Washington: Terming the decision taken by India and Pakistan to resume talks as "positive development", the White House has noted that there is a long way to go with regard to improvement of relationship between the two South Asian neighbours.
"Well, obviously, a long way to go. But a positive development in terms of de-escalation of that tension gives us a chance to focus on extremists like al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly in Pakistan," the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters.
Gibbs was responding to a question about the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC summit in Bhutan.
The two leaders agreed to resume talks on all issues between the two countries at the Foreign Minister level.
While the Obama administration remains sensitive to India's concern over any attempt to mediate between the two countries, and has categorically ruled out to play any such role despite repeated request by Pakistan in this regard, its officials have been impressing upon the leaders of both India and Pakistan to engage themselves in dialogue and resolve all outstanding issues through talks.
On the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last month, Obama had met both Singh and Gilani separately within a matter of few hours.
At a press conference at the conclusion of the summit, Obama had stressed on the need to reduce tension in South Asia.
The Wall Street Journal in a news report last month had reported that Obama in December last year had issued a secret directive for diplomatically working towards reduction of tension between India and Pakistan.
There was no White House confirmation of this Obama directive.
The Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, who was recently in Pakistan and India, after his return told foreign journalists that he talked with the leaders of both the countries on the need to reduce tension.
A day earlier, the State Department said it is encouraged by the Indo-Pak decision to resume talks.
"Our understanding is, it was a very positive cordial meeting. There were the pledges of further conversation by their Foreign Ministers. We are very encouraged by it," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, PJ Crowley, said.
Following the meeting, the two South Asian leaders agreed to resume dialogue at the level of Foreign Ministers soon that could lead to parleys on all outstanding issues like terrorism, Kashmir and Siachen.
The meeting that lasted for 90-minutes was their first "substantive engagement" after their discussions in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in July last year that produced a controversial joint statement.
The two Prime Ministers entrusted the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries with the responsibility of restoring confidence and trust in the relations that could pave the way for substantive dialogue on outstanding issues of mutual concern.
The Obama administration, which is quietly pushing the two countries through their bilateral discussions to resume their talks, had sent Blake to the SAARC Summit as an observer.
A day before the much anticipated meeting, the State Department had said the development is good for the region. "We have encouraged the leaders of Pakistan and India, to restore, direct dialogue that has been characteristic of the relation between those two countries within the last few years. We're encouraged that they are taking steps to do that," Crowley said.
"I think we always think that when leaders of countries, you know, particularly countries with the history of – the unique history of India and Pakistan -- any time they can get together for high-level, constructive dialogue, that is good for the region, and we support it," he said.
First Published: Saturday, May 01, 2010, 09:49