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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

US seeks 'reset' in ties with Pakistan with Mike Pompeo trip

The two countries have been wrangling over how to tackle terrorists in Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a South Asian tour. Reuters
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a South Asian tour. Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hoping to "reset the relationship" with Pakistan before a trip to Islamabad to meet new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Speaking on a plane before a trip to South Asia, Mr Pompeo also announced that Zalmay Khalilzad, a high-profile former US ambassador, had been named to a new role to lead peace efforts in Afghanistan.

Mr Pompeo's conciliatory remarks come days after Washington confirmed plans to cancel $300 million (Dh1.1 billion) in military aid over Islamabad's lack of "decisive actions" in support of American strategy in the region.

But the former CIA director, who is making his first visit as his nation's top diplomat to the wayward ally whose support is vital in the long-running Afghan conflict, said it was time to "turn the page".

"So first stop – Pakistan. New leader there, wanted to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries," he said.

"There are lot of challenges between our two nations for sure but we're hopeful that with the new leadership that we can find common ground and we can begin to work on some of our shared problems together," said Mr Pompeo, who will be joined by Gen Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network that attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border between the two countries.

The White House believes that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have long helped fund and arm the Taliban for ideological reasons, but also to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan.

It also believes that a Pakistani crackdown could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the long-running war in Afghanistan.

But the secretary of state suggested that the election of Mr Khan, who has vowed to seek better relations with the US, could provide a fresh impetus

Imran Khan became Pakistan's prime minister last month after a 20-year effort. HANDOUT with EPA
Imran Khan became Pakistan's prime minister last month after a 20-year effort. HANDOUT with EPA

"Look, I think there is a new government this time, most of this took place long before the prime minister was in power and I hope we can turn the page and begin to make progress. But there are real expectations," he said.

"I'm hopeful we can convince them to provide that assistance." In his conversations with Mr Khan, they had agreed that peace in Afghanistan was a "shared goal", he said.

Mr Pompeo also held out the possibility military aid could be restored under the right circumstances.

"We were providing these resources when it made sense for the United States because the partnership was in a place where the actions of our two countries made sense to do that," he said. "If that arises again, I'm confident we'll present to the president the rationale for that."

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Mr Pompeo said he would also meet with Pakistan's powerful army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa as well as his own counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Qureshi.

The latest remarks represent a shift in tone towards the nuclear-armed country and its new prime minister, a cricket hero who came to office in July amid concerns he would remain tolerant of terror groups.

At the time of the vote, the US noted what it called "flaws" in Pakistan's pre-electoral process but said it was nonetheless ready to work with the new government.

Mr Pompeo also confirmed that Mr Khalilzad, who previously served as US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, would be appointed to lead peace efforts in Afghanistan.

"Ambassador Khalilzad is going to join the State Department team to assist us in the reconciliation effort, so he will come on and be the State Department's lead person for that purpose," he said.

Mr Pompeo will also travel to India where he will be joined by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to meet their Indian counterparts on a range of defence and trade issues.

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