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Qureshi indicates India changed mind on meeting in New York

By Betwa Sharma
September 29, 2010 10:06 IST
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Amid talk over why the Indo-Pak bilateral meeting did not work out on sidelines on the UNGA, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi appeared to suggest that India had changed its mind on the meeting though he was willing to meet "anywhere, anytime".

"I have said that I was willing to meet them anywhere, anytime," he told journalists last evening before leaving for Washington, but did not explicitly blame New Delhi. "I have told them that I am willing to come wherever they want me to come," he said, asking the questioning journalists to find out the reason.

Qureshi further said that he had even invited External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to tea at the Roosevelt hotel where he was staying. "If you have problems coming to Roosevelt, I will come to you," he said, noting that India had first expressed interest in talking to Pakistan."So why isn't this happening... it is for you (reporters) to find out... there was no lack of interest on our part," he said.

A bilateral meeting between the two ministers was widely anticipated on the sidelines of the opening session of the General Assembly, which the two ministers have been attending since last week.

While no specific date had been confirmed, diplomats from both sides had indicated that such a meeting was being negotiated. However, Krishna yesterday gave a clear indication that such talks would not be possible during this trip. "Well it is not on the cards," he told the media, after delivering a speech at the Asia Society.

During the speech, Krishna blasted Qureshi for raising the issue of Kashmir at various public forums during the course of his stay, including the annual debate at the General Assembly. He also suggested that by raising the pitch on Kashmir, Pakistan was trying to deflect attention away from the problems in its own backyard, and said the remarks were "unsolicited and untenable".

"It is with a sense of genuine disappointment that I react to the unacceptable references to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir made by Foreign Minister Qureshi in his address at the UN," Krishna said. Speaking at the UN, Qureshi had raised the issue of the "right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people" and a "plebiscite under the UN auspices".

Qureshi responded to Krishna's remarks by insisting that both nations had their set of problems but this did not preclude Islamabad from voicing their concerns about Kashmir, which was recognised as an international dispute. "Pakistan has its own problems, India has its own problems... I have not brought the Kashmir issue into limelight-- the people of Kashmir have," he said.

Despite talks in New York not working out, both ministers have expressed optimism about Qureshi's visit to New Delhi, which will pick up the threads from Krishna's last visit to Islamabad. "I have said in my speech that I have invited Foreign Minister Qureshi to come to India and he has very graciously accepted my invitation," Krishna said.

"I am looking forward to his visit to India so that we can take up from where he left in Islamabad". However, Qureshi noted that Pakistan wanted all issues to be discussed during talks, which he said differed from India's approach of "graduated" talks that would focus on Mumbai attacks and terrorism and then explore other issues like Kashmir.

The Indian side has spoken in favour of a graduated approach but at the same time indicated that "all outstanding issues" including Kashmir will be discussed during talks. "We thought that a step by step approach, a graduated approach was the one which would take us all to agreement on the core issues but unfortunately that has not happened," Krishna said.

Both ministers have hailed their previous talks in Islamabad as productive. Krishna, however, noted that after the Islamabad talks India wanted to go public with some of the humanitarian issues on which some progress had been made but Islamabad was not ready.

"But Qureshi felt that some of the core issues will have to be discussed and then resolved... as you know these core issues cannot be discussed in five hours," the minister said, noting that India's suggestion -- made with the best of intention and not to score points over Pakistan – was eventually shelved leaving most people to think that the talks had failed.

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Betwa Sharma in New York
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