ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, AP – India and Pakistan on Monday signed a deal requiring them to notify each other of plans for ballistic missile tests, a key step in the peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Khursheed Kasuri, announced the agreement after talks that they described as cordial and constructive. Groundwork for the deal was laid in talks in the Indian capital of New Delhi last month.
"The agreement entails that both countries provide each other advance notification of flight tests that it intends to undertake of any surface-to-surface ballistic missile," the Indian side said in a statement.
"India has now handed over a draft memorandum of understanding on measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons under the control of both countries," the statement said.
India did not elaborate on the draft document, but officials have said they plan to set up a hotline to reduce the possibility of a misunderstanding that could lead to nuclear conflict. India and Pakistan already operate one hotline between senior army commanders.
India also said the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding that would establish a hotline between their coast guards. Such a communication link could speed up the repatriation of fishermen from both countries who often stray across the border in the Arabian Sea.
Singh and Kasuri did not sign the missile test agreement, leaving that task to top officials in their ministries. Instead, they discussed ways to strengthen the fledgling peace process between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947.
"The talks went off in a very cordial atmosphere," Kasuri said. Singh said the talks were "good."
The two countries have often staged tit-for-tat missile tests that raise regional tensions.
Singh was likely to meet Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday, and revive a joint commission for promoting economic cooperation and other contacts. Singh will also travel to the southern port city of Karachi to meet business leaders. He returns to India on Wednesday.
India and Pakistan began peace talks in January last year, but have made little headway in resolving a bitter dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The two neighboring countries control parts of the territory, but each claims it in its entirety.
However, the rivals have resumed some severed transportation links, restored normal diplomatic ties and made it easier for people from either side to travel to the other country.