US State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. — File Photo
WASHINGTON: The US State Department has expressed the hope that India and Pakistan “will continue to take steps they have taken recently to improve their bilateral relations”.
When asked at a news briefing for comments on India’s claim that Pakistani troops crossed into the Indian-administered Kashmir earlier this week and killed five Indian soldiers, the department’s spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We are aware of these unconfirmed reports and are concerned about any violence along the Line of Control,” she said. Noting that the US policy on Kashmir had not changed, she added: “We still believe that the pace, scope, and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue on Kashmir is for those two countries to determine.”
Ms Psaki also declined to confirm reports that Al Qaeda has once again become active in Fata.
Although the State Department has always been cautious in implicating Pakistan in such activities, Washington has become even more careful in commenting on events concerning Pakistan since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad last week.
During the visit, Secretary Kerry announced the revival of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, suspended two years ago, and said that President Barack Obama was looking forward to an exclusive meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif next month.
Mr Sharif is expected to visit New York in the third week of September for attending the UN General Assembly but will use this opportunity to have three crucial meetings with President Obama, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
It is still not clear if he will meet Mr Obama in New York or will come to Washington for an exclusive meeting.
Diplomatic observers in Washington, however, hope the meeting will help improve US-Pakistan relations which strained after a US air attack on a Pakistani military post that killed 17 soldiers in November 2011.
The desire to avoid further deterioration in the relationship was clearly visible in the latest State Department briefing where the spokesperson refused to implicate Pakistan in recent terrorist activities.
“I don’t have anything for you on that,” said Ms Psaki when reporters repeatedly asked her if al-Zawahiri was hiding inside Pakistan.
Reminded that a recent New York Times report claimed Mr Zawahiri might be hiding in Fata, Ms Psaki said she did not have anything for the reporter on this issue either.
The NYT report claimed that Mr Zawahiri called an Al Qaeda kingpin in Yemen from Fata. The conversation led to the closure of 22 US diplomatic missions in the Middle East and to a worldwide travel warning for American nationals.
Asked why the United States closed 22 diplomatic missions in the Middle East on an intercepted threat but never closed its mission in Pakistan despite far greater security threats, Ms Psaki said: “We make decisions post by post. That’s something that is constantly evaluated at a high level through the interagency process.”
The decision to close or open a US diplomatic mission was made on a single concern: “How to keep our employees safe, how to keep officials safe, and that’s the bar we use.”