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Cameron and Zardari seek to repair UK-Pakistani ties
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron met President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday at the start of talks in which he was expected to pledge Britain's support for Pakistan as the two countries try to repair a diplomatic row.
Cameron invited Zardari, who is on a five-day visit to Britain, to dinner on Thursday at his Chequers official country residence -- the first foreign leader to be accorded the honor since Cameron took power in May, according to aides.
Formal talks on Friday will focus on strengthening cooperation in countering terrorism, a spokesman for Cameron said.
"It is an important opportunity to reinforce the strong links between the UK and Pakistan and continue to support stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Pakistan," the spokesman said.
Cameron angered Pakistan when he said on a visit to India last week that Pakistan must not "look both ways" in its approach to Islamic militants.
His remarks came days after U.S. military reports published on the WikiLeaks website detailed concerns Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency had aided Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's spy chief canceled a trip to Britain in protest at Cameron's remarks. The row has raised fears of reduced intelligence cooperation between London and Islamabad, seen as vital in preventing acts of terrorism in Britain.
CAMERON STANDS BY COMMENTS
Zardari told French newspaper Le Monde this week he hoped his meeting with Cameron would help dispel a "serious crisis."
Cameron has said he stands by his comments.
Zardari's decision to visit France and Britain when more than 1,600 people have been killed in Pakistan's biggest floods in 80 years has angered many Pakistanis.
But in an apparent attempt to appease anger, his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, canceled plans to attend a rally for British Pakistanis in the city of Birmingham on Saturday, saying he would stay in London to organize donations for flood victims.
The Oxford University graduate and son of the late Benazir Bhutto had been widely expected to speak at the rally, prompting criticism Zardari was using the trip to promote the family dynasty. Zardari himself is still due to attend the event.
"It has been stated that I am going to launch my political career this Saturday in Birmingham. This is not true," he said.
"In fact, I will not even be attending the event and instead I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistani High Commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged northern Pakistan," he said in a statement.
Cameron's spokesman said he and Zardari would discuss the international response to the floods on Friday and what more Britain could do to help. Britain has donated 10 million pounds ($15.8 million) for flood relief efforts.
Britain is a major aid donor to Pakistan, having pledged 665 million pounds to Pakistan from 2009-2013, and nearly a million people of Pakistani origin live in Britain.
Cameron and Zardari will also discuss the situation in Afghanistan, where Britain has 9,500 soldiers, the second largest foreign contingent after the United States.
Zardari risked widening the rift with Cameron on Tuesday by saying the U.S.-led coalition was losing the war in Afghanistan -- a view Cameron said he disagreed with.
Cameron wants British combat troops home from Afghanistan within five years, reflecting Britons' growing weariness with the war that has killed 327 of the country's soldiers.
Cameron and Zardari were also likely to discuss how to boost trade between their two countries, Cameron's spokesman said.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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