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After talks with Zardari, Manmohan says 'very happy to visit Pakistan' (Afternoon Lead)

Delhi,Diplomacy,Indo-Pak/Pakistan, Sun, 08 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) India and Pakistan moved a step closer to their "common desire" of normalising relations after a businesslike lunch and talks between visiting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here Sunday. The two leaders discussed the entire gamut of bilateral issues before Manmohan Singh announced he would be "very happy" to visit Pakistan.


Zardari, who arrived in India on a six-hour private visit cloaked as a pilgrimage to the Sufi shrine at Ajmer in Rajasthan, held a 40 minute-long private talks with Manmohan Singh at his 7, Race Course Road residence, followed by a lunch where others in his 40-strong delegation, that included his son Bilawal, joined in.


After a warm handshake and clasp and smiles for the media, the two leaders sat down for talks, which Manmohan Singh said were "very constructive".


He stressed that their common desire was to normalise relations, which took a nosedive after the 26/11 attacks and has seen improvement after two recent meetings between Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani. The first was on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in the Maldives in November last year, and at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last month.


"The relation between India and Pakistan should become normal, that's our common desire," Manmohan Singh said at a joint media appearance just before they headed for lunch.


"President Zardari is on a private visit and I have taken advantage this visit to discuss all the bilateral issues. President Zardari and I have had a very constructive and friendly exchange of views on all bilateral issues," Manmohan Singh said.


He stressed that the two sides were "willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions" to all issues dogging their ties "and that's the message that President Zardari and I would wish to convey."


In a breakthrough of sorts, Manmohan Singh also accepted Zardari's invitation to visit Pakistan at a mutually convenient time. If the visit takes place, it will be the first by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan in the last eight years.


"President Zardari has also invited me to visit Pakistan ... I would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date," said Manmohan Singh, who was born in the village in Gah in Pakistani Punjab.


Zardari, too, struck an upbeat note.


He greeted the Indian people with a "Salaam Walaykum" and said he had held "very fruitful talks" with Manmohan Singh. He stressed that India and Pakistan are neighbours and "we will like to have better relations with India".


"We have spoken about every issue we could have spoken about," Zardari, who was dressed nattily in a black suit with a red tie, said. Manmohan Singh was dressed in his usual kurta-churidar and a grey Nehru jacket.


Zardari said he hoped to see Manmohan Singh on Pakistan soil soon. His son Bilawal, dressed in a black pathani suit, was standing behind him as Zardari addressed the media.


Manmohan Singh was invited to visit Pakistan by Gilani on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul March 27, and had replied that he would visit only if something "solid" was achievable.


In his maiden visit to India, Zardari touched down here Sunday noon in his special aircraft. After the talks he headed for Jaipur to offer prayers at the revered sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.


Zardari is accompanied by around 40-member delegation that includes his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar and close members of the family.


This is the first presidential visit from Pakistan in the last seven years. Pervez Musharraf was the last president to visit India in April 2005 for the failed Agra summit.


Zardari last met Manmohan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in 2009.


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