Monday, February 14, 2011

U.S. puts off trilateral meet

ISLAMABAD: As expected — given the rising tensions between the United States and Pakistan over the arrest of an American embassy functionary in Lahore — the U.S. on Saturday night announced the postponement of the trilateral meeting in Washington with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though no fresh dates have been announced, the U.S. State Department said it would be convened at the earliest opportunity.

The reason cited for the postponement was the political changes in Pakistan late last week. After a federal Cabinet overhaul, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who had presided over the Foreign Ministry for the past three years, was shown the door.

According to the U.S. State Department, the trilateral meeting on Afghanistan — scheduled for February 23 and 24 — was postponed in consultation with Afghan and Pakistani officials. Seeking to quell speculation, the statement added that the U.S. remained 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”.

Ahead of the announcement, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had hinted at such a possibility, saying the dates had been changed more than once and “the trilateral is most likely being rescheduled”. However, he did not link it to the stand-off with the U.S. over the arrest of American embassy functionary Raymond Davis for shooting down two “armed” men.

Maintaining that Pakistan would be ready for the trilateral meeting whenever it took place, Mr. Bashir said it would be extremely counter-productive if one person destroyed a 60-year relationship. “Our effort is to ensure that the Lahore incident is not blown out of proportion and hope that nothing will be said or done that will be detrimental to U.S.-Pak ties.”

Asked to comment on the departure of Mr. Qureshi and its impact on the forthcoming ministerial level engagement with India, Mr. Bashir said: “Nobody is permanent. Mr. Qureshi played a very important role in promoting the process of dialogue with India but we are all dispensable individually.”

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