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John Kerry arrives in Pakistan for key talks

Islamabad, PTI | Updated : 01 August 2013, 11:30 AM

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Islamabad on Thursday for consultations with the newly-elected government in Pakistan and nudge it to eliminate terrorist safe-havens ahead of the withdrawal of US-led troops from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Kerry, who had earlier postponed his visit, will hold meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani on Friday.

This is Kerry's maiden visit to Pakistan after becoming the Secretary of State.

Bilateral relations and regional situation especially resumption of strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States besides the issue of drone strikes will be discussed during Kerry's meeting with the top leadership.

 The two sides are expected to discuss resumption of strategic dialogue as well as cooperation in different fields including energy, the Foreign Office officials said.

Pakistan and US will hold discussion on regional situation with particular reference to post 2014 situation in Afghanistan, Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, Kerry will have "consultations with the newly-elected civilian government and to reinforce the United States' continuing commitment to the Pakistani people."

"Kerry's discussions will focus on a wide range of topics including promoting security, strengthening the Pakistani economy, and reinforcing people-to-people ties between the United States and Pakistan, in addition to regional topics of mutual interest," Psaki said in a statement.

Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said the issue of resumption of Pak-US Strategic Dialogue will be taken up during Kerry's visit .

Aziz said issues relating to drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the situation in Afghanistan would also come up for discussions.

The US is looking to Pakistan to play a key role in the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014 but the two sides have been unable to reach common ground on involving the Afghan Taliban in peace negotiations.

Pakistani-US ties were strained after the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan's Abbottabad town on May 2, 2011.

Pakistan has been demanding an end to US drone attacks targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives, saying it has caused civilian causalities.

Terror havens, Indo-Pak ties to figure in Pakistan talks: US

US Secretary of State John Kerry will raise the issue of continued terrorist safe havens in border areas of Pakistan during his meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a senior US official said.

Kerry is on his maiden trip to Pakistan and is scheduled to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Sharif and Army Chief Kayani on Thursday during his day long hectic deliberations in Islamabad in which India-Pak ties, Afghan peace talks, besides economic issues is expected to figure prominently, the official added.

"We will continue to talk about the issues of cross-border militancy and as we have stated in the past the reality that safe havens for extremist groups clearly threaten our interests, our allies in the region, and most of all really Sharif's own ability to execute on his reform agenda and provide greater economic stability," the official said.

"So how we continue to deal with those issues of cross-border militancy is something that will be a key piece of this conversation," the official said, as Kerry landed in Islamabad last night - the highest level visit from the Obama Administration after Sharif was voted back to power with thumping majority a few months ago.

"We expect the kind of the range of the issues at the civilian government to lead on, to really dominate, whether that's regional issues, Indo-Pak, Afghan-Pak, but the economy, energy, and domestic extremism, as Nawaz ran on a platform of the three Es - the economy, energy, and extremism. We expect that much of that will be addressed in that initial meeting," the official said.

In Afghanistan, he said the US continues to receive kind of constructive cooperation from the Pakistanis, both on the civilian leadership and on the military leadership and publicly calling on the Afghan Taliban to join peace negotiations and try to continue to facilitate the reconciliation process.

Responding to questions on the issue of drone strikes, which Pakistani politicians have opined on quite a bit and the parliament has passed several resolutions about, the official said the US knows that Pakistan wants a conversation about it.

"It will be part of a broader and very comprehensive discussion on the whole range of counterterrorism issues," the official added.

"In terms of the nuclear piece, one of the five working groups that we have on strategic stability focuses on that piece of it under a kind of public framework, and that is the venue that we use for kind of that dialogue," he said when asked about possibility of discussion on nuclear issue.

First Published: Thursday, August 01, 2013 11:29 AM
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