Pakistan’s President may visit US next month

White House confirms that US President has invited his Pak counterpart.

Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari may visit the United States next month in a bid to firm up US’ support for the democratic set-up in Pakistan, a media report said on Friday.

The White House has confirmed that President Barack Obama invited Zardari to Washington during a meeting with a Pakistani delegation led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday.

The Dawn newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Zardari could make the trip next month.

The White House also said that in an earlier meeting with his war cabinet, Obama and his team discussed America`s relationship with Pakistan in the context of this week`s Strategic Dialogue in Washington.

The meeting reviewed "our security cooperation, the need to increase pressure on extremist safe havens, our support for the Pakistani people and their democratic institutions, and our efforts to help Pakistan recover from the devastating floods," the White House said.

In their meeting, Obama and the Pakistani delegation "agreed on the need for regional stability, and specifically on the importance of cooperating towards a peaceful and stable outcome in Afghanistan," a senior White House official told reporters.

Pakistan`s Ambassador Husain Haqqani told the Pakistani media that Obama`s decision to drop in during a meeting of the core group of Pakistani officials with the incoming US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was "not pre-announced but it was pre-planned".

He described it as "the best ever" meeting between a US President and a Pakistani delegation during which Obama conveyed his "unequivocal support to Pakistan and its democracy".

Obama, Haqqani said, regretted the mistakes the US made in the past while dealing with Pakistan and assured the delegation that Washington will not repeat those mistakes.

The US media, however, gave a different version of this meeting.

The prestigious Foreign Policy magazine reported that Obama "personally delivered the tough love message that other top administration officials have been communicating since the Pakistani delegation arrived".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped in unannounced at another meeting between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

She delivered "the message that Washington`s patience is wearing thin with Pakistan`s ongoing reluctance to take a more aggressive stance against militant groups operating from Pakistan over the Afghan border," the report said.

"A similar message was delivered to Gen Kayani in another high-level side meeting on Wednesday morning at the Pentagon, hosted by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm Michael Mullen," the magazine said.

"The message being delivered to Pakistan throughout the week by the Obama team is that its effort to convince Pakistan to more aggressively combat groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Toiba will now consist of both carrots and sticks," the report added.

"But this means that the US administration must find a way to incentivise both the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, which have differing agendas and capabilities," the report added.

"The Obama side is calculating that Pakistan`s military can deliver on subjects important to the US but doesn`t want to, while the civilian leadership in Pakistan wants to, but isn`t able," said one high-level participant who spoke with the magazine.

A State Department official confirmed to Foreign Policy that the two sides would formally announce on Friday a new USD 2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, focusing mostly on items that could be used for counter-terrorism.

"In exchange, the US not only wants increased Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan and Balochistan, but also increased operational flexibility for US special forces operating inside Pakistan`s borders," the report claimed.


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