WASHINGTON, July 11: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice underscored the importance of establishing an economic link between Central Asia and India through Pakistan and Afghanistan when she met Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the State Department said.

Briefing journalists on Monday’s meeting between Mr Kasuri and Ms Rice, the department’s spokesman said both the countries “have an interest in building up those economic ties from Central Asia down through Afghanistan and Pakistan into India” and Ms Rice and Mr Kasuri “talked about the importance of developing that economic infrastructure”.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said both Pakistan and Afghanistan also understand that for “realizing the full potential of this economic integration,” they must continue their common fight against terrorism.

The spokesman indicated that the Rice-Kasuri meeting primarily focused on growing tension between Kabul and Islamabad which is affecting the global war on terrorism.

Secretary Rice briefed Mr Kasuri on her recent meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and told him that both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared interest in the stability and security and also in economic prosperity of each other, Mr McCormack said.

He said the US was working with Pakistan and Afghanistan to address their security concerns “on trilateral basis,” endorsing the Pakistani position that all issues concerning the war on terror should be discussed in a trilateral forum.

Asked if Ms Rice agrees that Afghanistan and Pakistan should not discuss their differences publicly, Mr McCormack said: “Certainly, we would encourage them, if they have any differences, to work them out and try to resolve them before they become a matter of public discussion.”

He, however, acknowledged that Mr Kasuri and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta were “ministers in their own right and they are going to speak their mind in public”.

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