Pakistan US to hold talks next month: Bilawal Bhutto

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WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States will hold talks next month to explore possibilities of coordinating their efforts to combat terrorism, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Friday.

During his one-day stay in Washington to attend the annual prayer breakfast, the foreign minister had a separate meeting with US State Depart­ment’s counselor Derek Chollet as well who assured him that “the US stands with Pakistan in combating terrorism for the safety of all”.

Mr Chollet said in a tweet after the meeting that he conveyed his deep condolences to the Pakistani foreign minister on the recent bombing in Peshawar and “discussed progress towards Pakis­tan’s economic stability and flood recovery”.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that the talks focused on “terrorism and on Pakistan’s efforts” to recover from last summer’s devastating floods.

“We are grateful for the support we received from the US,” he said. “Not just for bilateral assistance but also for supporting the Geneva conference.”

Last month, Pakistan and the United Nations co-hosted a one-day conference in Geneva where Pakistan sought international support for its rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts. Pakistan raised about $9 billion at the conference, at least a billion more than it had asked for and the United States is believed to have helped Pakistan in achieving this target.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that when he visited Washington late last year, he was worried about raising funds for Pakistan’s flood recovery programs but the Americans “really helped, not just bilaterally” but also reached out to other nations and donors, encouraging them to help.

Talking about next month’s counterterrorism conference, the foreign minister said: “Terrorism is really becoming an issue, not just for Pakistan but for others too.” He said he discussed the issue with Russian officials as well, during his trip to Moscow last week.

“We, once again, need international coordination to combat terrorism,” he said. “The terrorists coordinate their actions with each other, why shouldn’t the forces combating terrorism do the same?”

“We, in Pakistan, have to deal with the TTP. China worries about ETIM. The United States is concerned about Al Qaeda while Russians too are focused on some groups. And they all need to coordinate their efforts,” he said. “The CT dialogue will be a good thing for engagement.”

Pakistan and the United States, he said, would also hold talks on poverty reduction, narcotics control and on some other issues next month.

Replying to a question about his visit to Russia, the foreign minister said: “We had a detailed conversation on many sectors, including energy.” The two sides, he said, discussed both “old and new proposals for purchasing oil and gas from Russia”. Asked if Pakistan was close to clenching an oil deal with Russia, he said, “the energy conversation is ongoing, it has not matured yet”.

The talks on energy cooperation with Russia, he said, were probing both short-term and long-term possibilities of buying oil from Moscow.

“Our desire is that we get oil from Russia at the same rate that India does but there are technical things that need to be sorted first,” he said. “That’s why it’s premature to talk about a deal.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah and the Pakistani foreign minister spoke at the luncheon, attended by a large number of delegates. “King Abdullah spoke very well,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said. “They played a clip of my mother as well.”

The foreign minister said he would return to the United States on March 8 to attend an international conference on Muslim women at the UN headquarters in New York.

Given the events in Afghanistan, the conference also “serves as a strong message to them that the Muslim world is not where they are,” he said.

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