Pakistan defends talks with Israel

Pakistan has defended holding its first public talks with Israel, saying the move would allow it to take an active role in Middle East politics.

    The opposition has accused Musharraf of acting unilaterally

    "Since there is no fundamental change in our position on the need for a viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, I'm sure the people of Pakistan will understand this," said Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri.

    "This will provide diplomatic space for Pakistan," Kasuri said during a stopover in Dubai. "Whenever you take a new step, of course it is bound to ruffle some feathers."

    "How can we play a (diplomatic) role if we are not even talking to one of the two parties? Egypt is playing a role ... because Egypt recognises Israel. We have not recognised Israel."

    Kasuri said Islamabad would only recognise Israel after Palestinians had reached a settlement with the Jewish state.


    Kasuri rejected Palestinian criticism of the talks, including by the Hamas resistance movement, saying Pakistan had acted after consultation with Palestinian leaders and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

    Lawmakers stage walkout


    However, opposition Pakistani lawmakers on Friday walked out of parliament in protest while their supporters planned rallies across the country to condemn the first formal talks between Pakistan and Israel,

    which critics said were a step towards diplomatic recognition of the Jewish state.


    "This will provide diplomatic space for Pakistan. Whenever you take a new step, of course it is bound to ruffle some feathers"

    Khurshid Kasuri,

    Pakistani Foreign Minister

    "We urge the people to fully participate in today's rallies to tell the rulers that we will not allow them to recognise Israel," said Ameer ul-Azeem, spokesman for Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an opposition coalition of six Islamic parties, on Friday.


    He made his comments a day after Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri met his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in Istanbul, Turkey.

    Azeem also criticised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for arranging Thursday's meeting without consulting parliament, and for planning to send a delegation to al-Quds (Jerusalem).

     

    Pakistan has not announced a date for the visit.

    No formal ties

    "Only one individual (Musharraf) took this decision. We condemn it," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, deputy chief of MMA.

    After Thursday's landmark meeting, Musharraf said the government had made no decision to establish formal ties with Israel.

    "Pakistan will not recognise Israel until the establishment of a free and independent state for the Palestinian people," he said, adding that Thursday's meeting "does not mean that we have recognised Israel".

    Recognising Israel

    Musharraf has angered Pakistani opposition groups by calling for a debate on whether Pakistan should recognise Israel, and has courted further criticism by agreeing to speak at a Jewish interfaith conference in New York later this month.

    Pakistan's opposition coalition
    called for mass protests

    However, Pakistan officials have said there are no plans for Musharraf to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when they are in New York to attend the UN General Assembly meeting.

    On Friday, Israel said that talk of a possible meeting between Sharon and Musharraf was premature.

    "We have to examine carefully how the issue is received by public opinion in Pakistan," Ron Prosor, director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Israel Army Radio. "We have to build this the way we have built the meeting so far." 

    Malaysian caution

     

    Meanwhile, in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian foreign minister on Friday said Muslim-majority countries should not be too quick to embrace Israel following its Gaza pullout, which is merely "a small step" towards establishing an independent state for the Palestinians.

    Malaysia, which chairs the world's largest Muslim political grouping, has no immediate plan to establish formal ties with Israel, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said in response to the meeting between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan.

    "It is not wrong for any nation to have interaction with Israel's foreign minister to convey the desire of Muslim nations to see the establishment of a Palestinian state," Syed Hamid said.

    Small step

    "But we shouldn't simply consider that the problems in that region have been solved because of the Gaza pullout, which is a small step," the Malaysian foreign minister added.

     

    "But we shouldn't simply consider that the problems in that region have been solved because of the Gaza pullout, which is a small step"

    Syed Hamid Albar,
    Foreign Minister,
    Malaysia

    Syed Hamid, whose country chairs the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, stressed that Israel "needs to take many more steps to turn a free and independent Palestinian state into a reality".

    "We welcome the steps to open the door to peace, but the road to peace remains a long way," Syed Hamid said.

    "In all this excitement in welcoming the Gaza withdrawal, we must not forget that the final goal is to form a viable Palestinian state."

    Israel currently has diplomatic relations with several Muslim-majority states: Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Mauritania - and limited interest or trade missions in Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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