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KARACHI: Some four months after US President Donald Trump hinted at meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Saturday linked happening of such an event with progress in the ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban.

With the relationship between the US and Pakistan touching a new low after the former rejected visa applications of three high-ranking government officials, the foreign minister’s statement linking a possible Trump-Khan meeting with headway in talks with the Taliban can only be seen as a precondition.

“Don’t call it a condition but I think that the environment [for the meeting] will be more favourable if the talks move forward,” said Mr Qureshi when asked whether the two leaders’ meeting was linked to headway in the US-Taliban negotiations.

“Both [PM Khan and President Trump] are important personalities and they are deeply interested in peace and stability in the region. There has been progress and [US-Taliban] talks are under way in Doha. There are chances of further progress in talks [that] can lead to a new opening in our bilateral relations,” he told Urdu News.

Says Dr Shakil Afridi not being swapped with Dr Aafia Siddiqui

In December 2018, President Trump wrote a letter to PM Khan seeking his government’s “assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war”. And on Jan 3, he told a cabinet meeting that he wanted “to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy, they take care of the enemy.

“We just can’t do that. So, I look forward to meeting with the folks from — and the new leadership in Pakistan, we’ll be doing that in the not-too-distant future.”

Later, the spokesperson for Foreign Office, Dr Mohammad Faisal, told a news briefing that during his visit to Pakistan, US Senator Lindsey Graham discussed Mr Trump’s interest in meeting Mr Khan; however, the date and venue had not been finalised.

“There are no dates, as of now, for this meeting. A lot of preparation and homework is required before such high-level engagements are materialised,” he had said.

Relations with Iran

Mr Qureshi also talked about relations with Tehran and said that “some powers keep trying to create misunderstandings between Pakistan and Iran in order to fulfil their own agendas”.

“Whenever attempts are made [to create misunderstandings between the two sides], Pakistan and Iran defuse them through bilateral talks on the level of security and intelligence agencies,” he said.

The minister added: “These are the powers that consider Iran a threat for the region and want to degrade it.”

When Urdu News asked whether he was pointing to the US, he said he would not name any country but “a word to the wise is sufficient”.

Referring to the security threats being faced by Saudi Arabia, Mr Qureshi said: “Pakistan stood by Saudi Arabia whenever it was threatened and will continue to do so.”

The foreign minister said a Pakistani delegation is currently in China to brief the Financial Action Task Force over the steps taken by Pakistan to curb terror financing and money laundering. He expressed the hope that the body would remove Pakistan from its so-called ‘grey list’ when its meeting would be held in June.

Turning to the visa sanctions that Washington had imposed on three senior government officials earlier this week due to a row over repatriation of deportees, Mr Qureshi said the restrictions were “temporary”.

“We have resolved the deportation issue to a large extent and this temporary restriction [over visas] will also end soon,” he said.

In response to a question about India, he said it was the stated policy of New Delhi to isolate Pakistan, but it would never succeed. He said Pakistan was ready to initiate talks after the formation of a new government in India.

Answering another question, he said that Dr Shakil Afridi, who was arrested eight years ago after allegedly passing on intelligence about Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the CIA, was not being swapped for Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving a sentence in a US jail for trying to kill US agents and military officers in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019