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|July 21, 1998||
MEA labels Indo-Pak summit as 'informal bilateral meeting'
Saisuresh Sivaswamy in New Delhi
Even as the proposed Indo-Pakistani summit as part of next week's South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meet in Colombo attracts heightened media attention, the ministry of external affairs seems interested in downplaying the event.
In fact, the official itinerary put out by the MEA to media persons on Monday does not mention the phrase 'Indo-Pak summit' or comes anywhere close to it. According to it, 'bilateral meetings' have been scheduled on July 29 at the Taj Samudra in Colombo, and does not mention either the participants or the time or duration of such meetings.
The media statement from the MEA on the 10th SAARC summit says: ''There will be a retreat for SAARC leaders, outside Colombo, where they will have an opportunity to discuss various issues pertaining to SAARC in an informal setting.''
The note makes a veiled reference to the event the media is focusing on, as simply ''informal bilateral meetings will take on 29th afternoon''.
MEA officials said at the time of writing, details of the A B Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharief meeting, the first summit-level interaction between the two leaders since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government assumed office in India, were still being worked out.
The extent of the media attention can be gauged from the fact that the media party being taken along by the MEA to Colombo is 41 strong. Fifteen more journalists are flying down on their own, apart from international press corps, from South Asia and elsewhere.
MEA officials admit that such attention is unusual for a 'regular SAARC summit', and add that the Vajpayee-Sharief talks, on the fringes of the main event, has become the main event.
"This is rather like what happened at the Male SAARC summit in 1997, when Prime Ministers Gujral and Sharief stole the thunder, or even at the recent G-8 summit when the subcontinent dominated the proceedings," said an MEA official.
Prime Minister Vajpayee will reach Lanka on July 28, two days after the media corps have landed in the island-nation. Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje, however, will be there ahead of him, attending the council of ministers meeting scheduled for July 27 and 28.
Among other things, the SAARC summit would consider the report of the Group of Eminent Persons established at last year's Male gathering, which undertook a comprehensive appraisal of the association and suggested ways to make it more effective. Its brief also included providing a future vision and a SAARC perspective plan up to 2020.
Since the purview of the association does not include discussions on bilateral issues, Pakistan's attempts to convince the other members of the need to raise Kashmir are bound to come to a naught.
Given this, officials feel the most awaited summit in the Third World may not achieve anything substantive barring the breaking of ice, but certainly a little more than a historic photo-op for the assembled media.
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