Sujatha Singh, who assumed charge as India's foreign secretary on Thursday said her immediate priority would be to improve ties with neighbouring countries and asserted that India would like to have a cooperative relationship with Pakistan in a terror-free environment.
"It has always been India's policy to develop peaceful and cooperative relations with Pakistan. Naturally, this pre-supposes an environment free of violence and of terror," 59-year-old Singh, who was earlier ambassador to Germany, said.
"Dialogue with Pakistan was resumed in 2011. Two rounds have been held since then and we will be picking up the threads. There is a new government in Pakistan now. We will be picking up the threads from where we left off with the old government," she told reporters in New Delhi.
Singh, a 1976 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, moved into her office in the ministry of external affairs in South Block. She succeeds Ranjan Mathai and will have a fixed tenure of two years.
Asked about her priorities, Singh said the "immediate neighbourhood" will be high on her agenda besides strengthening relations with strategic partners around the world.
"My immediate priorities would be in our immediate neighbourhood. That is where our immediate interest lies and that is where our most intent interactions are. Beyond that, it is important to strengthen relations with our strategic partners all over the world," she said.
Singh said she would also optimise resources in the MEA and build on the work done by her predecessor.
"I think there is also a good deed to be done here within the ministry of external affairs to build on the work done by my predecessor in strengthening the ministry. So, my immediate priority will be to optimize the resources that we already have and to work with all the multiple stakeholders in India's foreign policy," said Singh, who is the third woman to head the services after Chokila Iyer and Nirupama Rao.
Asked about a video purportedly showing a Pakistani soldier sharing details of an encounter in which Captain Saurabh Kalia was killed, Singh said India has been taking up the issue with Pakistan.
"We strongly condemn any treatment with our Indian soldiers that is not in line with the Geneva Convention. This is precisely why the issue has been repeatedly taken up starting with Jaswant Singh with his then counterpart Sartaj Aziz. It was also raised in Geneva and we have been continuously taking it up with the Pakistani government.
"If there are some new facts that have come to light, we will assess them and then we will decide on how to proceed further in taking this up," said Singh, the daughter of T V Rajeshwar, the former Intelligence Bureau chief.
Replying to a question over withdrawal of subsidy on kerosene and cooking gas to Bhutan and its impact on bilateral relations, Singh said India was working closely with the new government in Bhutan. She said Bhutan will be the first country she will visit as foreign secretary.
"As we know India and Bhutan share a unique relationship which has always been characterised by mutual trust and confidence. We are working closely with the new government of Bhutan to continue to consolidate our privileged partnership," she said, adding that an "unfortunate technical lapse" caused the situation.
Singh said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited his Bhutanese counterpart to visit India.
"You are also aware that our prime minister has invited Bhutanese prime minister to visit India and I will be visiting Thimpu and when I am there I will consult with our Bhutanese friends on how we can work towards an early visit of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to India," said Singh.