U.S. seeks to re-engage Pakistan with envoy visit
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's top envoy for Pakistan will arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday for two days of meetings aimed at resetting the two countries' fractious relationship after a series of damaging setbacks.
The State Department said Ambassador Marc Grossman would hold bilateral meetings with Pakistani officials and take part in a "core group" meeting with officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the United States is hoping to revive stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Grossman's trip was aimed "deepening and broadening" the conversation between Washington and Islamabad after a Pakistani parliamentary review of the relationship which laid out a series of demands including an end to U.S. drone strikes.
"We've begun our process of re-engaging with the Pakistani government to work through the issues that have come up during the review, so this will be an effort to really take up those issues one at a time and see how we work through them," Nuland told a news briefing.
Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been on a visit to Europe, Turkey and the Gulf to discuss Afghanistan, where most NATO troops are due to pull out in 2014.
Pakistan's parliament earlier this month approved recommendations from its national security committee on ties with the United States, which have lurched from crisis to crisis as the two governments spar over security, assistance and the future of Afghanistan.
The Pakistani review demanded an end to drone strikes -- a symbol for many Pakistanis of U.S. arrogance -- and an apology for a November 26 cross-border NATO air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and plunged already troubled ties to their lowest point in years.
The United States provides Pakistan with billions of dollars in military and economic aid every year, but critics in Washington have voiced increasing concern that Islamabad is working against U.S. interests in the region.
Nuland said Grossman's trip, which follows several other high-level U.S. visits to Pakistan, would be aimed at building a new basis for cooperation.
"We had been waiting for that (parliamentary) review to be concluded before we could fully re-engage, so this is our opportunity to do that," Nuland said.
"We want to hear the Pakistani government's presentation of where it thinks the bilateral relationship needs to go, and then we will present our views and work through issues as partners do," she added.
She declined to say whether Grossman would be prepared to discuss the drone issue, although she described him as a "fully empowered" representative of U.S. government policy.
The United States has been seeking Pakistan's cooperation to stabilize Afghanistan before most foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014, mainly because of its links with the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups.
In particular, the United States hopes Pakistan will agree to reopen overland supply routes for the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, which it closed in November following the cross-border attack.
But that cooperation has been shaken by a series of events, including the NATO attack and the U.S. special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in May last year and humiliated the powerful military.
This month, strains were again apparent following a series of coordinated attacks in Afghanistan that the U.S. ambassador said were clearly organized by the Haqqani network - a shadowy militant group often linked to Pakistan.
Islamabad denies any ties to the group.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)