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If not in France, maybe Russia

New Delhi, May 20: A meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and US President George W. Bush is likely to take place on the sidelines of either the Group of Eight meeting in France later this month or a few days later in Russia.

Vajpayee will attend the pre-summit meeting of the G8 in Evian-les-Bains. The US, which is part of the elite group, will be represented at the summit by Bush. Though officials here are tight-lipped about a meeting between the two, the possibility of a brief interaction between Vajpayee and Bush in France is not being ruled out.

But if the two cannot meet in France because of time constraints, they will get another opportunity on the sidelines of the 300th year celebrations of St. Petersburg early next month.

Attempts are also on to arrange meetings on the sidelines of both the meets between the Prime Minister and other key world leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Like Vajpayee, the Chinese President has been invited to attend the pre-summit meeting of the G8 in France and the 300th year celebrations at St. Petersburg.

Vajpayee has been hailed by the international community for the “courageous” and “statesman-like” initiative he took to restore peace with Pakistan and normalise relations. In both France and Russia he will get an opportunity to explain further the rationale behind his peace initiative and what India expects Pakistan to do to resume dialogue between the two sides.

The US, which has been watching the developments in South Asia closely, is keen that the peace process between India and Pakistan remains on track. Washington has made it clear that though it is eager to see the normalisation of relations between the nuclear neighbours, the pace of the peace process has been left to India.

The possible meeting between Vajpayee and President Hu is significant because it will be the first between the two leaders.

Their talks will take place in the backdrop of indications that China, which had so far refused to recognise Sikkim as part of India, is perhaps willing to do it now.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit China next month, or maybe later this year. But a lot will depend on whether Beijing decides to shift from its earlier position on Sikkim. When Vajpayee visits China, it will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister in about 10 years.

Though Sikkim has been part of India for nearly three decades, the Chinese have refused to recognise it as such. If it does recognise it as part of India, it will be seen as an important confidence-building-measure and may finally lay the groundwork for closer co-operation between the two Asian giants in the coming days.

The recognition of Sikkim by the Chinese may also allow the Indian leadership to prepare the domestic audience for a give-and-take formula to bring the decade-old boundary dispute between the two countries to a speedy resolution.

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