NEW DELHI, April 26: Top-level meetings are envisaged between Indian and Pakistani officials in May to find an early solution to the issues of Siachen, Sir Creek and the Iran gas pipeline, official sources said on Tuesday. The sources said that the meetings would help prepare the grounds for a review of these and other key issues between Indian and Pakistani leaders when they meet in Dhaka on the margins of the Saarc summit believed to be targeted for the end of next month.

The April 18 joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Gen Pervez Musharraf had proposed a meeting between their petroleum ministers in May “to explore cooperation in the sector, including on the issue of pipelines.”

Since the joint statement had clearly referred to ‘pipelines’, in plural, the petroleum ministers are expected to consider other options along with the Iranian project over which the US has expressed reservations although both countries deny feeling any pressure in this regard.

Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Tuesday he would be in Pakistan from May 25 to boost bilateral energy ties and to follow up on the joint statement.

During the visit Mr Aiyar will push for Indian exports of diesel and petrochemicals to Pakistan. He would also discuss import of natural gas from Iran through a 2,600km pipeline, 760km of which is to pass through Pakistan.

“I am leaving for Islamabad on the 25th. Bilateral talks are scheduled for May 26 and 27,” he told Press Trust of India.

On May 28, Mr Aiyar will visit the Sui gas field and the next day he will be in Karachi.

Mr Aiyar said that during his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart he would take up the issue of removing diesel from the negative list of importable items from India.

“Mr Aiyar will discuss issues like the route of the pipeline, transit fee, etc., with Pakistan as all it will have an important bearing on the cost of gas,” PTI quoted an Indian petroleum ministry official as saying.

Sources told Dawn that the defence secretaries of the two countries were likely to meet before the end of May to revisit the 1989 ‘agreement’ on their troop withdrawal from Siachen.

Taking up the Siachen and Sir Creek issues, the April 18 joint statement “instructed that the existing institutional mechanisms should convene discussions immediately with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions to both sides expeditiously.”

The sources say a mechanism had to be hammered out to set up verifiable measures to ensure that neither of the two sides would exploit the vacuum created by the mutual withdrawal from the world’s highest battlefield.

On the Sir Creek issue too, an agreement is believed to be predicated on the political will rather than on the usually touted technicalities.

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