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ISLAMABAD, Sept 3: President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Saturday said that Pakistan’s ‘growing stature’ could help achieve a just settlement of the Palestinian problem.

The two leaders, according to a foreign ministry statement, said this when Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri briefed them about his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in Istanbul on Thursday.

The statement quoted both the leaders as reiterating that there was “no change in Pakistan’s position on Israel” but saying that Islamabad “wants to play a positive role for the resolution of the Palestinian dispute based on justice and equality”.

“Pakistan today is in a position to play this role in view of its growing stature in the international community and in the (Muslim) Ummah,” the statement reported what appeared to be the gist of their remarks in their first meeting with Mr Kasuri since his talks with Mr Shalom.

It said ruling Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was also present at the meeting. The briefing followed a debate in the National Assembly on Friday when opposition members criticized the first high-level talks between Pakistan and Israel with some seeing it as a policy change to recognize the Jewish state occupying Palestine and others complaining of parliament being bypassed in an important foreign policy matter.

Gen Musharraf said: “Pakistan will not recognize Israel until the establishment of an independent Palestinian state” and that Islamabad “took leaders of the Islamic countries in the Middle East into confidence” before the Kasuri-Shalom meeting.

The president, who is due to address the American Jewish Congress in New York later this month, justified the process of engaging with other faiths as being “in line with the teachings of Islam and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)” and recalled that the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) kept channels of negotiations open with other religions.

The president said that Islam, being a religion of peace, “has lived in peace and harmony with other faiths for centuries and can do so in the future as well”.

The prime minister said that Mr Kasuri’s meeting with the Israeli foreign minister was “in no way recognition of Israel and any decision in this regard would be taken in the supreme national interest after due consultations”.

The statement quoted Mr Kasuri as saying his talks with Mr Shalom were held in a ‘cordial atmosphere’ and that he told him that Pakistan’s gesture demonstrated that “the Islamic world will respond positively if Israel is ready to accept the imperatives of peace by respecting the fundamental rights of the Palestinians to live in freedom and peace in their own homeland”.

The foreign minister said he emphasized at the Istanbul meeting that Pakistan would “like to see that the process started with the (Israeli withdrawal last month) from Gaza is continued in the West Bank”.