US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar at the London Conference on Somalia. – Reuters Photo

LONDON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after a meeting with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar here on Thursday that Pakistan was too important for her country to turn its back on.

Ms Clinton and Ms Khar spoke for an hour and a half on the sidelines of a conference on Somalia, in the first step towards thawing relations that were frozen in November when US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The US secretary of state said at a press conference that there would still be “ups and downs” in the relationship but that neither side could afford to shun the other.

“Building and sustaining a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect takes constant care and work, from both sides. I’m sure we will continue to have our ups and downs. But this relationship is simply too important to turn our back on — for both nations. And we both remain committed to continue working to improve understanding and cooperation.”

She said she had discussed with Ms Khar tackling violent extremism, supporting Afghan-led reconciliation and improving ties between their countries.

She spoke of “difficult times which I admit we are in”, adding that there had been “a lot of swirling in the air of who said what when that does not accurately reflect the state of the relationship”.

The meeting was an important chance to “keep the lines of communication open” and “the work hasn’t stopped”, she added.

Ms Clinton said she and the Pakistani foreign minister had a “constructive discussion on our common concerns” and both were committed to working to improve the strained ties. “We are continuing to do a lot of work together.”

She called for the resumption of a full range of formal contacts after Pakistan’s parliament completed a review of ties between the two countries.

Ms Clinton outlined to Ms Khar a series of steps the United States would like to see once the review was completed.

A US official said the steps included visits by top American diplomats, including the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, along with a return to trilateral talks with Afghanistan.

The official said the US would respect the parliamentary review but wanted to prepare for a return to “structured conversations” once it was completed.

US officials claimed “the foreign minister was very welcoming” when Ms Clinton told her that “we had to get ready to get back into business with Pakistan and that that was particularly important (on) areas such as counter-terrorism, working together on some of the regional questions, very much to include Afghanistan”.

“We respect the parliament’s right to consider US-Pakistan relations. We certainly respect the parliament’s right to take the time to do this in a sensible way,” an official said.—Agencies

Anwar Iqbal in Washington adds: The US State Department described the meeting between Hillary Clinton and Hina Rabbani Khar as ‘very positive’ and ‘constructive’.

State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing that despite a delay in finalisation of recommendations by Pakistan’s parliament, the US assistance to Pakistan had continued, as had “cooperation on many levels”.

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