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Delhi springs Gyanendra double date

Jakarta, April 22: Nepal's King Gyanendra, whose February coup had led to frosty ties with India, appears to be on his way to rebuilding diplomatic bridges.

He met foreign minister K. Natwar Singh today and is set for a date with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow morning.

Although neither side is willing to admit it, the back-to-back meetings are clearly an attempt to break the status quo that has been going on for months.

And the king will not go back empty-handed. While Prime Minister Singh insisted on being 'friends' with Nepal, Delhi's statement on Natwar's meeting indicated a softening of stand.

India's first reaction to Gyanendra's dismissal of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government and imposition of emergency in Nepal was sharp.

Although it continued to maintain contact with the palace through its ambassador in Kathmandu, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, the need for a meeting at the highest level was obvious to both sides.

The king's proposal to meet the Prime Minister on the sidelines of the Asian-African Summit in Jakarta had been doing the rounds for some time. But Delhi kept denying its knowledge as Gyanendra had not 'formally' approached India.

It remains a mystery, however, why the foreign ministry refused to announce Natwar's meeting with the monarch.

The Prime Minister, though, was candid about the priority Nepal enjoys in India's foreign policy, when asked about his scheduled meeting with the king.

Underlining the close ties between the neighbours, he today pointed out how Nepalese nationals are not seen as 'foreigners' when they come to India. 'We wish Nepal well. I will be very happy to meet him. We are friends of Nepal. What happens there affects us.'

The Prime Minister even suggested 'close consultations' between the two sides. However, he did not let go of the opportunity to remind Gyanendra that 'constitutional monarchy' and 'multi-party democracy' are the 'twin pillars' of his country's stability and progress.

India, which has been the main supplier of arms to the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and has been training its personnel to fight Maoist rebels, has suspended all defence cooperation with Kathmandu since February 1. This is bound to have caused problems for the RNA, but the king has not admitted it in public.

Asked whether weapons supply would be part of tomorrow's discussions, the Prime Minister was non-committal. He was not even willing to comment on whether the situation in Nepal has improved.

'It is too premature to say. I will discuss with him all the issues, get his assessment of the situation and learn to what extent our concerns can be taken on board,' Singh said.

The statement issued by Delhi on Natwar's meeting did not go into too many details either. But there were indications that India is not lingering with its tough line on Nepal.

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