M A I N   N E W S

Natwar, Aziz to go on with talks
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 23
Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz arrived here this afternoon, along with a high-level 70-member delegation, on a SAARC-related visit and soon after plunged into talks with External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh with all his six accompanying ministers present at the meeting.

Importantly, on the bilateral side during the Aziz-Natwar talks, both sides felt that the ‘composite dialogue’ should continue to move forward, and agreed to work for increased cooperation between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s “seven-region” formula on Kashmir was not raised by Mr Aziz during his talks with Mr Natwar Singh, sources said.

The bonhomie between the two sides could be gauged by the fact that Mr Natwar Singh broke protocol to receive Mr Aziz. Originally, only Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed was to receive and see off Mr Aziz at the airport.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too sent two bouquets to Mr Aziz and his wife and telephoned him to welcome him to India. He said he looked forward to meeting him formally tomorrow.

The two Prime Ministers are scheduled to hold talks at noon tomorrow to be followed by a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister in honour of Mr Aziz.

Sources said that there would be no joint statement at the end of Mr Aziz’s 30-hour-long visit tomorrow as the visit was not a bilateral one. He has come here in capacity of his current position as the Chairman of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

This fact was reflected in Mr Aziz’s meeting with Mr Natwar Singh also as during the 45-minute-long talks, the discussions on bilateral matters consumed just about 10 minutes, sources said.

Mr Aziz also had a 30-minute talk with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and another 30-minute meeting with Leader of Opposition L K Advani. Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs were present during these meetings as the two BJP leaders called on Mr Aziz in his Hotel Taj Mansingh where he is staying.

The meeting with the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Mani Shankar Aiyer, which was to take place for today, was rescheduled for tomorrow.

During the meeting between Mr Aziz and Mr Natwar Singh, mainly SAARC issues were discussed. Foreign Office spokesman described the discussions as “a very friendly, positive and forward-looking meeting”.

It was felt that although a good beginning had been made in the last Islamabad SAARC Summit, including on SAFTA, much more could be done in the SAARC forum. Potential for further regional cooperation was recognised by both sides. This would be discussed in the meetings which were to follow tomorrow.

The spokesman said: “This was the first meeting of the visit. These are the trends which were discussed and these would continue in the further meetings.”

Later in the evening, Mr Aziz met Kashmiri separatist leaders also amid reports that Pakistan was working hard on a semblance of unity in the warring factions. Mr Aziz hosted dinner for all separatist leaders at Pakistan House.

Among those separatist leaders Mr Aziz met were Acting Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Bilal Lone.

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