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US postpones talks with Afghanistan, Pakistan

The trilateral annual talks had been scheduled for February 23-24 in the US.

Updated: Feb 13, 2011, 08:59 AM IST

Washington: High-level talks between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan set for this month have been postponed, the State Department said on Saturday amid a growing crisis sparked by the arrest of an American accused of murder.

The trilateral annual talks, in which ministers and other top officials outline progress on issues such as the war in Afghanistan and the campaign against extremism, had been scheduled for February 23-24 in Washington.

Their postponement -- with no new date announced -- marked the latest blow to strained US ties with Pakistan, where police on Friday rejected the American`s self-defence claim and accused him of cold-blooded murder as a court extended his remand.

"In light of the political changes in Pakistan and after discussions with Afghan and Pakistani officials in Washington, it was agreed to postpone the Trilateral Meeting," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.

"We look forward to convening a very productive Trilateral Meeting at the earliest opportunity," he said, adding that Washington remains "committed to robust engagement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, as we share many issues of mutual concern and benefit from being at the same table."

A diplomatic crisis has boiled up in recent weeks between Washington and Islamabad over the detention of the American, Raymond Davis, and the United States has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to free him.

On January 27, he shot two Pakistani motorcyclists under disputed circumstances. The US consulate general in Lahore sent a vehicle to recover Davis, but it ran over and killed a third Pakistani man before fleeing the scene.

Davis told police after his arrest that he acted in self-defence because he feared the men were trying to rob him.

On Friday, police rejected the self-defence claim and a judge in the eastern city of Lahore ordered Davis be held in prison for 14 days.

The weak and unpopular Pakistani government is under enormous pressure at home to see Davis put on trial, in a country awash with anti-American sentiment.

About 500 protesters on Friday demanded that Davis be hanged.

US lawmakers have threatened to cut payments to Pakistan, the beneficiary of USD 7.5 billion of aid and USD 2 billion in military aid, and Washington had warned that the high-level dialogue was at risk unless Davis is freed.

On Wednesday, Crowley did not rule out that the trilateral talks could be affected.

"We want to have a productive meeting. And if there`s a reason why we don`t think the meeting will be productive, we`re prepared to make adjustments," Crowley said when reporters pressed him about potential fallout from the case.

"But if we do make those decisions, we`ll let you know," he added.

Last weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to meet Pakistan`s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at a conference in Munich to show displeasure over the case, according to a diplomat familiar with the issue.

US officials have told Pakistan that the case of the imprisoned American "has to be resolved before we can move to a higher level of discussion," the diplomat said.

ABC News claimed US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon had threatened to expel Pakistan`s ambassador to Washington, shut US consulates and cancel a forthcoming visit by the Pakistani president if Davis is not released.

But the US embassy and the Pakistani ambassador, Husain Haqqani, denied the report. Haqqani said: "At no stage has any threat been made to me by any US official at any level and our dialogue continues."

Bureau Report