ISLAMABAD, Jan 28: President Pervez Musharraf last week met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Paris and the Foreign Office described it as ‘a chance encounter’.

There are reports that the two leaders met again and discussed the nuclear arms issues, especially the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and Iran’s nuclear programme; the Middle East peace process; and the situation in Gaza.

The second meeting is said to have lasted about an hour.

Pakistan and Israel have no diplomatic ties and their officials rarely meet. But there have been several ‘chance meetings’ between the two sides in the past, apart from an arranged meeting between the then foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri and his then Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in Turkey in 2005.

Foreign Office Spokesman Mohammad Sadiq confirmed to Dawn that President Musharraf had met Mr Barak in the lobby of Raphael Hotel in Paris on January 22 by chance when the president was leaving the hotel.

Both of them were staying in the same hotel.

According to the Israeli media, Mr Barak had taken the initiative and approached President Musharraf. He introduced himself and praised the president’s role in the war on terror, saying: “We support your people and back you due to your significance in securing world peace”.

President Musharraf reportedly placed his hand on Mr Barak’s shoulder and replied: “Thank you very much. God willing, I hope you will make progress in the peace process”.

Mr Sadiq said the two dignitaries exchanged greetings and parted. “It was nothing more than a chance meeting and nothing was discussed there.”

Regarding the reported second meeting, the spokesman said he wasn’t aware of it.

Diplomatic sources indicate that there have been extensive contacts between Israel and Pakistan at various levels. These meetings were said to have focussed on the nuclear issue.