United Nations, Dec 25: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the surprise meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, hoping that the bilateral dialogue will be maintained and strengthened going forward.
"The Secretary General has long been encouraging both leaders of the two countries to engage in dialogue.
He obviously welcomes this visit and this step in the right direction and he hopes that the dialogue will be maintained and strengthened," a UN spokesperson told PTI when asked about the UN chief's response to Modi's visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in more than a decade.
Modi, returning from his visit to Russia and Afghanistan, made the surprise visit to Lahore, announcing the stopover only on Twitter where he said, "Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi." Earlier in the day, he had called Sharif to wish him on his 66th birthday.
The visit took everyone by surprise in India and Pakistan. It was the top story on the website of the New York Times, which said the visit came as the "estranged, nuclear- armed countries are again trying to revive a stalled dialogue."
"Modi's stopover on Friday was in marked contrast to the last visit by an Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who rode into Lahore from New Delhi on the inaugural run of a bus route in 1999," the report said.
Modi was welcomed at the Lahore airport by Sharif, who the report said "has been an advocate of a better relationship with India and is eager to enhance trade ties.
"But his desires have been viewed with suspicion and disapproval by the powerful Pakistani military establishment, which remains focused on the resolution of the longtime dispute over Kashmir," it added.
The UN chief had earlier this month welcomed a brief meeting between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Change Summit.
The Paris meeting was the first between the two leaders after July when they had met in the Russian city of Ufa and had agreed that their National Security Advisers would meet.
The two leaders had attended the UN General Assembly session in September but did not meet even though they stayed in the same hotel.
Modi and Sharif came under one roof during a peacekeeping summit held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, but only waved at each other and did not speak or shake hands.
Ahead of the climate conference, Ban had told PTI in an interview that improved ties between India and Pakistan could create a more conducive environment for the two nations to stem the threat posed by terrorism.