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Door open to repairing ties, says White House as PM reaches US

Updated July 21, 2019

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DOHA: Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Albaker during a meeting while on transit to Washington on Saturday. The prime minister opted to fly by a commercial flight to save public money. This is the first visit of the prime minister to the US after assuming office.— APP
DOHA: Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Albaker during a meeting while on transit to Washington on Saturday. The prime minister opted to fly by a commercial flight to save public money. This is the first visit of the prime minister to the US after assuming office.— APP

WASHINGTON: As Prime Minister Imran Khan reached Washington on Saturday on a three-day, official working visit, a senior US administration official indicated that Washington may consider making some “changes to the suspension” of US security assistance to Pakistan if Islamabad readjusts some of its policies.

Briefing journalists on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit, the official also said that by extending an invitation to the Pakistani leader to visit the White House, the United States has sent a message to Islamabad that the “door is open to repairing relations” and building an enduring partnership.

“By and large that security assistance is still suspended,” said the official while responding to a question on the continued suspension of US security assistance to Pakistan. The Trump administration suspended security assistance to Pakistan in January 2018, and this marks the first time a US official has discussed the possibility — even though remote — of removing that suspension if Pakistan takes certain measures.

Official says Islamabad will have to ‘change its policies’ towards militancy and regional peace

“We will consider changing that suspension on certain items if Pakistan meets our security concerns both in Afghanistan, and with regard to some of the externally focus groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed,” the official told reporters during a conference call.

But so far, there “has been no change to that suspension and security assistance,” the official added.

The official also said that to avail the opportunity for restoring a close relationship with Washington, Islamabad will have to “change its policies” towards terrorism and militancy.

PM Khan, who began his official engagements soon after his arrival, goes to the White House on July 22 for an extensive three-hour visit, which includes a one-on-one meeting with President Donald Trump and two meetings and a working lunch with the president’s team.

Besides President Trump, the US team will include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Acting Secretary of Defence Richard Spencer and Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford.

The prime minister’s team will include Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior civil and military officials.

The senior Trump administration official said that President Trump will be most interested in encouraging Pakistan to assist in the Afghan peace process and he hopes that “the discussions will be productive”.

The White House also sees the visit as an opportunity to incentivise Pakistan to use its leverage on the Taliban to advance the Afghan peace process.

“We see that this visit could incentivise Pakistan to continue down the path that they have started. They’ve facilitated contacts to Taliban and met some of our requests with regards to the Afghan peace process,” the official said.

“We’re at a critical juncture and we need to see more cooperation from Pakistan. They need to use their full leverage in this endeavour. And so, we see this visit as an opportunity to encourage them to do more,” said the official.

Apparently, Afghanistan will be the main item on the US agenda and Washington seems clear that it needs Pakistan’s support to achieve this objective.

“We are calling on Pakistan for assistance in moving the peace process forward,” said the official, adding that the US “appreciates initial steps that Pakistan has taken to facilitate” the US-Taliban talks but at this “critical juncture in the peace process,” it needs more support.

“We are asking Pakistan to pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in intra-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government,” the official said.

The United States would also ask Pakistan to take irreversible action against terrorist and militant groups, and to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban for an intra-Afghan dialogue, the official added.

The Trump administration is making arrangements for a warm welcome to the prime minister, who will be the first Pakistani leader in four years to meet a US president when he visits the White House.

For the United States, the purpose of the visit “is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghan peace process, and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crack down on terrorist and militants within its territory,” the official said.

But the official also said that the United States would not take “the initial steps” that Pakistan has so far taken at their “face value”.

“We are monitoring the situation. We will wait and see if the steps are made irreversible and sustainable,” the official said.

Discussions with Pakistan will also include potential cooperation on trade and energy and the White House will encourage Pakistan to “create” opportunity for enhancing regional economic development and connectivity, the official added.

The United States, the official added, would continue to “encourage Pakistan to ease restrictions on transit trade between India and Afghanistan”.

“We think this would be a very positive step and will demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous South Asia.”

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019