When Narasimha Rao rejected Benazir’s ‘tea diplomacy’ in London

02/01/2020

NEW DELHI: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto asked former British Prime Minister John Major in 1996 to arrange a meeting with her Indian counterpart PV Narasimha Rao in London over a ‘cup of tea’, but Rao thought she was ‘immature’ and rejected the offer. Mentioned in confidential documents with the heading ‘Cup of tea’, the initiative described as ‘novel’ was conveyed by Major to Rao in a letter. Rao read that section carefully twice but turned it down, the declassified papers released by National Archives on Tuesday reveal. The idea was to make it appear that the two Prime Ministers meet ‘accidentally’ and privately to discuss the state of relations between their countries. But British officials noted that there was no major multilateral event scheduled in London in early 1996.
Major wrote to Rao: “I know I can confide in you that, earlier this year, Prime Minister Bhutto made the confidential suggestion that I might arrange for Narasimha Rao and her to meet over ‘a cup of tea’, to give them the chance privately to discuss India-Pakistan relations”.“We have always been ready to help Indian and Pakistani leaders establish a dialogue, providing both sides were content for us to do so. That remains the case; and, if you were interested, I would be happy to offer the UK as a venue for a meeting of this kind” Major’s letter was written after the Foreign Office advised Downing Street to make it clear that London was acting as a ‘channel of communication, not launching a UK initiative’. British diplomats met Rao in New Delhi to discuss the letter.

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