Wed, 24 Jul 1996

India has no objections to Pakistan joining ARF

JAKARTA (JP): Indian foreign minister I.K. Gujral said yesterday that his country has no objection to Pakistan joining the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Gujral said at the ASEAN Secretariat that the issue is really between Pakistan and ASEAN. Nevertheless, he said that India would not obstruct Pakistan's admission.

"We will never stand in the way of anybody else joining," Gujral said.

India was elevated by ASEAN leaders during the Bangkok Summit in December from sectoral dialog partner to full dialog partner. It will participate for the first time in the ARF being held today at the Jakarta Convention Center.

Pakistan has also requested that its dialog relations be elevated to the same level as India in order for it to participate in the ARF.

The two countries have had a contentious relationship for several years and have fought several wars in the past.

He said that India has always had good relations with the individual ASEAN states, but said that the new status will allow for deeper cooperation in other fields.

"I feel very honored," said Gujral of India's participation in the meeting today.

Later in the afternoon, ASEAN Secretary-General Ajit Singh also was paid a courtesy call by Russian foreign minister Y. Primakov.

Russia, previously a consultative dialog partner, has now been received as a full dialog partner and will take part in the ARF.

"We're going to be active participants to the dialog," Primakov told Ajit Singh.

The Russian foreign minister added that Russia has the potential to contribute to stability in the region and further expressed his pleasure at seeing the peace being maintained. (mds)