Israeli and Pakistan foreign ministers hold first meeting

The first acknowledged high-level talks between the two countries, Foreign ministers from Pakistan and Israel were set to hold on Thursday in Turkey, officials from both sides said.

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry official confirmed reports that the meeting would be held in Istanbul between Khursheed Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Pakistan is a Muslim country and in the past has taken a harder line against Israel than even some Arab countries, but was encouraged to meet the Israelis following Israel's evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, which was completed last week.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said the meeting was taking place "in response to Israel's keenness to establish contact with Pakistan." Turkey was chosen as the location because it is a "neutral" country, Dawn said. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim nation that has diplomatic relations with Israel and is a close friend of Pakistan.

The two foreign ministers will focus on the developments in the Middle East peace process, Dawn reported.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem said the meeting was arranged at the initiative of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who asked Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to arrange it.

"There is no conflict whatsoever between Israel and Pakistan and no logical reason why the two countries could not have a constructive and positive bilateral relationship," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

An Israeli official in Turkey said the meeting will take place at noon in Istanbul, (0900 GMT), and that it would hopefully lead to the two sides establishing diplomatic relations. The official did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, reports the AP.

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