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U.S., Pakistan Optimistic About Improving Relations After Talks

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi (right) with meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Islamabad on September 5.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi (right) with meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Islamabad on September 5.

U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed optimism about the possibility of improved relations after a meeting between top U.S. officials and Pakistan's new prime minister.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late on September 5 that he was "hopeful" of resetting the troubled U.S. relationship with Pakistan after he met with Imran Khan and other senior officials in Islamabad.

"I'm hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success," he said as he departed Pakistan, though he added there is a "long way to go" before Washington would resume military assistance.

The Pentagon announced it was canceling $300 million in aid a week before Pompeo's visit in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on Pakistan to contribute more to U.S. and Afghan efforts to defeat the Taliban or forge a peaceful settlement with the militant group.

Khan, after meeting with Pompeo, also voiced hope for a fresh start after a year of increasing tensions between the longtime allies.

"You know, I'm a born optimist," said Khan, a former star cricket player who was sworn in last month. "A sportsman always is an optimist. He steps on the field and he thinks he's going to win."

In his victory speech following Pakistan's July 25 elections, Khan said he wanted a new relationship with the United States but said Pakistan would not participate in the U.S. war on terror and will push for a peaceful end to the protracted war in Afghanistan.

Pompeo said that he and Khan discussed a "broad spectrum" of topics, including efforts "to develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan."

U.S. officials accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to help defeat militant groups like the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, which they claim have found safe harbors in areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

U.S. intelligence officials say Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have even helped fund and arm the Taliban, both for ideological reasons and to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan. Islamabad has denied the accusations.

"We've still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had," Pompeo said, especially on "the work that we all know that we need to do to try to develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan that benefits certainly Afghanistan, but also the United States and Pakistan."

Pompeo's counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told reporters the meetings were "positive," adding this was largely because the United States and Pakistan now agree that, in Afghanistan, "there is no military solution. We will have to go toward a political solution."

He also said Pompeo's comments hinted that the United States may be considering direct talks with the Taliban -- something Washington has refused to do in the past, insisting talks should be between the militants and the Afghan government.

Washington signaled a possible change in policy in July amid reports that U.S. officials met with Taliban representatives in Doha.

Pompeo said before his visit that the talks would focus on engaging Pakistan more in efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban. The canceled military aid was seen as a move aimed at pressuring Pakistan's military, which is widely viewed as controlling the country's foreign and defense policies.

While in Islamabad, Pompeo met with Pakistan's powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for talks that were joined by General Joe Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Pompeo has held out the possibility that the military aid cuts could be restored under the right circumstances.

The $300 million payment that was cut was part of a fund set aside to reimburse Pakistani spending on counterterrorism operations and to pay Islamabad for allowing U.S. and other NATO supplies to be transported through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

When Khan was Pakistan's opposition leader, he often criticized the government's reliance on U.S. aid. He and his supporters once briefly stopped trucks supplying fuel and other goods to U.S. and NATO troops from crossing into Afghanistan to protest U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border.

Pompeo spent just a few hours in Pakistan before traveling on to New Delhi, where he will be joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to meet with Indian counterparts on a range of defense and trade issues.

The U.S. officials are expected to press India to honor U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia's military and not buy Russian military equipment or Iranian oil.

The United States this year pulled out of Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and has warned other countries, including India, they must stop buying oil from Tehran before November 4 or face U.S. sanctions.

India has been a major buyer of Iranian oil. It has also been the world's top importer of defense goods and is seeking an exemption from U.S. sanctions on Russia's military and intelligence sectors so it can purchase new systems from Moscow, including its S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

A bill enacted last month would give the U.S. president authority to waive sanctions for countries like India that are developing a defense relationship with the United States.

But a top U.S. official, citing concerns about India's planned purchase of the S-400 systems, recently warned that India is not guaranteed to get an exemption from the sanctions.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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