Mr Bashir and his delegation would meet officials at the State Department on April 20-21, US diplomatic sources told Dawn. — File Photo

WASHINGTON: Efforts to improve US-Pakistan relations begin in earnest later this month with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s visit to Washington which hopefully will lead to the strategic dialogue and a presidential visit to the US. Mr Bashir and his delegation would meet officials at the State Department on April 20-21, US diplomatic sources told Dawn.

Both sides are expected to prepare the agenda for the next round of strategic dialogue likely to be held in Islamabad in May.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to lead the US team to the dialogue and Pakistani officials are hoping that the dialogue will pave the way for President Asif Ali Zardari’s first official visit to Washington in June.

“We obviously remain engaged with Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism and extremism. And our counter-terrorism efforts are critical to that progress,” said the State Department’s deputy spokesman, Mark Toner. “We’re also trying to work with Pakistan to build their institutions and strengthen their democracy in order to create a better, more prosperous future for the Pakistani people.”

Relations between the two countries — strained after a month-long detention of a CIA contractor in Pakistan — received another jolt earlier this week when a White House report accused Pakistan of failing to curb extremists.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Pakistan foreign ministry said that Islamabad did not agree with the Obama administration’s assessment of its role in the fight against extremists.

The Pakistani official also said that most of the comments in the report that the White House sent to Congress were unwarranted.

The State Department official refused to comment on the Pakistani response but noted that the US had “talked about some of the challenges that they face”.

The US administration, he said, underlined the “existential threats” that Pakistan faced from terrorism and also had emphasised the need to confront those threats.

“And we’re trying to work with them in a cooperative fashion to tackle those challenges,” Mr Toner said.

Other US officials, while noting that the media only had highlighted certain aspects of the White House assessment, pointed out that the report also stated that in Pakistan the US was “laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programmes.”

The White House report, the official added, also included an assurance from the Obama administration that it would continue the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue and sustain senior level engagement.

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