Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 5 News List

US, Pakistan see spirit of trust

DIALOGUEHillary Clinton said the US wanted a stronger relationship that goes beyond fighting militants, but acknowledged the two countries would not always see eye to eye

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US and Pakistan on Wednesday pledged to build a new spirit of trust after years of mutual recriminations, with Islamabad’s top diplomat saying that US suspicions have now evaporated.

However, officials from the former Cold War partners, holding a first-of-a-kind “strategic dialogue” in Washington, acknowledged a bumpy road lay ahead with the US cool to Pakistan’s more ambitious appeals for cooperation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the nations were starting a “new day” with the dialogue, which the US hoped would show the Pakistani public that it wants a relationship that goes beyond battling militants.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was visibly happy coming out of talks, saying that US officials and lawmakers were no longer questioning whether his country was two-faced in its fight against extremism.

“It’s a 180 degree difference,” he told a joint news conference with Clinton.

“There were no more question marks, there was no suspicion, there was no ‘do more,’” he said. “There was appreciation for what we had already done.”

Qureshi also said the US would pay by the end of June about US$2 billion which Pakistan says it is owed for its role in past military operations.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last year ordered a major offensive against homegrown Taliban extremists. Pakistan has also arrested a number of senior militants including the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who joined the dialogue, told a congressional hearing it was “extraordinary” to watch Pakistan’s growing realization that Islamic extremism poses an “existential threat.”

But many foreign officials and analysts have questioned Pakistan’s motivations in Afghanistan, believing it is more concerned about preserving influence than fighting the Taliban.

In Washington, there nonetheless has been growing unanimity on the need to engage Pakistan and assuage rampant anti-US sentiment.

The US Congress last year approved a five-year, US$7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan, hoping to chip away support for Islamic extremism by building schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.

Clinton said the US wanted to be a partner of Pakistan on a “full range of matters,” while acknowledging the two nations would not always see eye-to-eye.

“We have listened and we will continue to listen and we want to demonstrate by both word and deed our respect for Pakistan’s concerns and ideas and share our own. This is a dialogue that flows in both directions,” she said.

Clinton announced that the US would approve road and energy projects and let Pakistan International Airlines fly to Chicago. It will be the flag carrier’s second destination in the US after New York.

But the US appeared cool to some key items on Pakistan’s wish list.

Pakistan wants a civilian nuclear deal with the US similar to a landmark agreement reached by India. The rival nations stunned the world with nuclear tests in 1998.

Clinton said only that the US was dedicated to helping Pakistan “meet its real energy needs,” pointing to US$125 million in past support for civilian energy projects.

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