypt. Two options available are: during the G-8 meeting of foreign ministers in Trieste, Italy, which is being held from June 25 and if possible during the senior officials meetings at Sharm el-Sheikh, which is normally attended by the foreign ministers,” The News’ Mariana Baabar quoted an official as saying.

“There are no hard and fast rules. If the two countries agree then both the foreign secretaries can meet either at Trieste or at Sharm el-Sheikh before the NAM summit. Pakistan is trying to impress upon India that it is ready to meet in a third country or in India or Pakistan for the meeting,” the official added.

If that does not work then the foreign secretaries would be meeting either in Pakistan or in India with the latter a more likely choice, Baabar wrote.

Towards this, the foreign office here has instructed its high commissioner in New Delhi to meet with the Indian foreign secretary to arrange a meeting between the two foreign secretaries, she added.

The foreign secretaries’ meeting had been planned when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held their icebreaker meeting on the sidelines of the regional grouping Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg last week.

As Manmohan Singh had put it after the first meeting of the two leaders in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage that India has blamed on elements operating from Pakistan, he would wait for the outcome of the talks between the foreign secretaries before taking a decision on resuming the ‘composite dialogue’ at a planned, but now canceled, meeting with Zardari on the sidelines of the NAM summit.

“The purpose of this meeting (between foreign secretaries) is to find what Pakistan has done and what it plans to do on terrorist activities against India,” Manmohan Singh had told reporters on board his special plane while returning home from Yekaterinburg.

Given this, and given the fact that it has been announced that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani would be representing Pakistan at the NAM summit, it was unclear what the outcome of the foreign secretaries’ meeting would be.

Even assuming that the two prime minister’s meet on the sidelines of the NAM summit, there would be a protocol issue involved.

Under a controversial constitutional amendment pushed through by then military dictator Pervez Musharraf, key executive powers had been transferred from the prime minister’s office to the presidency.

Thus, a decision on resuming the composite dialogue would have to be taken at a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Zardari - whenever that happens.

Zardari had pulled out of the meeting in Egypt because he was apparently miffed over the blunt message Manmohan Singh had delivered at Yekaterinburg.

Moments after shaking hands with the Pakistani leader in the Hotel Hyatt Regency, Manmohan Singh told Zardari that India expected that Pakistani territory would not be used for terrorist activities against India.

“I am very happy to meet you,” he told Zardari in front of hordes of journalists who had gathered for the photo-op.

“But I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of discussing how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorists attacks on India,” Manmohan Singh added.

An embarrassed Zardari was taken aback by the otherwise soft-spoken leader’s candid remarks and had to request Manmohan Singh to let journalists go before they could begin their talks.

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