TOKYO, July 8: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the United States and Pakistan were putting past tensions behind them to focus on the future, after meeting her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.

Mrs Clinton expressed the hope that Pakistan’s recent reopening of Nato supply lines into Afghanistan might lead to a broader rapprochement in US-Pakistani relations.

It was the first meeting between Mrs Clinton and Ms Khar since the two countries last week struck a deal to re-open supply routes, closed for seven months following a US attack in which 24 Pakistani soldiers died.

Mrs Clinton told reporters she had “a broad-ranging discussion” with Ms Khar on resolving some of the issues surrounding the re-opening of border routes.

“We are both encouraged that we have been able to put the recent difficulties behind us so we can focus on the many challenges ahead,” she said, on the sidelines of a conference on the future for Afghanistan.

The killing of the Pakistani soldiers, coupled with a US raid on Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in May 2011, had plunged ties between the two allies to new lows.But the two countries aimed to use the “positive momentum generated” by last week’s deal to move forward on many of the challenges still facing them, Mrs Clinton said.

The most important of these, she said, was fighting militant groups who had used Pakistan as a rear base to attack American troops and jeopardise the future of Afghanistan.

“We also discussed economic support and the goal of moving towards more trade than aid as part of our economic relationship,” Mrs Clinton said.

“Obviously there’s a lot of follow-up work that has to be done. I’ve said a number of times that this is a challenging and essential relationship. It remains so,” Mrs Clinton added.

But she warned the relationship was likely to remain rocky at times.

“I have no reason to believe that it will not continue to raise hard questions for us both, but it is something I think is in the interests of the United States as well as Pakistan,” she said.

Trilateral meeting

Mrs Clinton and Ms Khar later met Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, saying they were committed to working together for an “inclusive Afghan peace” and issuing a “call for the armed opposition to abandon violence and enter a dialogue with the Afghan government”.

In a joint statement, the three diplomats also stressed that the “great effort and sacrifice by the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and the international community has decimated Al Qaeda’s core leadership in the region”.

The joint statement “reaffirmed the importance of pursuing multiple channels and contacts” with militants seeking to overthrow the Afghan government.

It said reconciliation would be discussed during Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s upcoming visit to Kabul and Afghan mediator Salahuddin Rabbani’s visit to Islamabad.

“These visits should determine and implement additional concrete steps to advance Afghan reconciliation,” the statement said.

Last week, Mrs Clinton said Washington was sorry for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, paving the way for Islamabad to agree to reopen the supply routes.

The border blockade had forced the United States and its allies to rely on longer, more costly routes through Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus.

As part of the deal to reopen the borders, Washington will also release about $1.1 billion to the Pakistani military from the Coalition Support Fund designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations.—Agencies


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