WASHINGTON / NEW YORK, Sept 2: President Pervez Musharraf may have a “chance meeting” with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in New York later this month, Ambassador Gen (retd) Jehangir Karamat told Dawn on Friday.

“All heads of states and governments will be there and if they meet, there’s no harm,” said the ambassador who is a former army chief.

President Musharraf and Prime Minister Sharon are both scheduled to attend the 59th session of the UN General Assembly which begins on Sept 12.

However, Ambassador Karamat emphasized that “no planned meeting” between the two leaders was scheduled. “Such a planned meeting is not even possible,” he said.

He said that the ‘chance meeting’ would not have any impact on Pakistan’s decision to recognize Israel because “we realize that the stage for Israel’s recognition has not yet arrived”.

“All world leaders will be there, aur agar subsay milengay tu unsay bhi mil lengay (and if the president meets all of them, he may also meet the Israeli prime minister), but there will be no formal talks. If a meeting takes place, it will be a chance handshake,” said the ambassador.

In New York, however, informed sources told Dawn that President Musharraf and Mr Sharon would hold a one-to-one meeting on Sept 15.

Pakistan’s Ambassador at the United Nations Munir Akram said that so far no formal request for such a meeting had been made by the Israeli government. Nevertheless, one embassy official said that “if Islamabad and Tel Aviv agree to such a meeting, we will make appropriate arrangements.”

On the other hand, Daniel Carmon, Charge d’affaires of Israel to the United Nations, told Dawn that foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel had discussed in Istanbul the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders in New York.

Israeli newspapers on Friday speculated that President Musharraf might meet Mr Sharon since the ice had been broken between the two countries following the Istanbul meeting.

Gen Karamat said that there had been “very important contacts” between Pakistan and Israel but the embassy had not been involved in any direct talks with the Israelis.

He said the international strategic environment required such contacts but “whatever we are doing, it is in our national interest to do so”.

He described these contacts as “the first step” and said that “more steps will be taken”.

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