WASHINGTON, Sept 30: The United States has assured Pakistan that it supports the country’s ‘sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ amid tensions between the two allies over cross-border raids into Fata.

The US assurance — included in a joint statement — followed talks in Washington on Monday between US and Pakistani teams aimed at consolidating a long-term relationship between the two nations.

During the talks “the United States affirmed its support for Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity”, said the statement issued by the US State Department.

The talks between US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were part of what is called the ‘elevated strategic dialogue’ between the two countries.

The talks focussed on security cooperation, defence ties, the war on terror and economic assistance to Pakistan, particularly for creating jobs in the restive tribal region.

“The United States is dedicated to providing Pakistan with the training and equipment it needs to fight terrorism, including support to enhance Pakistan’s counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities and increased cooperation with Pakistani security forces,” the statement said.

The talks were held against the backdrop of cross-border attacks by the US-led coalition forces in Fata. Although aimed at suspected terrorist hideouts, the raids also killed scores of civilians, forcing Islamabad to protest the incursions.

After a raid by US ground troops early this month, Pakistan warned that its troops would retaliate if they saw foreign troops crossing its border. Last week, Pakistani troops reportedly fired warning shots at a US helicopter trying to enter Pakistan. The incursions also led to demands by Pakistani opposition parties to seek assurance from the United States that it would respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the joint statement addresses this issue.

But while assuring Pakistan to respect its territorial integrity, the United States also made it clear that it expected Islamabad to play an effective role in

fighting terrorism.

The two sides renewed their intention to work together to combat the threat of terrorism and violent extremism by expanding security cooperation. They also vowed to work together to develop and modernise the tribal belt.

Mr Qureshi and Mr Negroponte reaffirmed their commitment to a wide-ranging, substantive and long-term strategic partnership between Pakistan and the United States, the statement said.

The two sides also condemned the Sept 20 suicide bombing on Marriott Hotel in Islamabad which killed 53 people.

“They acknowledged that terrorism and violent extremism pose a common threat to Pakistan, the United States, and the international community.”

The strategic dialogue followed a decision in March 2006 to establish a forum for such talks. The dialogue was initially featured once a year but later the frequency was increased to twice a year. The first round took place in April 2006 in Washington.

During Monday’s meeting, the United States called for resumption of the Jirga process with Afghanistan and for Pakistan’s commitment to hold the next Regional Economic Cooperation Conference meeting in Islamabad later this year.

The Pakistani government expressed its appreciation for the US-backed new Friends of Pakistan initiative, which would help Pakistan face its challenges in the years ahead.

Building on the August 2008 bilateral economic dialogue, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to increased economic cooperation. Pakistan outlined its economic stabilization measures and reforms to foster economic growth and opportunity. The US expressed support for Pakistan’s plan to stabilise its economy and welcomed Pakistan’s commitment to implement comprehensive reform measures.

The US expressed its determination to continue efforts to promote Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation, currently pending in Congress. The establishment of such zones would improve stability and security by stimulating jobs, infrastructure and legitimate economic alternatives in underdeveloped areas, the statement said.

The two sides emphasised the need for improved regional cooperation and integration in the energy sector. They reaffirmed their commitment to address Pakistan’s growing energy needs by expanding technical assistance and promoting investment in Pakistan’s energy sector.

Cooperation in education and science and technology were reviewed, and both resolved to make best efforts to hold energy and education dialogues by the end of the year.

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