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Last Updated: Friday, 2 January, 2004, 15:13 GMT
Kashmir looms over summit talks
Yashwant Sinha and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri in Islamabad
Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri (r) greets India's Yashwant Sinha
India says it has not ruled out direct talks on Kashmir with Pakistan at a regional summit that opened in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad on Friday.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is to arrive on Saturday for the South Asian nations summit.

Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said a face-to-face meeting with President Pervez Musharraf "had not yet been decided".

The official focus of the summit is free trade, poverty and terrorism.

The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc) summit began on Friday with a two-day meeting of foreign ministers.

They will prepare the ground for the heads of state and government, who will then hold a three-day summit from Sunday.

All eyes will be on the possible advancement of the recent peace moves between India and Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee
I remain optimistic about [Kashmir]. But there has to be a fundamental change in Pakistan's perspectives
Atal Behari Vajpayee

Mr Sinha said Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf would definitely meet socially.

But he would not be drawn on whether they would hold direct talks on the sidelines of the summit.

"We have said that it has not been decided yet. Let the prime minister come tomorrow," Mr Sinha said.

If the leaders do meet, the key issue will be how to resolve the disputed region of Kashmir and continue the recent peace progress.

On Thursday a Pakistani passenger jet landed in Delhi - the first direct flight between the countries for more than two years.

However, later on Friday, there was a militant attack in the city of Jammu, in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which at least two soldiers were killed.

Positions of strength

BBC News Online's South Asia correspondent Sanjoy Majumder says if direct talks do take place, both President Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee will approach them from positions of strength.

Mr Vajpayee has a string of recent state electoral victories behind him.

President Musharraf has just won parliamentary backing for his presidency with a series of constitutional amendments and a vote of confidence.

In an interview published on Friday, Mr Vajpayee said he was hopeful the Kashmir dispute could be resolved within his lifetime.

Checkpoint in Islamabad
High security is in place for the Islamabad talks

"I remain optimistic about it. But there has to be a fundamental change in Pakistan's perspectives," he told the India Today magazine.

Mr Vajpayee said Islamabad would have to give up its insistence that Jammu and Kashmir belonged to Pakistan because of its Muslim majority.

The nuclear rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and nearly clashed again last year.

However, a ceasefire was called in November following six months of improved ties.

US President George W Bush said late on Thursday that he hoped Pakistan and India would use the Saarc summit to further improve ties.

He also said he believed Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was safe following two attempts on President Musharraf's life last month.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"Checkpoints have been set up at dozens of places"

Vajpayee confirms Pakistan visit
04 Dec 03  |  South Asia

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