India and Nepal on Thursday agreed to step up efforts to advance mutual cooperation as Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla met Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and held 'productive' talks with his Nepalese counterpart on a wide range of issues, including the border problem.
Shringla was accorded a warm welcome on his maiden visit to Nepal at the invitation of Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal, amid a strain in bilateral ties following a bitter border row.
He paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Oli during which they discussed a wide range of issues, including the border problem, PM's Foreign Affairs Advisor Rajan Bhattarai said.
He said the Indian foreign secretary has come with a positive message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move forward Nepal-India relations.
"Nepal and India enjoy multi-dimensional relations, though there are some problems," he quoted Prime Minister Oli as telling Shringla.
Nepal is in favour of resolving problems through dialogue with a view to taking the friendly relations to a new height, said Oli, who is also the defence minister.
"There are some unresolved issues left by history, and I am confident that we can settle them through dialogue to move forward our relations," Oli said.
Sources said the foreign secretary's discussions with Prime Minister Oli included a candid review of the state of the bilateral relationship, and the potential for bringing India and Nepal ever closer.
Discussions took place on specific measures that could be taken to finalise key projects at the earliest, including the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, as well as launch new economic initiatives, sources said.
They also discussed specific meetings that could be scheduled to maintain high level engagement, and address issues of mutual interest.
The need to resume people to people contacts, including commencement of an air travel bubble between India and Nepal, was also discussed.
Oli thanked Shringla for India's assistance during the COVID pandemic.
Shringla assured him that Nepal's requirement would be considered on priority, sources said.
The two sides noted the special relations between India and Nepal, and the importance of respecting each other's sensitivities.
Both sides felt that they should focus on the positives of the wide-ranging relationship, sources said.
Shringla conveyed India's interest in deepening economic linkages, promoting connectivity, expanding the development partnership and strengthening people-to-people contacts, particularly among the youth.
He briefed Prime Minister Oli on the numerous projects being funded by India, which benefit all sections of Nepalese society.
He invited Nepal to take advantage of India's market and economic growth.
Later, he paid a courtesy call on President Bidya Devi Bhandari at the Rashtrapati Bhawan and briefed her on the state of bilateral relations and recent developments, sources said.
Shringla also called on Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and handed over 2,000 vials of anti-virus drug Remdesivir to him as part of India's continuing assistance to Nepal to help it contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier, the foreign secretary met his Nepalese counterpart and had a 'very productive and useful exchange' with him.
"We had a very productive and useful exchange," Shringla told the media.
"The very large number of issues of bilateral cooperation that we went through, it shows the multi-faceted and comprehensive nature of our cooperation.
"We both agreed on various steps to advance some areas of cooperation, on very good progress on commitments made by the leadership and looking at some other initiatives that could happen," he said.
Sources said both sides took stock of the various projects and other activities underway, and identified measures to expedite them.
Shringla highlighted the progress made on commitments made during the visit of Prime Minister Modi and other occasions.
Both sides shared their perspectives on boundary matters and discussed ways to take it forward under the appropriate bilateral mechanisms, they said.
Nepal's foreign ministry said the two foreign secretaries held bilateral talks in an 'atmosphere of utmost cordiality and friendship'.
"We have a very strong relationship. Our endeavour will be to see how we can take that relationship forward," Shringla told reporters.
The two sides 'reviewed various aspects of Nepal-India relations covering trade, transit, connectivity, infrastructure, energy, agriculture, investment, culture, people to people relations, among others', said the statement by Nepal's foreign ministry.
'They also discussed the boundary matters and exchanged views on completing the boundary work in the remaining segments,' it said.
Shringla later met delegations of Nepali Congress and Madhesh leaders.
Earlier this month, Indian Army chief General M M Naravane travelled to Nepal on a three-day visit during which he held talks with Nepal's top leadership.
His visit was largely aimed at resetting bilateral ties that came under severe strain following a bitter border row.
The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand in May.
Days later, Nepal came out with a new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura as its territories.
India reacted sharply, calling it a 'unilateral act' and cautioning Nepal that such 'artificial enlargement' of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.