Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani talking to US Senator Buck Mukeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who called on him at PM House. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: A visiting delegation of the powerful US House Armed Services Committee conveyed a veiled threat on Friday that Pakistan-US defence cooperation could be under cloud if the standoff persisted on the issue of immunity for Raymond Davis, an American national accused of killing two men in Lahore.

This was perhaps the strongest yet US message conveyed to Pakistani leaders.

“In a meeting today with Prime Minister Gilani, a bipartisan US congressional delegation protested the continued illegal detention of the American diplomat in Lahore,” a late-night press statement issued by the US embassy said.

Under diplomatic norms, protestations or differences during high-level interactions are not officially revealed to the press by foreign missions.

The statement said the delegation “called on the government of Pakistan to abide by its obligation under international and Pakistani law to recognise his diplomatic immunity, and immediately release him.”

The three-member delegation is led by Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Committee.

A source present at the meeting said the delegation’s protest was quite strongly worded and was being seen as a warning that bilateral defence cooperation could face problems if Davis was not granted immunity and released without delay.

A statement issued by the prime minister’s office said that while responding to US congressmen’s concern about the welfare of Davis, Mr Gilani assured them that he had been extended due facilities and security by the Punjab government.

The matter, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said, was sub judice and would be decided by court.

A US embassy spokesperson did not respond to a question regarding the nature of the protest.

The government has so far been shying away from taking a clear position on the issue of immunity because of political and diplomatic considerations in addition to the legal complexities in the case.

The US House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for funding and oversight of defence spending and legislations relating to defence, would soon begin deliberations on the promised $2 billion military and security aid for Pakistan.

Additionally, millions of dollars in Coalition Support Fund, which is primarily reimbursement of expenditures incurred in support of US operations, are still outstanding.