US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. — Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: US Ambassador Cameron Munter arrived in Washington on Monday for consultations aimed at reducing tensions with Pakistan as a senior US envoy regretted civilian casualties in drone attacks in Fata.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that Pakistan’s strong reaction to the March 17 drone attack in North Waziristan, which killed more than 40 people, would figure prominently in the talks.

Pakistan summoned Ambassador Munter to the Foreign Office a day after the attack and lodged a strong protest over the drone strike and later sent a similar note to the US State Department.

The March 17 attack was the most lethal since August 2008 when the covert campaign escalated in the areas bordering Afghanistan, and the seventh such attack in nine days.

The strike led to a rare public condemnation by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who said that the US drone “carelessly and callously targeted” a peaceful meeting of tribal elders.

Pakistan’s reaction was registered in Washington and causing US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman to regret civilian deaths.

A transcript released by the State Department on Monday quoted him as telling journalists: “When civilians are killed, we regret it. We deeply regret it.”

The purpose of US military actions in the tribal regions, Mr Grossman said, was not to attack Pakistan.

“No, it’s not a war against Pakistan. The question is, for what purpose is the effort being made in Pakistan? And it seems to me … the effort is being made for a stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan.”

One of the objectives of this effort, he said, was to provide security for Pakistanis and the other was to provide economic, social and political opportunities to them.

“It’s hard work. And we don’t always agree, but getting the security piece of this right and fighting the terrorism and extremism is extremely important,” he said. Mr Grossman, however, did not deviate from the US policy of not acknowledging its involvement in the drone attacks and refused to discus ‘specific operations’.

“I can’t discuss all the aspects of every bit of this cooperation,” he said. “If the object is protecting people and improving their lives, that’s a worthwhile endeavour,” he added. Mr Grossman said the United States was focusing on the greater objective of building a strategic partnership with Pakistan.

“I’m not going to answer about this military problem, this military approach or that military approach,” he said. “I’m not even going to answer about all of the cooperation that we have with the Pakistanis.”

But he said that “the purpose of the relationship is to make Pakistanis more secure, and Americans and Europeans more secure, and to make Pakistanis more prosperous, that’s something we’re after.”

Without specifically mentioning the March 17 incident, he twice said that: “We deeply regret civilian casualties when they happen, anywhere, and certainly, and certainly it’s an important thing to say out loud, to regret those casualties.”

Pakistani diplomats in Washington noted that Mr Grossman’s statement indicated the Obama administration’s willingness to meet a key Pakistani condition for resuming trilateral talks with the United States and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had conveyed to the US ambassador in Islamabad Pakistan’s decision to not participate in a trilateral meeting which was to be held in Brussels on March 26.

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