TOKYO: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the United States and Pakistan are putting past tensions behind them to focus on the future, after meeting with her Pakistani counterpart.
It was their first face-to-face meeting since the two countries last week struck a deal to reopen key supply routes into Afghanistan, closed for seven months following a US attack in which 24 Pakistani soldiers died.
Clinton told reporters in Tokyo she had “a broad-ranging discussion” with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on some of the issues surrounding the reopening of border routes during their one-hour meeting.
“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 Afghanistan's future.
However she acknowledged that ties between the two wary allies would still be tested in the future.
The killing of the soldiers, coupled with a US raid on the Pakistani compound of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, plunged relations to new lows.
Pakistan remains angry about US drone strikes against insurgents hiding in its unruly border area with Afghanistan, while Washington has repeatedly called on Islamabad to do more to prevent it being a safe haven for militant leaders.
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, Clinton said.
She stressed that her talks with Khar had “focused on the necessity of defeating the terror networks that threaten the stability of Pakistan and Afghanistan” as well as Afghan reconciliation efforts.
“We also discussed economic support and the goal of moving towards more trade then aid as part of our economic relationship,” 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,” Clinton added.
“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,” the top US diplomat said.
Clinton and Khar met alone for about an hour, according to a US official who asked not to be named, adding that the meeting was a sign of the “intensity of her engagement”.
The pair later joined Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul for three-way talks, and committed to work together for an “inclusive Afghan peace”.
In a joint statement, the trio issued a “call for the armed opposition to abandon violence and enter a dialogue with the Afghan government”.
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”.
Last week, Clinton said Washington was sorry for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in November, paving the way for Islamabad to agree to reopen the supply routes vital for Nato and the US to truck supplies into Afghanistan.
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 a US “coalition support fund” designed to reimburse Islamabad for the cost of counter-insurgency operations.
“The fact that the GLOCS (general lines of communication) were closed was getting in the way of a lot of conversations. Now the GLOCS are open it seems to be that we have an opportunity to go back into business with them,” the senior US official told reporters.