NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sending his top diplomat to Pakistan as part of a regional tour, the first top-ranking visit since Modi broke off talks last year over the disputed region of Kashmir.
The sign of a thaw in ties comes weeks after a visit to India by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The United States has long privately encouraged dialogue between India and Pakistan hoping that better ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours could lead to cooperation in other areas such as Afghanistan.
Modi called his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, early on Friday to wish his country luck in the World Cup cricket tournament beginning this weekend and to tell him that new Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyan Jaishankar will soon visit Islamabad as well as other regional capitals.
Sharif told Modi he welcomed the proposed visit of the Indian envoy to discuss all issues of common interest, the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department welcomed the move.
“The relationship between India and Pakistan is critical to advancing peace and security in South Asia, so we would certainly welcome any resumption of talks between the two countries,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news conference.
“We believe that India and Pakistan stand to benefit from practical cooperation and are encouraged that they may resume dialogue aimed at reducing tensions.”
India last year abruptly called off talks between the foreign secretaries, incensed that Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi had hosted Kashmiri separatists in the run-up to those talks.
India considers the whole of Kashmir an integral part of the country and its decision to halt the talks represented a stiffening of its stand on the 68-year-old dispute over the territory.
Pakistan criticised the decision to cancel the talks and there have since been calls, including from within India, for the two countries to remain engaged.
The neighbours have fought two wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947 and ties remain difficult since a 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based gunmen.
India wants speedy trials of those suspected to have orchestrated the attacks. Pakistan says it is doing all it can.
Modi said on Twitter that he has called the leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, besides Pakistan to wish them luck in the cricket tournament being held in Australia.
India play Pakistan in their opening game on Sunday.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Tom Brown