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March 29, 2012

US not ready to halt drone attacks

March 29, 2012

SEOUL: The United States has plainly told Pakistan that it would not be possible for it to halt the drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan anytime soon. This was conveyed in the high-level meeting of the two countries that took place here on Tuesday.

The meeting between Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and US President Barack Obama lasted more than the scheduled time but both sides stuck to their respective positions. The US president was unyielding on the use of drones. Pakistan, on its part, made it clear that it wouldn't accept the continuation of the drone attacks since they are proving counterproductive. The US insisted that the drone attacks would be helpful in eliminating terror, the common agenda of the two countries.

Well-placed sources privy to the talks told The News here on Wednesday that they took place in a cordial atmosphere but the two sides were not ready to show flexibility on this sensitive issue. Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, former minister of state Syed Samsam Hussain Bukhari and Pakistan's chief negotiator on nuclear issues Ambassador Masood Khan assisted Prime Minister Gilani.

President Obama showed keen interest in the parliamentary review of Pakistan's relations with the United States. He obviously was interested in an early restoration of Nato supplies through Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani put across Pakistan's viewpoint and insisted that its response would be shaped in the light of parliament's decision. He emphasised that it is the considered view of the government that everything with regard to relations with the United States would be done within the ambit of parliament's decision. He told his interlocutor that Pakistan would not allow any one to bypass the political leadership of the country and that there is no question of any clandestine deal between the two in any eventuality. Everything would be undertaken transparently and in

accordance with the principles of mutual respect and equality. The US side was a bit surprised over Pakistan's plain talking, the sources said.

The sources said that the Pakistan Embassy in Washington is strictly following the rules in issuing visas for the Americans. Pakistan has provided documentary evidence to the US authorities about the activities of US personnel in the sensitive areas of Pakistan. The two leaders agreed to allow continuation of interaction between the two governments on established diplomatic norms and channels. Pakistan has not given any green signal for the speculated visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US President's special representative for the region Marc Grossman next month. Instead, there exists the possibility that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will pay an official visit to the United States in the near future, the sources said.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Washington has decided to restore normal channels of contacts and communications with Pakistan on an urgent basis. The subjects coming in the purview of the Parliamentary review would not be touched till parliament takes a decision. The US authorities have made up their mind to remove bottlenecks in fulfilling the fiscal commitments with Pakistan. The outstanding amount under coalition support fund (CSF) and Kerry-Lugar bill would be released in phases and likewise other payments would also be cleared without allowing further delay. An important official of the US Treasury Department (Under Secretary Tom) will visit Pakistan next week to meet senior Pakistani officials. He is expected to arrive in Islamabad on April 4. The Centcom chief and commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan are already currently visiting Pakistan.

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