NEW DELHI – India and Pakistan announced Sunday they would establish a new hot line to alert each other of potential nuclear accidents or threats, a step forward in efforts to normalize relations between the longtime South Asian rivals.
Pakistan said it hopes that the nuclear talks and other tracks of dialogue eventually lead to a summit between Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) and India's new prime minister, Manmohan Singh (search).
"We are making preparations ... If they culminate in a summit, it will be a good thing," said Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan.
Reconciliation efforts launched between Pakistan and India under Singh's predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (search), remain steady with India's new government, Khan said.
"When there was a political transition in India, there was some degree of uncertainty. That has been resolved. We are on track," Khan said.
Vajpayee was ousted in April-May elections and succeeded by Singh at the head of a Congress Party-led coalition.
In a joint statement at the conclusion of two days of talks in the Indian capital, officials said the dedicated secure hot line between the countries' foreign secretaries was intended to "prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues."
An existing hot line between directors-general of military operations in both countries also will be upgraded and secured, the statement said.
Both sides, which have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, also reaffirmed their moratorium on conducting further nuclear tests, "unless, in exercise of national sovereignty, it decides that extraordinary events have jeopardized its supreme interests."
"We are moving ahead step by step. Whatever we agree to do, we must implement. That is the spirit," Khan told reporters in New Delhi.
India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in May 1998, provoking military and economic sanctions by the United States and its allies. International fears of a nuclear confrontation were exacerbated when the two countries fought in the Himalayas in 1999, and came close to war again in mid-2002 when India blamed Pakistan for a terrorist attack on its Parliament.
India and Pakistan also agreed to formalize an understanding to notify each other when they conduct missile tests. Both sides discussed a draft treaty prepared by the Indian delegation.
They also promised to continue talks toward implementing a 1999 agreement signed in Lahore, Pakistan, on reducing nuclear risks through confidence-building steps. The agreement was held up by the tensions after the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.
"The spirit right now in the nuclear realm is to transcend beyond the rhetoric and do something substantive and concrete," Khan said.
The next round of talks will be held between the foreign secretaries on June 27-28, in which they'll take up the thorny issue of Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan province that has been the flashpoint of two wars between India and Pakistan.
In the meantime, Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri will meet Monday on the sidelines of a regional conference in China.
India — which enjoys a substantial advantage in conventional weapons over Pakistan — says it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Pakistan has not committed to a no-first-strike doctrine.