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US hopes to host Sharif-Modi meeting

Updated February 21, 2016

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WASHINGTON: The United States has said that it would support any decision to hold a meeting between Pakistani and Indian prime ministers in the US capital next month.

“We’re supportive of any decisions that could be made for this to take place,” said a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, when asked if the United States was involved in efforts to arrange a meeting between the two South Asian leaders.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the United States, India and Pakistan are quietly exploring the possibility of a meeting between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi when the two leaders visit Washington next month.

Both leaders have accepted US President Barack Obama’s invitation to attend a nuclear summit the White House is hosting on March 31 and April 1.

Mr Toner said that while he did not have “anything specific to point to”, he could confirm that the US remained engaged with both Pakistani and Indian governments.

“Certainly, we remain engaged with the Indian government. We want to see this entire effort move forward,” he said.

The Pakistani and Indian prime ministers have had three meetings so far: the first in May, 2014, when Mr Sharif attended Mr Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi.

They met again on the sidelines of a regional summit in Ufa, Russia, in July last year, and on Dec 25 Mr Modi had a surprise stopover in Lahore while returning home from Afghanistan.

At the State Department briefing, Mr Toner also noted Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorists, noting that no country was more affected by terrorism than Pakistan.

“I can’t speak specifically to ISIL’s presence or non-presence in Pakistan,” said the US official while responding to a question about the presence of militant Islamic State group in the country.

“I can say that we’ve seen elements of ISIL or ISIL-affiliated groups spring up in Afghanistan. I mean, they look for ungoverned spaces. There are parts of Pakistan that are havens for some of these terrorist organisations,” he added.

He said the United States “fully recognised” the Pakistani government’s “commitment to pushing back and fighting these terrorists”.

“No one’s more affected by terrorism than the people of Pakistan, and we’re going to continue to support them, whether it’s ISIL or other terrorist groups operating on their soil,” said the US official.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2016