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Pak, US try to narrow differences, officials meet

Reuters
Aug 03, 2011 at 02:34am IST

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Islamabad: The United States and Pakistan are working to smooth over travel curbs which Islamabad has imposed on US diplomats, a senior US official said on Tuesday, the latest strain in ties that have worsened since the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Pakistan says it has introduced the restrictions on US diplomats' movements around the country as a security measure but US officials say they smack of harassment.

"The government of Pakistan has some regulations ... and we are trying to figure out how to meet those requirements," US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said.

Pak, US try to narrow differences, officials meet

Pakistan has introduced the restrictions on US diplomats' movements around the country as a security measure.

"I am absolutely certain that we will be able to do so ... in a way that allows the government of Pakistan to meet its requirements and allow American diplomats to travel freely in Pakistan," he told reporters.

Grossman was speaking after talks with Pakistani and Afghan officials in Islamabad on coordinating efforts to end the violence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani foreign ministry officials say the restrictions -- requiring diplomats get "No Objections Certificates", or NoCs, from authorities before leaving Islamabad -- are neither new nor specific to U.S. officials. Rather, they are meant to ensure the security of diplomats in a country where Islamist militants have unleashed a campaign of bomb and suicide attacks.

The United States, however, says the Vienna Convention allows freedom of movement for diplomats, especially when travelling to its consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar.

Pakistan is a strategic ally of the United States, but relations have been on a downward spiral since US forces killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without informing Islamabad beforehand.

Pakistan reacted with fury to the May 2 raid, which it saw as a breach of its sovereignty, cutting back on US trainers in the country and placing limits on CIA activities. The latest travel curbs seem to be part of same punitive measures.

In a show of displeasure, the United States suspended about a third of its $2.7 billion defence aid to Pakistan last month.

President Asif Ali Zardari called at a meeting with Grossman on Monday for the United States and Pakistan to agree on "clear terms of engagement" to avert troubles in their ties.

Despite the tensions, the two sides have tried to avoid a breakdown in relations that would endanger the war effort in Afghanistan.

Both Grossman and Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir expressed support for "Afghan-owned" and "Afghan-led" reconciliation process to end violence in Afghanistan.

"From my perspective, this core group (of the three countries) highlights the unique work, the important work Pakistan must play in ... this reconciliation process," Grossman said.

Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Jawid Lodin said that reconciliation process was the "single most important priority" of the Afghan government as a strategy to bring peace to the country where the Taliban is waging war.

"We depend on the cooperation Pakistan can extend to us in terms of encouraging those elements in the leadership of the Taliban who can potentially be brought over to the reconciliation process," he said.

Lodin said that although the aim of bringing middle- and low-level Taliban commanders into the peace process had been effective, its top leadership also needed to join in.

"Some of them we have identified, we have contact with. But really the majority of the ones that really need to be brought into the peace process are the ones that we need to establish contact with," he said. "We need to identify with whom we can reconcile and how we approach them."

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