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U.S., Pakistan resume high-level negotiations

by DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press on August 01, 2013 10:10 AM

ISLAMABAD — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, said today that the two countries will resume high-level negotiations over security issues.

Kerry also said he had invited Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to come to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama.

“I’m pleased to announce that today, very quickly, we were able to agree to a resumption of the strategic dialogue in order to foster a deeper, broader and more comprehensive partnership between our countries,” Kerry said at a press conference with Aziz in Islamabad.

He said the talks will cover “all of the key issues between us, from border management to counterterrorism to promoting U.S. private investment and to Pakistan’s own journey to economic revitalization.”

The U.S. and Pakistan launched high-level talks on a wide swath of security and development programs in 2010. But the talks stalled in November 2011 after U.S. airstrikes on a Pakistani post on the Afghan border accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Even before that, the bilateral relationship was severely damaged by a variety of incidents, including a CIA contractor shooting to death two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore and the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistani town of Abbottabad.

The resumption of the strategic dialogue indicates that the relationship between the two countries has improved since that low point. But there is still significant tension and mistrust between the two countries, especially regarding U.S. drone strikes and Pakistan’s alleged ties with Taliban militants using its territory to launch cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

“It is also no secret that along this journey in the last few years we’ve experienced a few differences,” Kerry said. “I think we came here today, both the prime minister and myself, with a commitment that we cannot allow events that might divide us in a small way to distract from the common values and the common interests that unite us in big ways.”

Kerry also was asked about progress on a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan that would keep some U.S. forces in that country after 2014.

“I am personally confident that we will have an agreement, and the agreement will be timely,” he replied. “And I am confident that the president has ample space here within which to make any decisions he wants to make regarding future troop levels.”

While this is Kerry’s first visit to Islamabad as secretary of state, he has a long history of dealing with Pakistan as former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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