Solution expected in two or three more meetings: New Delhi
China and India have for the first time set a tentative deadline to resolve their festering border dispute, which has marred relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
'If we make progress at the rate we are progressing, a solution will be found in two or three more rounds of talks,' said Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.
Mr Narayanan's statement came after four days of closed-door negotiations with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo in New Delhi and the Kumarakom resort in the southern state of Kerala.
The seventh round of border talks ran from Thursday to Monday, and in addition to senior foreign ministry and defence officials, Mr Narayanan and Mr Dai were assisted by their ambassadors.
But Mr Dai was less explicit than the Indian security adviser, saying: 'As we are working closely and making progress, we hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible.'
A joint statement issued yesterday before Mr Dai flew to Singapore said: 'The two sides continued the discussions for an agreed framework for the resolution of the boundary question in a constructive and friendly manner'.
It said the next round of talks would be held in China, but did not specify dates.
Former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider said it seemed both sides 'were confident of achieving concrete results and settling the issue in the near future'.
Special representatives were appointed by China and India to find a solution to the long-running territorial dispute during former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's groundbreaking visit to China in 2003.
Since then talks have been held alternately in India and China.
In New Delhi, Mr Dai met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, chairwoman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition. Both reportedly assured Mr Dai that a controversial nuclear deal signed by the US and India during President George W. Bush's recent visit was not directed against China.
Sources said Mr Dai and Mr Narayanan also discussed preliminary details of President Hu Jintao's forthcoming visit to India and Dr Singh's planned visit to China, although dates are yet to be finalised. The two countries have designated 2006 as the Year of Friendship.
The Asian giants fought a brief border war in 1962, but relations have been steadily improving in the past 10 years. New Delhi disputes Beijing's rule over a vast area of uninhabited land on the Tibetan plateau, which China seized during the war.
China claims 90,000 sq km of territory mostly in the northeastern province of Arunachal Pradesh, which borders Tibet.
Analysts say that exchanging disputed territory is the only solution to the decades-old problem.