FOREIGN Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.—AFP
FOREIGN Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.—AFP

UNITED NATIONS: In their first face-to-face meeting in New York on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken affirmed their shared desire for a strong and prosperous bilateral relationship, said a statement issued in Washington.

Before going into the meeting room with their close aides for an almost hour-long talks, the two leaders also made brief remarks to the media.

“We want to focus on the work we’re doing to strengthen our economic and commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan; of course, focus on regional security,” Secretary Blinken said.

The foreign minister said he too looked forward to “the opportunity to increase engagement between Pakistan and the United States, working with yourself and your administration to improve trade relations” between the two countries.

He expressed the hope that these talks would “create opportunities for American investors, and Pakistani investors, and Pakistani businessmen, and American entrepreneurs to work together”.

In an earlier statement in Washington on Tuesday, the US State Depart­ment assured Pakistan of strong US support for their efforts to rebuild the Pakistani economy.

Pakistani officials in New York hope that such expressions of strong US support to Islamabad’s revival efforts would also stabilise the Pakistani currency, which continues to fall rapidly against the dollar. The secretary and the foreign minister “discussed expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade, and health as well as people-to-people ties”, said the statement.

“They underscored the importance of US-Pakistan cooperation on regional peace, counterterrorism, Afghan stability, support for Ukraine, and democratic principles,” the statement added.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Secretary Blinken welcomed Pakistan’s chairmanship of the G77 and committed to advancing climate action and global food security.

The Group of 77 (G77) is a coalition of 134 developing countries, designed to promote their collective economic interests and create an enhanced joint negotiating capacity in the United Nations.

In his brief remarks to the media, Secretary Blinken noted that this was their first opportunity to meet face-to-face, although spoke on the phone early this month.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari is in New York to attend a UN ministerial meeting on Global Food Security Call for Action and the Security Council’s open debate on maintenance of international peace, with a focus on conflict and food security.

The United States initiated both meetings to highlight how the Feb 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine was threatening global food security. Secretary Blinken is chairing both events.

“This is a challenge that we’re seeing around the world. There was a pre-existing condition, as it were, when it comes to food insecurity in many places,” said Secretary Blinken while welcoming Pakistan’s participation in the two events.

The threat to food security, he said, had been “exacerbated dramatically by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine”, adding another 40 million people to those who were food insecure.

“So, we’re coming together and I’m grateful for Pakistan’s participation and engagement on this to look at concrete steps we can take to address the food insecurity issues, to help people in need around the world,” Secretary Blinken said.

“But beyond that, this is an important opportunity for us to talk about the many issues where we’re working together.”

Before ending his remarks, he turned towards the foreign minister and said: “In short, welcome to New York. It’s very good to have you here, very good to be with you at the United Nations.”

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he was looking forward to engaging in this series of events on global food security, adding: “We are aware that recent geopolitical events have indeed aggravated the situation.”

Countries like Pakistan, he said, had already been facing challenges of food, water, and energy insecurities because of a whole host of issues ranging from climate change to “issues in our neighbourhood”.

So, this particular (US) initiative is “most welcome and most important,” said the foreign minister, indicating an obvious change in the previous government’s policy of staying neutral on the Russia-Ukraine dispute.

About six senior aides from each side also participated in the meeting, including Pakistan’s US ambassador and its permanent representative to the United Nations.

Meeting with UN secretary general

Earlier on Wednesday, the foreign minister met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN Headquarters in New York and “underscored the importance attached to multilateralism and UN in Pakistan’s foreign policy”.

According to a statement released by Pakistan’s UN Mission, Mr Bhutto-Zardari informed the UN chief that Pakistan adhered firmly to the principles of the UN Charter and had always supported solutions to global issues in accordance with those principles.

On the situation in Ukraine, the foreign minister appreciated the secretary general’s efforts to promote a negotiated solution and shared Pakistan’s perspective.

The foreign minister highlighted the grim situation in India-held Kashmir marked by grave violations of human rights and illegal demographic changes.

Pakistan, he said, desired peace with all its neighbours, including India, but it “will remain elusive unless the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the UN Security resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people”.

The foreign minister lauded the secretary general’s commitment to combat Islamophobia and also reaffirmed the resolve to work closely with him in this endeavour including in Pakistan’s capacity as the current Chair of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari appreciated the UNSG’s role in mobilising humanitarian and economic assistance for the Afghan people and shared Pakistan’s concern about the spillover of instability in Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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