NEW YORK, Sept 12: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured President Pervez Musharraf on Monday that the US would like to help out India and Pakistan in moving forward towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Secretary Rice, who had a 75-minute talks with Gen Musharraf earlier on Monday, showed keen interest in the Sept 14 meeting between President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urged the two neighbouring states to resolve their differences amicably.
“Ms Rice told the president that the US is interested in helping out India and Pakistan in resolving their differences peacefully,” said Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri while briefing journalists on the Rice-Musharraf meeting.
A senior diplomat present in the talks told Dawn that the Rice-Musharraf meeting would “set the tone for the Sept 13 meeting between President George W. Bush and President Pervez Musharraf.”
President Musharraf is one of only three world leaders Mr Bush is meeting during the current session of the UN General Assembly.
Talking about his meeting with Prime Minister Singh, the president told the US secretary of state that Pakistan would do whatever was required to improve bilateral relations with India, Mr Kasuri told reporters.
“He explained recent contacts between Pakistan and India as part of the composite dialogue to Ms Rice and emphasized the need for the resolution of the Kashmir issue,” he said. “Ms Rice told the president she believed that this is a very important issue and encouraged the two neighbouring states to continue the composite dialogue.”
Earlier on his arrival, President Musharraf told reporters that he was looking forward to meeting Mr Singh and wanted to see the peace process move forward.
He underscored the importance of his talks with the India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this week saying he would like to spur the peace process particularly on the “key dispute” of Kashmir,
“I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister of India, and that I think is of great importance,” he told reporters on his arrival in New York to participate in the three-day UN high-level summit opening on Sept 14 which will be attended by some 175 heads of state and governments.
The two leaders will meet on Wednesday night at a dinner being hosted by Manmohan Singh. Gen Musharraf and Mr Singh had met in New Delhi President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s visit to the US and his engagements on the sidelines of the United Nations session in New York.
He said the president’s address to the UN plenary meeting on Wednesday would reflect the country’s perspective on reform proposals aimed at enhancing international security, development and human rights and strengthening the UN to meet challenges of the 21st century.
MEETING WITH BUSH: Mr Khan said President Musharraf was one of the three world leaders (besides the Chinese and the Russian presidents) with whom the US president would hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the session. “The meeting, which will provide the two leaders an opportunity to review the bilateral relations, regional and international issues of mutual interest, reflects the importance that the US attaches to its relations with Pakistan,” he said. He termed the president’s meeting with his American counterpart as “very important,” underlining that Pakistan had a strategic relationship with the US. In reply to a question, he said the two leaders would discuss all aspects of bilateral relations.
He said President Musharraf and the first lady would attend a reception hosted by President and Mrs Bush.
Mr Khan said the president would also visit the US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, at the invitation of Centcom Commander Gen Abizaid.
MANMOHAN: The spok-esman said the Sept 14 Mu-sharraf-Manmohan meeting would be “very important” and it would be followed by a dinner hosted by the Indian prime minister.
At the meeting, he said, Kashmir would top the agenda. The two leaders would also review the overall progress in the second round of the composite dialogue and look at ways of carrying it forward, he said.
He refused to predict whether any breakthrough would be achieved, particularly on the Kashmir issue.
SHARON: Answering a question, Mr Khan said no meeting had been scheduled between President Musharraf and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He was non-committal to repeated queries about their ‘chance’ meeting and was equally evasive when asked if he ruled out the possibility.
“I will only talk of the planned meetings,” he stated, tacitly conveying that a meeting between the two leaders was not totally out.
Answering a question, the spokesman asserted that there was “absolute clarity” in Pakistan’s contacts with Israel and the engagement did not amount to recognition of the state. In reply to another question, he said Pakistan did not support the idea of ‘great Israel’.
OTHER MEETINGS: The spokesman said President Musharraf would hold meetings with the presidents of Austria, Algeria, China, Gambia and Iran, the king of Jordan and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and Norway in the US.
IRAN: When Mr Khan’s attention was drawn to serious reservations expressed by an Iranian spokesman on Pakistan’s diplomatic contact with Israel, he said the Iranian government had been informed in advance about the contact. “Our position has been explained to our Iranian brothers and I do not want to add anything,” he said.
INDIAN SPY: Responding to a question, Mr Khan said no family member of Indian prisoner Surbejeet Singh had contacted Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi for visa. He said the Indian prisoner had two options: to file a review petition or a clemency appeal. None of the options had been exercised by the prisoner yet, he said.
AFGHANISTAN: In response to a question, the spokesman said the US had not raised the issue with Pakistan of the negative list with regard to its trade with Afghanistan. He said the list had been reduced from 24 to three items, which reflected Pakistan’s sensitivity to Afghan interests.
He made it clear that while the matter was under constant review, it was not possible for the country to disregard interests of its business community.
He said Pakistan wanted to increase its imports from Afghanistan and it had reduced duties on Afghan fruits and vegetables from 15 to five per cent. “Our imports increased by 40 per cent from $29.52 million in 2000-1 to $47.42 million in 2003-4,” he said.
APHC: Talking to journalists after the briefing, Mr Khan confirmed that the president would meet the APHC leadership in New York.