'Court will decide Davis case as Obama steps in'

`Court will decide Davis case as Obama steps in` Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday said the fate of the US official, arrested for gunning down two men would be decided by the courts, amid reports that Washington and Islamabad had come close to resolving the stand-off over the issue.

"The matter is for the courts to decide or if the relatives of the dead men grant pardon," Gilani said as US President Barack Obama in his first comment on the matter raised the stakes by insisting Pakistan should adhere to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by freeing Raymond Davis.

The comments from the Prime Minister came as the Lahore High Court hearing the case of the diplomat is to take up several petitions including from the government on the diplomatic immunity for the official tomorrow.

The Davis case has become a flashpoint between Pakistan and the US, triggering anti-American sentiments in the country, which is making it harder for authorities to back down despite US pressure.

Media reports quoting unnamed Pakistani officials claimed that the two countries, after weeks of a tense stand- off, were near an arrangement to repatriate the US official and that Pakistan government would concede in the court that he qualified for diplomatic immunity.

To make matters tougher for the government, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, miffed over his ouster from the foreign office, claimed that Davis could not be granted "blanket immunity" as desired by the Americans.

The minister said he was ready to testify in the court, if he was called, in connection with the matter.

The PPP leader said the expert opinion that Davis was not qualified for diplomatic immunity to Davis was formulated at an inter-ministerial meeting held by the Foreign Office.

Hours after the media report and Qureshi's comments made at a press conference, the Foreign Office contradicted that the government had made any pronouncement to the question of immunity of Davis.

"The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry has contradicted reports appearing in the media about any pronouncement, public or official, made by the Foreign Ministry relating to the question of immunity of Raymond Allen Davis," said a brief statement issued by the Foreign Office.

"Speculation in this regard is unfounded," it said.

Conceding that Pakistan was facing "difficult decisions" on the issue and that there may be a political price to pay, Gilani told a gathering of clerics that the decision on the matter would be of the court only.

"We are facing difficult decisions. There is a political price. If we take it, then the people do not support us, and if we don't do it, the world does not support us," Gilani added.

"We are caught between the devil and the deep sea. This needs wisdom. We will do whatever is in the interest of the country and the nation," Gilani said against a backdrop of increasing US pressure to free Davis.

A White House envoy, Senator John Kerry, who is in Pakistan tendered a public apology for the death of the two Pakistani men, and said Davis' conduct would be looked into by the US Justice Department, once he returns after release.

Kerry had a flurry of meetings with top Pakistani officials, including Gilani, conveying to them Obama's message on the issue.

At a news conference earlier, Obama said: "With respect to Mr Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan, we've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future".

"We expect Pakistan, that's a signatory should recognise Mr Davis as a diplomat, to abide by the same convention," Obama said.