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Musharaf Urges Washington to Support Kashmir Settlement

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf urged in Islamabad Wednesday the United States to lend its support to the efforts aimed at resolving the Kashmir dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi in keeping with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

Meeting with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Musharraf underscored that normalization in the region would not be possible without a settlement of the core dispute of Kashmir.

The confidence building measures should be matched by tangible progress in the Pak-Indo composite dialogue process which started early last year, Musharraf stressed.

Rice praised Musharraf's bold vision for South Asia and initiatives to promote peace and stability in the region and she expressed appreciation for Pakistan's support to Afghanistan's efforts for stability and reconstruction.

Appreciating Pakistan's critical role in promoting regional peace and stability, Rice reaffirmed Washington's commitment to have a broad-based and sustainable partnership with Pakistan.

She said the United States was stepping up support to Pakistan's plans for socio-economic development and would look into ways of expediting defense cooperation with Islamabad.

Rice also briefed Musharraf on her discussion in India relating to issues of common interest.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rice held a 70-minute meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The two sides exchanged views on a whole range of subjects including bilateral, regional and global matters.

Rice described Pakistan as a pivotal country in the region and especially appreciated its constructive role in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.

Aziz expressed the hope that Rice would play a leading role in enhancing the Pak-US relations and peace in the world.

Pakistan, he said, believed in friendly relations with its neighbors and is endeavoring to ensure solution of all the issues through peaceful means.

Aziz especially mentioned the on-going composite dialogue process with India and said the coming introduction of the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service in across the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir would be an important humanitarian confidence building measure.

He said Pakistan believed that the core issue of Kashmir needs to be settled in line with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and all stakeholders need to show flexibility, leadership, courage and magnanimity to resolve it.

He also highlighted Pakistan's security needs and said Pakistan's credible defense would be a guarantor of peace and stability in the region.

Rice is due to hold formal talks with her Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri Thursday.

Rice flew into Islamabad Wednesday from India on the second leg of her six-nation tour of Asia and her first to Pakistan since she assumed office in January this year. She will later visit Afghanistan, Japan, Republic of Korea and China.

(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2005)

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