updated 5/23/2004 3:45:40 PM ET 2004-05-23T19:45:40

Pakistan and India have postponed nuclear talks scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday because of the transition under way in India's government as new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh takes power, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced.

The Foreign Ministry said Sunday the postponement came at the request of India because a new foreign minister had not yet assumed office following last week's tumultuous change of government and the Congress party's return to power after an eight-year hiatus.

The talks are part of confidence-building measures between the nuclear-armed rivals and coincide with a wide-ranging dialogue on outstanding disputes launched in January by Pakistan and the former Indian government headed by the now-ousted Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

India has proposed that the nuclear talks be rescheduled to two days before lower-ranking foreign secretaries of the two countries meet under the dialogue process, the Pakistani statement said. The dialogue meeting is expected in June.

"Pakistan attaches importance to the continuation of the composite dialogue process and looks forward to an early scheduling of the foreign secretary-level talks, as well as talks on nuclear confidence-building measures," the statement said.

Pakistan signaled in a separate statement Saturday that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is ready to quickly begin dialogue with the new government, especially on the dispute over Kashmir, the divided territory at the heart of decades of tense relations.

Suspected Islamic militants blew up a paramilitary bus Sunday in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, killing at least 26 soldiers and wounding 15 others, Indian officials said.

Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, was sworn in Saturday. He has said he seeks "most friendly" relations with Pakistan. The countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and came to the brink of a fourth in late 2001.

That crisis stemmed from an attack on India's Parliament by Islamic radicals from the Kashmir conflict. New Delhi claimed Pakistan backed them. Islamabad denied it. But Pakistan pledged to crack down on terrorism to secure India's agreement to the peace dialogue in January.

The nuclear talks, to be held in New Delhi, are intended to focus on restraint and risk reduction, crisis management and strategic stability in South Asia.

India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in 1998, provoking international concerns about the accidental or non-authorized use of nuclear weapons. A year later they agreed to take measures to reduce risks through confidence-building steps.

These included advance notification of missile tests. Pakistan is expected to test-fire the new Ghauri-III next month. It has a range 2,000 miles — nearly double that of Pakistan's previous longest-range missile — and could hit any corner of India.

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