Israel Encouraged By Pakistani Overtures For Diplomatic Relations

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel has warmly welcomed a suggestion by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that his country should rethink its diplomatic policies toward Israel.

In a private television interview that aired on Sunday, Musharraf was quoted as saying that his country should reconsider its policies toward Israel.

"This is the responsibility of the nation to decide," Musharraf was quoted as saying.

"This should be seriously thought over," he said. "The media should have an open debate on this. The debate should be serious, there should be no emotionalism of the extremists."

Speaking at the Knesset, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel would be glad to have diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

"Israel is very encouraged with this new announcement of the president of Pakistan," Shalom said. "Israel is willing to have diplomatic relations with Pakistan. We think Pakistan is a very important country, is a very important Muslim country and is a very important state within Asia," he said in a statement broadcast on radio.

"I think the time has come that while we are negotiating with the Palestinians directly, while we have peace treaties with Egypt and with Jordan, while we are talking with the Gulf countries' leaders, this is the time now for the [Pakistanis] to [make] a move and to create a diplomatic relationship with Israel. The time has come to do it and we are willing to do it," he added.

Pakistan, with a population of 147 million, some 97 percent of whom are Muslims, has never had diplomatic relations with Israel. But neighboring India has increasingly friendly relations with Israel, partly due to the fact that both nations are battling Islamic extremists.

Israel has full diplomatic ties with only two Muslim states - Egypt and Jordan - while it has varying degrees of relations with several other countries in the region, including Mauritania and Qatar.

Musharraf held talks in Washington last week and received a promise of a $3 billion aid package. For Egypt and Jordan, establishing diplomatic relations with Israel was accompanied by hefty U.S. aid.