Turn a page and move forward, Bolton urges Pakistan

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WASHINGTON: The White House has said that the United States still believes the inception of a new government in Pakistan provides an opportunity to “turn a page and move forward” — towards rebuilding a strong relationship between the two countries.

On Oct 2, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Washington on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s invitation. He held separate meetings with Mr Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton before flying back to Islamabad.

Mr Bolton — while briefing the media on the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism on Thursday afternoon — described the talks as productive but gave few details of the discussions that Secretary Pompeo and he had in their meetings with Mr Qureshi.

Negotiations held with FM Qureshi described as productive

When asked if they talked about the suspension of US security aid to Pakistan and the progress made by Islamabad in the fight against terrorism, Mr Bolton said: “I discussed that with Foreign Minister Qureshi. We had a very productive meeting. He had a very productive meeting, I hear, from Mike Pompeo, as well, later in the day”.

He said: “We certainly talked about the suspension of security assistance and the importance that we placed on Pakistan renewing an effective campaign against the terrorists”.

The talks, he said, covered a wide range of other issues, as well. “But I think one of the things we wanted to stress, following up on Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan just a few weeks ago, was that we hope with a new government there, that we might be able to turn a page and move forward.”

Mr Bolton said that Secretary Pompeo and he had two “important opening meetings” with the Pakistan foreign minister in Washington.

“I think he believed they were successful, and so we’re going to continue the discussion and see what conclusion we might be able to reach,” he said.

Asked about Mr Qureshi’s handshake with US President Donald Trump in New York last week, which some Pakistani media outlets described as a meeting, Mr Bolton said: “I wasn’t at the luncheon, so I don’t know, but if the foreign minister had come up to introduce himself and shake his hand, I’m sure the president would have shaken his hand”.

Responding to another question, Mr Bolton said that Secretary Pompeo and he did discuss the release of Dr Shakil Afridi — who facilitated the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad — with Mr Qureshi.

“In terms of Afridi, yes, he was the subject of discussion between Secretary Pompeo and myself, we pretty well covered the waterfront of issues, and we’re glad to do it,” he said.

Mr Qureshi also addressed this issue at a news conference on Wednesday but rejected the suggestion that he had offered to release Dr Afridi in an interview with Fox News.

“I said you look at Dr Afridi in a certain way. Our people look at Dr Afia Siddiqui in a certain way. You have expectations. They have expectations too. They also want Dr Siddiqui’s released.”

The foreign minister said that Pakistan had followed a legal process in dealing with Dr Shakil Afridi and “as we respect your legal system, we expect you to show the same respect to our system”.

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