FM Qureshi meets Pompeo and NSA Bolton in Washington; bilateral relations discussed

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday met the US National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton at the White House, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said.

During the meeting, the minister and the adviser discussed bilateral relations between Pakistan and US. The regional situation in South Asia also came under discussion, Faisal said.

Qureshi then proceeded to the State Department, where he met US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for the second time. No details of the meeting were immediately made public by the Foreign Office.

According to Radio Pakistan, they discussed the Pakistan-US bilateral relations and the overall situation of South Asia, including the state of affairs in Afghanistan.

The two top diplomats first met in Islamabad last month as the United States approached the new Pakistani government to hear their views on the key issues that have strained decades-old ties between the two countries.

Qureshi today also met US Senators Cory Booker and Lindsey Graham.

In the meeting with Senator Booker, a member of the Senate's foreign relations committee, bilateral relations and the regional situation came under discussion. According to the FO spokesman, Booker said Pakistan's sacrifices in the war against terrorism "needed to be recognised".

Senator Graham and Qureshi also discussed Pakistan-US bilateral ties, and Afghanistan. The senator acknowledged the progress Pakistan had made in the erstwhile tribal areas, Faisal said in a tweet.

The foreign minister arrived in Washington late on Sunday from New York, where he represented Pakistan at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. He addressed the world body on September 29, underscoring Pakistan's efforts for regional peace and stability.

Pak-US relations and the Afghan dynamic

The US wants Pakistan to help create a situation conducive to the peaceful withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan without causing the collapse of the US-backed government in Kabul. It has concerns about China’s growing influence in the region, as well.

Pakistanis are willing to play a positive role in Afghanistan, particularly in persuading the Taliban to join the Afghan reconciliation process. But they want the US to address their concerns too, particularly about India’s growing influence in Afghanistan.

They also need US help for convincing India to resume peace talks with Pakistan. Islamabad hopes that Washington will also understand the importance of the Chinese economic corridor for Pakistan.

Pompeo, when asked at a recent briefing about the US decision to re-engage Pakistan, said Islamabad elected a new leader this July, and “(We) wanted to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries.”

It was during his Islamabad visit that Pompeo invited the Pakistani foreign minister to visit Washington for further talks.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the new US envoy for Afghanistan, told a US radio station last weekend that the Trump administration was ready to learn from the new Pakistani government how they want to address the main issue, Afghanistan.

“Pakistan says now that it wants to turn a new page; that it wants to help the US with this objective (Afghan reconciliation) that I outlined. And we’ll have to see,” he said. Asked how the two countries would overcome the lack of trust that prevents them from rebuilding ties, Khalilzad said: “It’s not about trust. I mean, we’re talking about international politics... trust is good, but, you know, you have to verify, and that would apply to a lot of states”.

Diplomatic observers in Washington see a genuine desire on both sides to rebuild ties but warn them to move “step by step, tackling the major issues first, if they want progress”, as one of them said.

And the foremost question before the Pakistani and US negotiators, according to these observers, would be to determine how to reset ties.

“Will it be a repeat of the same, old rhetoric or something new is also on the plate?” asked an observer. “If the Americans continue to ask Pakistan to do more and Pakistan insists that it has already done what the Americans want it to do, where will these talks go?”

He was referring to the US position that Pakistan needs to take more concrete steps against those Afghan Taliban — particularly the Haqqani Network — who use its territory for conducting attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan says that it has already eradicated all terrorist hideouts from the tribal areas and attacks in Afghanistan do not originate in the Pakistani territory.

The US also wants Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to join the Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistanis say that they are willing to do so, but there should be a general reconciliation too that improves relations between the US and Pakistan as well.

“No arm twisting. Normalise relations, expand cooperation and then work together in resolving the Afghan dispute,” said a Pakistani expert on US-Pakistan relations who did not want to be identified.



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