- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

ISTANBUL — The foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, a Muslim country that has long taken a hard line against the Jewish state, met publicly for the first time yesterday, a diplomatic breakthrough that both ministers linked to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom hailed the meeting as a “historic first” and said that after the Gaza pullout, it was “time for all of the Muslim and Arab countries to reconsider their relations with Israel.”

Mr. Shalom also said he hoped the Istanbul meeting — initiated by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf — would result eventually in full diplomatic relations with Pakistan and all other Arab and Islamic countries.

“I am sure that this meeting will be followed by more meetings in the future,” Mr. Shalom said. “We hope that finally it will lead to full diplomatic relations with Pakistan, as we would like it with all Muslim and Arab countries.”

Israel has open diplomatic relations with only four Muslim countries, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania, Mr. Shalom said.

Israel has “secret” contacts with all Muslim countries, he said, but Israel hopes others will follow the lead of Pakistan and bring these contacts into the open.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri called the meeting “a gesture to underscore the importance that we in Pakistan attach to Israel ending its occupation of Gaza.”

“It is important that Israel is encouraged to continue to pursue the course of peace” and end its occupation, he said.

“The meeting today does not mean recognition,” Mr. Kasuri added yesterday. “That stage will come following progress toward the solution of the Palestinian problem.”

This point was also emphasized by Gen. Musharraf in Islamabad, who said the meeting “in no way means that we are recognizing Israel. We will not recognize Israel until it resolves the Palestinian issue.”

The foreign ministers met at the Four Seasons Hotel, a former Ottoman prison not far from Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Security was tight, with Turkish and Israeli security officials searching bags and even disassembling photographers’ cameras.

Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country that has good relations with Israel, was chosen as a neutral venue at Gen. Musharraf’s suggestion. Pakistan has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Mr. Shalom and Mr. Kasuri informally met Wednesday night at a dinner in Istanbul, Israeli officials said.

Gen. Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in South Asia, has been moving gradually toward conciliation with Israel, despite the influence of a powerful Islamic radical party in Pakistan.

The Pakistani president accepted an invitation to address an interfaith conference this month organized by the Council for World Jewry while he is in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly session.

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