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Kerry to meet president, PM today

Updated August 01, 2013

ISLAMABAD, July 31: US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Wednesday for talks with the country’s newly elected leadership on critical issues that could shape the bilateral relationship in the near future.

He will meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari, Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz and other key government functionaries on Thursday.

This is his first visit to Pakistan after installation of the PML-N government.

Mr Kerry, who frequently visited Pakistan as the head of the influential US Senate foreign relations committee, mostly as a trouble shooter in the vacillating relationship, is moreover here for the first time as Secretary of State.

He was initially due here last month, but had postponed the visit. Even this time round the visit was preceded by scheduling problems.

Mr Kerry will begin his day by meeting Mr Aziz at the Foreign Office. From there both of them will go to the Prime Minister’s House for meeting Mr Sharif. The talks will be followed by a joint press stakeout by Secretary Kerry and Adviser Aziz.The secretary will also meet President Zardari and speak at a ceremony at a power house.

Mr Kerry has a packed agenda in Islamabad and is expected to hold intense discussions on bilateral relations and reconciliation in Afghanistan, besides touching upon the more contentious issue of drone strikes.

The Pakistani side is keen to hear from Mr Kerry about the key elements of the relationship that the US intends to have with Pakistan in future.

Elements of particular interest here are economy and trade, market access, energy cooperation and defence assistance.

A senior official disclosed that the hosts would also flag the government’s desire for civilian nuclear technology, although there are no hopes of US accepting the request.

Prime Minister Sharif chaired a preparatory session held to finalise the agenda for Mr Kerry’s visit. The meeting was attended by key foreign policy and security aides, including Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam.

Speaking at the meeting, the prime minister expressed the hope that strained ties with Afghanistan would soon be put on a cooperative plane.

While deliberating on various options for reviving the stalemated Afghan reconciliation process, he reiterated his government’s commitment to helping Afghanistan achieve the goals of peace and stability.

Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: The secretary of state has shortened his stay in Pakistan due to security reasons, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

John Kerry had originally planned to spend a few days in the country, but is now expected to spend only a day in the capital.

Sources said that Monday’s attack on a prison in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to the decision to reduce Mr Kerry’s stay in Islamabad.

But senior Pakistani diplomats in Washington said that Mr Kerry’s stay would depend on how the talks progress. “If both sides felt the need for him to stay longer, he may,” said a senior diplomat.

Although the secretary’s trip was not announced, journalists covering the State Department were informed and asked not to make his schedule public.

James Dobbins, special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who reached Islamabad before Mr Kerry, may stay longer.