Pakistan, US agree to build on improvement in ties


ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States agreed on Wednesday to keep up the momentum of improvement in bilateral relations through high-level engagements and stronger counterterrorism cooperation.

“The two leaders agreed to maintain high-level engagements to strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest,” the Prime Minister Office said in a statement after US Vice President Mike Pence’s telephonic conversation with PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Mr Pence told Mr Abbasi that the US wanted to “further build this relationship” for peace in the region.

This was the second call from a senior US leader to PM Abbasi in as many days. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called a day earlier.

Vice President Pence, PM Abbasi speak by phone

The calls precede Secre­tary Tillerson’s expected visit to the region next week. Mr Tillerson will visit Pakistan during the trip that will also take him to India, a senior official at the State Department was quoted by Reuters as saying on Wednesday.

The relations between Pakistan and the US have witnessed marked improvement over the past few weeks following a series of recent interactions, including PM Abbasi and VP Pence’s meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York; Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s visit to Washington, where he met Secretary Tillerson and a visit by a US interagency delegation led by Lisa Curtis, Deputy Assistant to US President and Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council, to Islamabad.

The tone of US leaders on Pakistan too has significantly softened as could be noticed during Mr Tillerson’s speech on Indo-US ties on Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think-tank.

The safe recovery of US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her family by Pakistani security forces on intelligence provided by the US has come to epitomise the resumed counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.

“Vice President Pence thanked the government of Pakistan and praised the professionalism of the Army and the intelligence agencies for the swift response and safe recovery of the US national Caitlin Coleman, her husband Joshua Boyle and their three children,” the PMO said.

President Trump, while hailing the recovery of the American family, had earlier described it as “a positive moment” in Pak-US ties.

Talking to VP Pence, PM Abbasi said Pakistan would continue to act on “actionable intelligence” provided by the US.

Vice President Pence, the PMO said, also accepted the invitation of the prime minister to visit Pakistan in the near future.

A statement released by the White House press office said Mr Pence emphasised the need for a “continued and sustained cooperation” against militants.

It said Mr Pence thanked the Pakistani prime minister for his government’s assistance in recovering US and Canadian hostages that were being held captive by the Haqqani Taliban network.

The statement also underlined the point that the militants were “being held in the tribal areas of Pakistan”.

Vice President Pence noted this effort as an important development in Pakistan’s support to the US strategy against terrorism in the region, “but highlighted that cooperation against militant groups must be continued and sustained,” the White House said.

Mr Pence also recalled his meeting with Mr Abbasi on the sidelines of the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York last month when the two leaders stressed the need for the two allies to stay engaged for resolving the issues that had strained the US-Pakistan relationship.

“Just as he did during the meeting the two had in New York last month, the Vice President again discussed ways that Pakistan could work with the United States and others to bolster stability and security for all in South Asia,” the White House said.

Unusual for a telephone call to a foreign leader, the White House also mentioned Mr Pence’s call to Prime Minister Abbasi in its daily schedule. The schedule said that “the Vice President will participate in a phone call with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Pakistan,” indicating that it was more than a one-on-one call between the two leaders.

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