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WASHINGTON: The White House confirmed on Wednesday that US President Donald Trump will meet Prime Minister Imran Khan at his office on July 22 and their talks will focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation, which will bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to the entire region.

On Tuesday afternoon, US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told journalists that the White House had not yet confirmed the visit, a statement that caused wild speculations about the nature and scope of the trip.

“President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Imran Khan of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the White House on July 22, 2019,” said a statement issued by the office of the White House Press Secretary.

“The visit will focus on strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict,” it added.

The White House said that President Trump and Prime Minister Khan will discuss a range of issues, including “counterterrorism, defence, energy, and trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between our two countries”.

At the State Department briefing, Ms Ortagus was asked if she had a schedule of the Pakistani prime minister’s meetings in Washington.

“To my knowledge, that has actually not been confirmed by the White House. I know that I have read the same reports that you have, but I would reach out to the White House to confirm or not confirm that visit,” she responded.

“We don’t have anything to announce here from the State Department,” she added.

In Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal cautioned against making unfounded speculations about the visit.

“We wish to caution against speculation about the PM’s visit. We are in close contact with the US side,” Dr Faisal said in a tweet.

“Formal announcements about such visits are made at the appropriate time,” said the spokesman while commenting on the State Department’s reaction.

In an earlier briefing, Dr Faisal said that while the prime minister will visit Washington on July 22, as announced, the agenda for the Imran-Trump meeting was still being worked out.

In Washington, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari said that the difference between the White House and State Department’s statement only showed that various departments were still finalising the details of the visit.

Mr Bukhari also highlighted the close cooperation between the administrative and defence wings of the government. “It’s a good thing that the civilian government and the military are on the same page on sensitive issues,” he said. “If there’s cooperation, it is with our own army. We are not cooperating with the Indian army.”

Media reports from Washington have suggested that the army chief and the newly appointed director general of the ISI may also accompany the prime minister to Washington. They are likely to discuss defence- and security-related matters with their counterparts.

Addressing a public meeting at the Pakistan Embassy, Mr Bukhari said that the prime minister plans to address a public meeting in Washing­ton on July 21. “Pakistani-Americans from across the United States will attend this meeting at a large public arena,” he added.

Amir Wasim in Islamabad adds: In Pakistan, however, the opposition continued to criticise the government over the State Department’s refusal to comment on the visit.

PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted an advice to the prime minister, asking him to “sit at home” instead of making embarrassing statements about foreign trips.

She claimed that the State Depart­ment’s position underlined the difference between an “elected PM and a selected PM” and between those who undertook foreign visits to bring inv­estments to the country and those who went abroad with a “begging bowl”.

PPP information secretary Dr Nafeesa Shah said that the “selected government” was constantly creating embarrassment for the nation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs due to its incompetence.

She noted that last week the Russian government had also denied having invited Prime Minister Khan to Moscow.

Ms Shah asked why the government was making claims that were later denied by the supposed hosts.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019