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Israel and pakistan hold major public meeting { September 1 2005 }

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September 1, 2005
Israel and Pakistan Hold 'Historic' First Meeting

JERUSALEM, Sept. 1 - The foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan met publicly for the first time today, a diplomatic breakthrough brokered by Turkey that appeared to be a first payoff for the Israeli pullout from the occupied Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, in a jubilant mood, called the meeting at an Istanbul hotel "historic" and "a huge breakthrough."

"This is the time for all Muslim and Arab countries to reconsider their relations with Israel," Mr. Shalom said. "We think it will be a very positive signal to Israeli and Palestinian public opinion that there are some fruits from this withdrawal from Gaza."

The Pakistani foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, said that Pakistan had decided "to engage" with Israel and called the meeting "a gesture to underscore the importance we, in Pakistan, attach to Israel ending its occupation of Gaza."

The gesture from Pakistan has symbolic importance, given that Pakistan was founded as a Muslim state when British rule ended over India, which already has full diplomatic relations with Israel.

The move is expected to be welcomed in Washington, where Pakistan represents a crucial but troublesome ally in the campaigns against Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The Bush administration, which is Israel's closest friend and has strongly supported the Gaza pullout as an important step in the peace talks with the Palestinians, is thought to have encouraged Islamabad to step forward, Israeli officials suggested.

But Mr. Kasuri and other Pakistani officials made it clear that full diplomatic relations with Israel would have to await a peace settlement in the Middle East and an independent Palestinian state.

"The meeting today does not mean recognition," Mr. Kasuri said. "That stage will come following progress toward the solution of the Palestinian problem."

Shaukat Sultan, a spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, was more explicit in an interview in English with Israel radio. He said Mr. Musharraf "said yes we can have the diplomatic relations after the sovereign state of Palestine comes into being and after Palestine has consultations with the other Muslim countries."

Visiting Quetta, Pakistan, Mr. Musharraf said he had first sought the council of Saudi Arabia and of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, according to state-run television. Pakistan's leader confirmed that he would soon send a delegation to visit Jerusalem and Gaza. And he had accepted an invitation to speak this month to an interfaith conference organized by the American Jewish Congress in New York, where he would emphasize the need for a just settlement of the Palestinian question, Mr. Sultan said.

"We will not talk about recognition of Israel until a Palestinian state is established and then we will think about it," Mr. Musharraf said in Quetta. "We will take people along. This is indirect contact."

The meeting brought immediate criticism from Pakistan's main Islamic opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, whose secretary-general, Munawar Hassan, called the Gaza pullout a farce and said Friday would be a day of protest and black flags in the streets.

The leader of Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of hard-line clerics, denounced the meeting. "We have a direct conflict with Israel," Qazi Hussain Ahmed told Geo, a private television channel.

But it was an important day for Israel, which currently has full relations with only four Muslim countries: Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Turkey, which leaked the news of the meeting.

Mr. Shalom praised Mr. Musharraf for initiating the process through the Turks, who contacted Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Mr. Kasuri and Mr. Shalom had also dined together on Wednesday night "with a very good atmosphere," the foreign minister told Israel radio. He praised Pakistan for being willing to meet openly, "with joint photos and a joint press conference," he said.

"Pakistan as the second largest Muslim country after Indonesia has great weight," Mr. Shalom said. "They themselves took a very brave step. We know they were under harsh attack, from the clergy and from others."

Mr. Shalom said he hoped the relationship with Pakistan would blossom and help other Muslim and Arab nations to seek ties to Israel. "I hope Pakistan won't be the last stop," he said.

"One has to remember," Mr. Shalom said, "that until 2000 there were representations here in Israel from Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar and Oman. There is no reason that they, and other countries, will not take positive steps."

The Gaza pullout received wide coverage on Arabic news and cable channels like Al Jazeera, which also broadcast today's meeting lavishly, said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "It made a strong impression in the Arab world," that Israel was pulling out of territory it conquered in 1967 and leaving it to the Palestinians, he said.

"Though it was a significant Israeli-Pakistani event," Mr. Regev added, "it's a larger event, the sort of phenomenon we'll see increasing, of people in the Muslim world who want to engage with Israel and see that's the way toward peace."

The Musharraf speech to the interfaith group in New York has received criticism because the Pakistan president has not been clearer in his denunciation of anti-Semitism, according to the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in New York, Malcolm Hoenlein. "But there is a lot more interest from Arab and Muslim countries in private and public meetings" with Israeli officials during the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, Mr. Hoenlein said in a telephone interview. "Sharon is in great demand."

Salman Massood reported from Islamabad for this article.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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