New Foreign Secretary Mathai pushes talks with Pakistan (Lead)

August 1st, 2011 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, who assumed office Monday, said he has been mandated to pursue “substantive dialogue” with Pakistan and underlined that constructive cooperation in the immediate neighbourhood would be one of his key priorities.

Mathai, who succeeds Nirupama Rao, India’s next ambassador to the US, said continuity would be the watchword during his tenure and stressed that building “cooperative and strong relationships with all the major global players” would be amongst his key priorities.

“The foreign secretary is as much an institution as an individual,” Mathai told reporters here after joining his office in South Block in the morning.

He stressed the need for a holistic foreign policy that takes care of India’s political and strategic interests, combines the economic and commercial interests of the country, and also keeps in mind the cultural image of the country and the way in which the country portrays itself in the world.

“Constructive cooperation in the immediate neighbourhood is the main challenge, and I think that will be one of my priority tasks,” he said. Mathai also spoke about the need for developing “very very strong relations with the countries of Africa, Latin America, of Central Asia, of South East Asia and the Gulf region.”

“I think managing all these would be the major challenge,” he said.

Days after the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan held talks here, Mathai said he would continue the re-engagement process of restoring trust between the two neighbours.

“My mandate is substantive dialogue on all issues of common concerns,” said Mathai, when asked about the trajectory of the revived India-Pakistan dialogue process.

“As regards Pakistan, I would like to say that I have entered this office with a mandate, which is that we as foreign secretaries are expected to pave the way for a substantive dialogue with Pakistan, on all issues,” he said.

“…and I look forward to cooperating with the Pakistan foreign secretary on that and we have to try and work to restore trust and confidence.”

Mathai, who was India’s ambassador to France when he was appointed foreign secretary last month, will have a two-year term.

A 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, Mathai was India’s ambassador to Israel February 1998 to June 2001, and to Qatar August 2001 to July 2005. He was joint secretary dealing with India’s relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Maldives from January 1995 to February 1998. He has also served in the Indian embassies in Vienna, Colombo, Washington, Tehran and Brussels.

Mathai takes over as foreign secretary at a challenging time in international relations when the developed world is still recovering from the global recession and new equations are emerging in the international pecking order.

Against this backdrop, Mathai said: “We are in a world of flux and we have to be innovative and adapt to the situation as it develops, but at the same time we have to be clear eyed about what are our national priorities and interests, many of which remain permanent.”

Significantly, Mathai has taken over as foreign secretary barely two months before the next session of the United Nations General Assembly, which is expected to push forward the process of the UN Security Council reforms.

Not many know that Mathai played a key role in crafting the Ganga river waters accord with Bangladesh in 1996. His skills as a negotiator will come in handy at a time when India is trying to seal fresh pacts with Bangladesh as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heads to Dhaka Sep 6-7.

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