- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — India and Pakistan held their first peace talks in 21/2 years yesterday, praising a “new momentum” and working on a timetable to resolve decades of conflict over Kashmir, terrorism and other issues.

As the nuclear-armed neighbors back away from the brink of their fourth war in 2002, the three-day talks are to lay the groundwork for ending a half-century of tension since their 1947 partition.

“There is realization in India and Pakistan that war is not an option, that you have to look at ways to find a peaceful resolution of the outstanding disputes between the two countries,” Pakistani spokesman Masood Khan said after a meeting between Foreign Ministry officials of the two countries.

“There’s new momentum; this momentum must be maintained,” he said.

The two sides discussed dates for future talks; a formal timetable was expected to be decided in the next two days. The talks include discussions on eight issues, including Kashmir, confidence-building measures in the nuclear field, terrorism and drugs, economic cooperation and a river dispute.

“I am quite optimistic over the outcome of this round of talks,” Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said in New Delhi.

The rapprochement was started by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who agreed to resume the dialogue last month. A July 2001 summit in Agra, India, failed to make any progress.

Jalil Abbas Jilani, a director-general in Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, and Arun Kumar Singh, a joint secretary in India’s External Affairs Ministry, shook hands and smiled before the start of the meeting yesterday. The talks continue through tomorrow, culminating in a face-to-face meeting of the countries’ foreign secretaries.

The talks represent the first real test of flexibility on long-entrenched positions, such as the disputed Kashmir region.

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