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Oct 13, 2009

Pakistan’s foreign minister pushes US on aid plan

WASHINGTON, Oct 13 (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration sought on Tuesday to allay Pakistani concerns over conditions tied to billions in non-military U.S. aid to Pakistan, but made clear the legislation would not be changed.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was in Washington last week applauding the $7.5 billion aid plan, was back on Capitol Hill on Tuesday after his country’s military protested the bill, which links some funds to fighting terrorism and is seen by critics as violating sovereignty.

Qureshi’s return underscores mistrust over U.S. intentions in Pakistan and the rift between the fragile civilian government and the country’s military leadership, who have ruled the nation for more than half of its 62-year history.

Lawmakers, while sympathetic to delicate Pakistani politics, made clear conditions attached to the aid, which still has to be appropriated by Congress, could not be eased.

But Senator John Kerry, one of the authors of the bill, said an attempt would be made in the next 24 hours to clarify in writing some of the terms of the legislation that he said had not been characterized accurately "in some quarters."

"The bill doesn’t have to be changed," Kerry said after meeting Qureshi. "If there is a misinterpretation, it simply has to be clarified."

The bill, which Kerry said was aimed as a "true sign of friendship" for Pakistan, provides for $1.5 billion in non-military aid over the next five years.

Reiterating the bill did not impinge on Pakistani sovereignty, Kerry said he was confident "we will not only be able to adequately address the concerns that have been raised in Pakistan, but we will provide a clarity that has force of law."

SOVEREIGNTY CONCERNS

Qureshi said he had conveyed to Kerry the sovereignty worries raised in Pakistan’s parliament and said these fears needed to be addressed.

"We are going to work on it collectively to give it the correct interpretation," Qureshi said.

In the House of Representatives, a spokesman for one of the appropriations subcommittees made clear the aid would be subject to annual review.

"The amount and type of assistance Pakistan receives will continue to be determined on a yearly basis by the performance of the Pakistanis in fighting al Qaeda, strict accountability of funding, and the fiscal realities facing our nation," said Matt Dennis, a spokeswoman for Rep. Nita Lowey, chair of the State and Foreign Operations appropriations subcommittee.

Before going to Capitol Hill, Qureshi met special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who had pushed Congress to pass the legislation. Qureshi was later set to meet national security advisor James Jones.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. president saw the legislation as an important step forward and planned to sign the bill into law "soon." He did not specify when.

"I think the opponents of this bill … are misinformed or are characterizing this in a different way for their own political purposes," Gibbs told reporters.

The United States is Pakistan’s biggest aid donor and needs nuclear-armed Pakistan’s help in hunting al Qaeda leaders and stopping Islamist militants crossing the border into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin said tensions over the aid package underlined the "trust deficit" that existed between the two countries. She said there needed to be strong diplomatic efforts to resolve this.

Pakistan expert Alex Thier said just as in the United States, Pakistan’s political leaders needed to balance their need for U.S. economic support with popular backing.

"This looks very dangerous, not only to the military, but also expands this narrative that the U.S. is trying to micromanage Pakistani security," said Thier of the U.S. Institute of Peace. (additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle)




Oct 8, 2009

Afghan envoy urges 40,000 more U.S. troops

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States urged the American public on Thursday to back proposals to send an additional 40,000 U.S. troops to his country, saying any less would not do the job.

Ambassador Said Jawad said he met senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus — who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — to give his government’s views on what was needed as President Barack Obama considers his options for Afghan strategy.

Oct 8, 2009

Pakistan wants U.S. “‘trust”, drones, market access

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As President Barack Obama discusses the U.S. strategy toward Pakistan with his top advisers Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign minister appealed for market access, military technology — and above all, trust.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi dismissed concerns that expanded U.S. aid to Pakistan had too many strings attached, but said the country’s wobbling economy needed more, in particular access for its goods to Western markets.

Oct 7, 2009

INTERVIEW: Pakistan wants U.S. “trust”, drones, market access

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As President Barack Obama discusses the U.S. strategy toward Pakistan with his top advisers on Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign minister appealed for market access, military technology — and above all, trust.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi dismissed concerns that expanded U.S. aid to Pakistan had too many strings attached, but said the country’s wobbling economy needed more, in particular access for its goods to Western markets.

Oct 5, 2009

Pakistan shows progress but gains tenuous: experts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – While much of the focus in Washington is a review of strategy in Afghanistan, the Obama administration also is assessing what Pakistan’s fragile civilian government has achieved so far and what must change.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday on a visit to Washington where he will also see key lawmakers who control the purse strings for billions of dollars in future U.S. aid.

Oct 1, 2009

U.S. Congress puts pressure on Obama over Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading Republican lawmakers on Thursday raised the pressure on President Barack Obama to make a decision on Afghanistan strategy, demanding his generals testify in Congress as the president weighs his next move.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates flatly rejected the request and said it was inappropriate as Obama decides how to turn around an increasingly unpopular war that his generals say will be lost without a clearer strategy and greater resources.

Sep 29, 2009

Fighting corruption key to future U.S. ties to Karzai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Concerned that its war strategy will be undermined by doubts over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s credibility, the Obama administration will put fighting corruption at the core of its future dealings with Kabul, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

Mounting Western casualties, fading American public support for the war and last month’s fraud-marred presidential election have exposed rifts within the U.S. administration over what strategy will work best to stem Taliban gains in the eight-year conflict.

Aug 4, 2009
via Tales from the Trail

Bill grabs spotlight from Hillary

Photo

For months, Bill Clinton has stayed out of the diplomatic spotlight in deference to his wife.But the former U.S. president has dominated the news since he turned up in North Korea seeking the release of two American journalists, while Hillary Clinton headed to Africa for her first major trip there as the top U.S. diplomat.Secretary of State Clinton stayed out of sight from reporters traveling with her on the 15-hour flight to Kenya. Her staff said she would not comment on her husband’s mission to Pyongyang, which the White House billed as private.“While the mission is in progress, we will have no comment. Our interest here is the successful completion of the mission and the safe return of the journalists,” said a senior U.S. official traveling with her.There has been talk in the State Department for weeks over who to send to North Korea to see leader Kim Jong-il and try to free the reporters.Most bets were on the other Bill — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — or Clinton’s vice president Al Gore. The reporters — Euna Lee and Laura Ling — worked for Gore’s California-based media outlet Current TV.¬†Reuters photo by Thomas Mukoya (¬†Hillary Clinton greeted by Kenya’s foreign minister in Nairobi on Aug. 4)

    • About Sue

      "Sue Pleming covers foreign policy, with a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. She joined Reuters in London in 1990 and was based in Brussels before moving to Washington, where her most recent post was covering the State Department. She started her journalism career in southern Africa and has also done reporting stints in Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi."
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