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6/23/04 - INDIA AND PAKISTAN HOLD TALKS - 2004-06-23

India and Pakistan have agreed to set up a hotline between their foreign ministries to reduce the threat of accidental nuclear war. The hotline would add to an existing link between top military officials in the two south Asian countries. The agreement was announced on June 20th, after a two-day meeting of Indian and Pakistani officials in New Delhi, India’s capital.

Since India and Pakistan became independent countries in 1947, they have fought three wars. And concerns about the devastation that another war could cause were raised when both countries tested nuclear weapons six years ago.

Indian and Pakistani officials have held a series of talks to reduce tensions since the beginning of this year. The discussions were begun after overtures from former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee last year received a positive response from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A major source of tension between the two countries is Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan.

The New Delhi meeting was the first since a coalition led by the Congress Party won an upset victory over Mr. Vajpayee’s Hindu Nationalist Party in elections in May, and Manmohan Singh became India’s prime minister. Another meeting, also in New Delhi, is scheduled for June 27th between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. applauds the efforts by India and Pakistan:

“We have supported that dialogue in our contacts with the new government in India, as well as our continuing contacts with the government in Pakistan. . . . We’re glad to see that these are going forward, and we really appreciate the efforts on both sides to reduce tensions. We do think this is an opportunity for them to make further progress in comprehensive engagement while at the same time agreeing on concrete steps to lower the risk of accidental or intentional use of nuclear weapons."

U.S. State Department spokesman Boucher said, “there are opportunities here, and we’re glad to see [India and Pakistan] pursuing them.”