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India, Pakistan start fresh talks

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Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, left, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.

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(CNN) -- India and Pakistan have kicked off a third round of peace talks, described as "cordial" and "constructive" in a joint statement issued Wednesday by the countries' foreign secretaries.

At the heart of the discussions is the disputed Kashmir region -- officially known as Jammu and Kashmir -- which is divided between the two countries.

A devastating earthquake that struck the region in October, killing more than 73,000 people in Pakistan, helped thaw tensions between the two nations. They agreed to open five crossing points along the Line of Control, which separates the Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled areas of Kashmir, to expedite earthquake relief.

In the joint statement, the ministers stated a commitment to starting a cross-border bus and truck service as soon as the roads damaged by the earthquake are repaired.

The two secretaries "had a detailed exchange of views on Jammu and Kashmir, and agreed to continue the sustained dialogue in a purposeful and forward-looking manner to find a peaceful and negotiated final settlement," the joint statement said.

After the talks, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan noted that this round "will be challenging," but he remained optimistic.

"It distinctly looks that India is very serious and open in discussing the Kashmir issue," Khan said.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran noted that 30,000 more visas were issued in 2005 for people wanting to cross Kashmir's border than in the previous year.

"So you can see a significant jump in exchange of people across the border," Saran said.

The countries, both nuclear powers, have also reached an agreement to notify each other before conducting missile tests.

"There is also now a fiber-optic hotline between the director general of military operations (DGMO) between the two countries, like the one between the foreign secretaries," Saran said.

The ministers also reiterated their resolve to jointly reopen their respective consulates general in Mumbai and Karachi.

The two sides are scheduled to resume talks in the next few weeks.

-- CNN Producer Rohit Gandhi in Delhi contributed to this report

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