• Blome says Pakistan’s prosperity remains top priority
• Meeting comes ahead of Raisi’s visit, expected on Monday
• At UN, Islamabad refrains from denouncing Iran’s retaliatory strikes against Israel

ISLAMABAD / WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday reached out to Pakistan regarding escalating conflict between Teh­ran and Tel Aviv, even as Islam­abad stayed away from condemning the Iranian attack on Israel.

“US Ambassador Donald Blome met today with Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar to discuss recent events in the region,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

FM Dar said he discussed “various aspects of Pakistan-US relations and recent global and regional developments” with Amb Blome without clearly saying what message the envoy had conveyed.

This was the first time that the US has publicly contacted Islam­abad on the issue, since Israel hit the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing a number of its senior commanders deployed there, and the subsequent Iranian retaliatory drone and missile strikes against Israel.

The meeting, moreover, comes ahead of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s upcoming three-day visit to Islamabad, due to start from Monday.

Interestingly, while Amb Blome was meeting with FM Dar, Iranian envoy Reza Amiri-Moghaddam was also at the Foreign Office to discuss the details of President Raisi’s upcoming visit.

The US has signalled its desire to prevent further escalation in the current situation. Instead, it aims to concentrate its efforts on China and Ukraine. The ongoing crisis in the Middle East is diverting its focus, energy, time, and resources.

A Pakistani diplomat claimed that the US has not asked Islamabad anything regarding the conflict, but it is concerned about reports that Pakistan plans to go ahead with the stalled gas pipeline project with Iran. Therefore, Washington will be watching the Iranian president’s visit with great interest.

“Amb Blome conveyed the United States’ commitment to working with the government and people of Pakistan, underscoring that prosperity and security for Pakistan remains a top priority for the United States,” the US embassy said in its statement.

Amb Blome’s meeting adds an interesting layer, especially considering Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb’s ongoing discussions with the IMF in Washington on a potential follow-up programme to the previous $3 billion stand-by arrangement. The new IMF programme is believed to be crucial for the financially struggling country.

UN move

In a related development, Pakistan refrained from joining a UN move to condemn Iran’s attacks on Israel, signalling its desire to remain neutral on the issue.

On Wednesday, the United States and 47 other countries circulated a statement unequivocally condemning attacks on Israel by Iran “and its militant partners”.

During the weekend, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, although most were intercepted with the help of the United States, Britain, France, and Jordan.

The statement initiated by the US permanent mission to the UN urged nations across the globe to condemn the Iranian action. Britain, France, Germany, and 47 states supported the US move.

A statement distributed by Pakistan’s permanent mission on Thursday expressed deep concern over the ongoing developments in the Middle East.

It pointed out that for months, Pakistan has emphasised the necessity of international efforts to prevent the expansion of hostilities in the region and to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza.

On April 2, Pakistan condemned an Israeli attack on an Iranian consular office in Syria as “a major escalation in an already volatile region”.

The statement highlighted that latest developments in the Middle East were the consequences of diplomatic breakdown. “These also underscore the grave implications when the UN Security Council is unable to fulfil its responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security,” Pakistan warned.

Pakistan reminded the international community that it’s “critically urgent to stabilise the situation and restore peace” and urged “all parties to exercise utmost restraint and move towards de-escalation”.

The United States and its allies also condemned Iran’s seizure of a Portuguese-flagged commercial ship near the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday and called for the immediate release of the ship and its crew.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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