WASHINGTON: The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than $300 million in blocked security assistance to Pakistan, officials said Sunday amid an upswing in relations.
The development came as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is making his country's highest-level official visit to the United States in years.
“We're very anxious to have a series of high level, important discussions over the course of the next few days. The vice-president, the president, tonight's dinner. We have a lot to talk about and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important,” Kerry said at the start of the meeting.
He added ''On its own, (Pakistan is) a democracy that is working hard to gets its economy moving and deal with insurgency, and also important to the regional stability.''
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Sunday as he sat down with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Washington this week for talks with the White House.
Sharif did not speak during the brief session with reporters.
Moreover, Kerry declined to answer questions after brief remarks to reporters at the State Department.
But US officials say the Obama administration is posed to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to help bolster ties with Islamabad that have deteriorated over deadly American airstrikes and the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The two men met over dinner, shortly before Kerry planned to head to Europe for peace talks for Syria and between Israel and Palestinian authorities.
He will be meeting with foreign ministers in Paris, London and Rome before returning to Washington on Thursday.
Relations with the United States have also improved since they plunged to one of their lowest points in 2011 amid the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid in Pakistan, as well as the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US airstrike.
US security assistance was interrupted during that period, although $857 million in civilian assistance continued to flow, Harf said.
“As part of our annual funding process, throughout the course of this past summer the State Department notified Congress of how it planned to program funds from several different accounts for various programs in Pakistan.
“Funding was notified to Congress following a rigorous planning process over multiple months, to ensure it was in line with both US and Pakistani interests, and would deliver important results for both countries,” she said.
Harf said US security assistance would build the capabilities of Pakistan's security forces, “which is critical to countering violence in the western border regions.”
”And US civilian assistance to Pakistan has delivered real results on the issues most important to Prime Minister Sharif and all Pakistanis: energy, education and economic growth,” she added.
The Pakistani Prime Minister is also due to meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Kerry visited Islamabad in August.
Washington needs Pakistan's cooperation as it prepares to withdraw thousands of pieces of heavy equipment from Afghanistan before Nato combat operations end in late 2014.
It is also looking to Pakistan to try to help with reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and Afghan leaders.
The United States wants the Pakistani government to do more to crack down on militant havens.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is chafing at continued US drone strikes against militants on its territory.
Drones are “part of a very comprehensive conversation we have on security across the board,” a US official said ahead of the talks.
“As we talk about all these security issues that will be a key theme, not drones necessarily, but the security situation writ large.”