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For a week in US, Fatemi still hoping to meet Trump team

Updated Dec 11, 2016 11:41am

WASHINGTON: The prime minister’s special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, who is visiting the United States for familiarisation meetings with the Trump team, is hoping to meet some members of the incoming administration early next week.

Mr Fatemi, however, has held a series of meetings with senior officials of the outgoing Obama administration and US lawmakers. Such meetings are highlighted in press releases issued by the Pakistan embassy, which claims that these talks have helped create a better understanding of Pakistan’s position on various issues.

So far the only comment from the US side came from the State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner who said that US officials did discuss “a range of bilateral and regional” issues with Mr Fatemi and these included “regional stability and counterterrorism cooperation”.

But he did not say if the meetings helped resolve the differences that have strained Pakistan’s relations with the United States.

Neither the Pakistan embassy nor the Trump team have said anything about Mr Fatemi’s meetings/probable meetings with the officials of the incoming administration.

Earlier this week, Mr Fatemi visited New York, from where US President-elect Donald Trump is conducting his business, but Pakistani diplomats said he was only there to meet senior UN officials and returned to Washington the same day.

A senior Pakistani diplomat, when asked why Mr Fatemi had not yet met members of the Trump team, said “protocol did not allow him to meet them in his official capacity” but he and the embassy were trying to arrange some informal meetings.

One such meeting, with Stephen Hadley, the former Bush administration’s national security adviser, may happen next week. Mr Hadely is a key member of the team that is advising Mr Trump on transition.

The embassy official said that Mr Fatemi has also been “very active on telephone,” speaking to the Trump team. “We are reaching out to the ‘influentials’ not ‘probables,” said the official while explaining why Mr Fatemi had not yet met Trump officials although he has been in the United States for almost a week now.

“We are trying to meet the people who have influence and are feeding into the transition process,” the embassy official said.

While the Pakistan embassy insists that it would not be appropriate for Mr Fatemi to hold formal meetings with officials who are not in the government yet, officials from other countries are doing exactly that. Senior officials and leaders from across the globe are visiting New York for meeting Trump officials.

Pakistan embassy officials, however, say they too are meeting members of the Trump team, but they are more interested in arranging ‘informal meetings’ for Mr Fatemi. “While we are arranging some meetings, some he is doing himself,” said one official.

The embassy’s informal, and formal, contacts with the Trump team did help them in arranging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s telephone call with Mr Trump last week. But that call too became controversial when the prime minister’s office released readout of that call.

Mr Fatemi, however, told a news briefing in Washington on Monday that Mr Trump’s office had approved the readout and had also allowed them to release it to the media.

“That is the language that the president-elect used. And it was a very honest and truthful narrative, which we put out with the approval of his office,” he said. “And if that has created interests and excitement, we are in no way disappointed with it,” he added.

Asked if he was with the prime minister during that call, Mr. Fatemi said: “I am special assistant to the PM, so it’s my job to be present in the right place, at the right time.”

The surprisingly candid readout of the telephone call created a major controversy in Washington where even the White House joined the call for Mr Trump to be more careful while talking to foreign leaders. The US media also criticized Pakistan for releasing details of personal greetings.

Unfazed by the controversy, Mr Fatemi insisted that the new administration would provide Pakistan a “fresh opportunity to burnish its credentials” with Washington.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2016