WASHINGTON: While confirming that US President Barack Obama will have a closed-door meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday, the White House said that proposed economic reforms for Pakistan would be on top of their agenda.
The reforms, proposed by the IMF and World Bank, aim at speeding up economic recovery and are strongly supported by Washington.
President Zardari arrived in the US on Thursday to attend a memorial service in Washington for Special US Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who died last month.
The late envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan was considered Mr Zardari’s strongest supporter in the US capital.
“President Obama will meet President Zardari of Pakistan here at the White House tomorrow,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington.
“The two leaders will discuss aspects of the US-Pakistan strategic partnership, including our mutual commitment to economic reform, support for democracy and good governance and joint efforts to combat terrorism,” the White House spokesman said.
“The meeting is closed-press and we’re going to do some still stuff out of it,” he added. Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the inclusion of proposed economic reforms in the agenda for the Obama-Zardari meetings is significant.
Last week, when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani withdrew an increase in fuel prices, which were part of the proposed reforms, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly called it a “mistake”.
She warned that the move could “reverse the progress that was being made to provide a stronger economic base for Pakistan” and pledged to “continue to express that opinion”.
Meanwhile, US scholar Bruce Riedel, who headed the team which formulated the Obama administration’s current policy for the Pak-Afghan region, has said that 2011 will be President Obama’s Pakistan year.
Other US officials, who spoke to the media on Thursday, also emphasised this point. They noted that ahead of his recent historic visit to India, Mr Obama invited Mr Zardari to Washington and promised to visit Pakistan in 2011.
They also noted that the Oval Office meeting between the two presidents would take place just two days after US Vice President Joe Biden met Mr Zardari and other Pakistani officials in Islamabad.
President Zardari will also have a detailed meeting with Secretary Clinton and other senior members of the Obama cabinet on Friday when issues like economic reforms, the US support for the democratic process and the US demand for uprooting Taliban hideouts from Fata would be discussed more thoroughly.