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India, Pakistan leaders agree to resume talks

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari agreed after summit talks on Wednesday to resume their strained peace process be scheduling a new round of talks by year’s end.

Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security Force personnel (obscured) lower the flags of the two countries during a daily flag lowering ceremony at the India-Pakistan joint border at Wagah in this December 14, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed/Files

The two leaders directed their foreign secretaries to “schedule meetings of the fifth round of the composite dialogue in the next three months,” a joint statement said after the talks on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The talks were Zardari’s first with Singh since the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto won a presidential election this month to replace military leader Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under threat of impeachment.

“Both leaders acknowledged that the peace process has been under strain in recent months,” the statement said.

Singh and Zardari agreed to convene a special meeting of a joint anti-terror mechanism next month to address concerns including the bombing of India’s Embassy in Afghanistan in July, which killed 41 people and which the Indians blamed on Pakistani agents.

“They agreed that violence, hostility and terrorism have no place in the vision they share of the bilateral relationship, and must be visibly and verifiably prevented,” said the statement.

The nuclear-armed rivals’ so-called composite dialogue covers eight areas including the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, border disputes, terrorism and economic cooperation.

The neighbors launched peace efforts in 2004 after nearly going to war a fourth time over Islamist militant attacks in India linked to a nearly 20-year revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir which Pakistan supports, at least politically.

While ties have warmed, the two sides have made no significant progress on their dispute over the Muslim-majority region they both claim.

Zardari was quoted earlier by the Pakistan media traveling with him to the United Nations that he would stress the issue of terrorism, including the killing of his wife last December, in his address to the United Nations on Thursday.