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Kerry may visit Pakistan ahead of Strategic Dialogue

06 January, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States will have the exceptionally-significant Strategic Dialogue in the last week of this month and for the purpose the US Secretary of State John Kerry may visit Pakistan in the same week.

The two countries have decided to hold the Strategic Dialogue this month instead of March agreed upon earlier. The rendezvous for the dialogue is being worked out by the two capitals through mutual consultations. In case the US secretary of state doesn't travel to Pakistan, Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz will be visiting Washington in the last week of January. The Strategic Dialogue was stalled for the last three years and it was agreed by the two countries during the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the United States and his meeting with the US President Barrack Obama in October last that the dialogue would be resumed in March this year but it has been decided that the same would take place much before the agreed schedule.

Highly-placed diplomatic sources told that both the countries had constituted five working groups as part of yjr Strategic Dialogue, including Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism, Economics and Finance, Energy, Security, Strategic Stability and Non-Proliferation, and Defence Consultative Group.

Two groups namely Defence Consultative and Energy had their meetings in Washington in November last while the group dealing with Economics and Finance had its meeting in Islamabad last month. In all, four groups had completed their initial task and have submitted reports to their respective leaders.

The sources pointed out that John Kerry, who is extensively engaged in the region and visiting capitals of the Middle Eastern countries frequently, could come to Pakistan since it would be convenient for him. He will avail the opportunity to have a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his stay here and it would by their fifth meeting ever since Nawaz Sharif assumed the office of the prime minister. The sources reminded that in case Sartaj Aziz visited Washington, he too could have chance to call on President Obama. In the meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry has confirmed to this scribe in a brief chat that the schedule for the Strategic Dialogue has been advanced and talks would take place in the last week of this month.

It would be pertinent to note that the joint statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Barrack Obama at the conclusion of Nawaz Sharif's state visit to Washington pointed out that both sides welcomed the resumption of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and reaffirmed its importance as a suitable framework for guiding the bilateral relationship. On bilateral defence, the statement noted that both sides expressed satisfaction that the Ground Lines of Communication (GLC) were facilitating the movement of US and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) cargo through Pakistan.

Pakistan's energy constraints were also highlighted in the statement, which also referred to the meeting of the Working Group on Energy that took place in November and it was followed by a US-organised Pakistani trade mission to Houston, Texas, to meet with major US energy companies. The teams of the two countries prepared a US technical assistance programme to support the development of Pakistan's domestic natural gas reserves under the instruction of their leaders for facilitating the Working Group on Energy.

Obama gave an assurance that the United States would strongly support efforts to enlarge and strengthen Pakistan's economy, particularly in the energy sector, as this sector could play a critical role in ensuring the well-being and prosperity of the people of Pakistan. Obama also pledged continued support to help Pakistan address its energy shortfall, a key focus of the US assistance to Pakistan. The leaders emphasised that both sides should work together on a range of options to enable Pakistan to overcome its energy deficiencies and that both sides will hold further discussions in the working groups on Energy and Security, Strategic Stability, and Non-Proliferation.

The sources said that US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, who was in Washington, has also returned to Islamabad. It is understood that he had consultations with the State Department during his presence in his capital. He is likely to have important meetings with senior officials of the Foreign Office this week, the sources added.


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