WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS - The United States and the United Nations welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brief stopover in Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, calling it as a significant development.

The news of Modi’s surprise visit came on Christmas Day when holidaying officials were spending time with their families. Still, relevant officials in Washington and New York took time out to monitor Modi’s visit.

“We welcome the December 25 visit by PM Modi to Lahore,” John Kirby, State Department spokesman said. “Better relations between neighbours India and Pakistan will benefit the people of the entire region.”

In New York, a UN spokesman said, “The Secretary General has long been encouraging both leaders to engage in dialogue. He obviously welcomes the visit as a step in the right direction and he hopes that the dialogue will be maintained and strengthened.”

The Wall Street Journal described Modi’s move as “likely to add momentum to a tentative reconciliation process” between the nuclear-armed neighbours, while The Chicago Tribune noted it as “potential sign of thawing” relations.

It is “the biggest surprise of all” of Modi’s diplomatic moves since he came to power on May 26, 2014 for which he had invited leaders of the South Asian countries, the Time magazine wrote.

“It’s the first trip to the country by an Indian head of state in a decade, and could be a sign of improving relations between the two neighbours,” the popular National Public Radio said.

According to The Los Angeles Times, with his Lahore visit Modi “breathed new life into a long troubled” relationship.

The New York Times, which quite often has been critical of Narendra Modi, while underscoring the significance of Modi’s impromptu trip to Lahore said the Indian leader in the past has moved from one policy to the other and described it as “a diplomatic dance”.

“The tense relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have long worried American policy makers, who fear that proxy wars between the two countries could flare into a real one. Mr Modi is also highlighting India’s role in Afghanistan, including providing military assistance, which risks angering Pakistani leaders.

“But with his flash of spontaneous personal diplomacy on Friday, Mr Modi appeared to send a strong public message that the ambiguous course he has taken toward Pakistan has shifted to embrace engagement, not confrontation. It is a message that his administration has hinted at in recent weeks, seeking to sketch out a roadmap for talks with Pakistan on terrorism and trade.”

A number of experts at think tanks and academicians also expressed their views about Modi’s Lahore visit on the social media.

“Unexpected but welcome visit” by Modi to Lahore, said Richard N Hass, president, Council on Foreign Relations, a top US think tank. There is “need to make high-level” India-Pak “diplomacy routine”, he wrote on Twitter.