Kerry to meet PM in London

Photo shows US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif at his office on Sunday night, will meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London later this week.

At a news briefing in Washington, the State Department named only two world leaders Mr Kerry would meet during the London conference on Afghanistan, PM Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The conference begins on Dec 4.

At his hour-long meeting with Gen Sharif, Secretary Kerry called the Pakistani military “a truly binding force”, said a tweet by the army’s press office.

Know more: Meeting COAS, John Kerry terms Pak Army a 'truly binding force': DG ISPR

Secretary Kerry “discussed several items of mutual interests” with the Pakistan Army chief, which included “regional peace and security”, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told a briefing in Washington on Monday.

Secretary Kerry recognised the “tremendous sacrifices the Pakistani military has made in its efforts to improve the security situation in Pakistan and acknowledged Pakistan’s commitment to counter all extremist elements,” she said.

The army chief came to the United States on Nov 15 on a week-long visit and went to California last week after completing his official engagements in Washington and Tampa, Florida, which is the headquarters of the US Central Command.

He returned to Washington on Sunday and had a working dinner and an hour-long meeting with Secretary Kerry before leaving for home on Monday.

Secretary Kerry was not in the United States when Gen Sharif was in Washington but when he returned, he broke a long American tradition of spending the Thanksgiving weekend with the family to meet the Pakistan army chief.

“Back in DC post-Thanksgiving; productive meeting with Pakistan Chief of Army Raheel Sharif,” he tweeted after the meeting.

This was “the highest political level” meeting of Gen Sharif’s two-week stay in the United States.

“Very good, both sides had a positive tone and it was held in a very good environment,” said a senior official after the meeting. US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman, and his chief of staff assisted Secretary Kerry in the meeting.

The Pakistani team also included Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani and ISPR Chief Major Gen Asif Bajwa.

According to those familiar with the proceedings, the talks covered three major subjects: US-Pakistan relations, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the situation on Pakistan’s eastern border with India.

“The focus, obviously, was on regional stability and security and on fighting terrorism,” said a diplomatic source.

Secretary Kerry acknowledged that Pakistan had “paid a high price” in the fight against terror and noted that the “Pakistan Army made a great contribution” to this fight, said another source.

Pakistani diplomatic circles pointed out that Secretary Kerry also noted Pakistan Army’s “professional conduct” during current crises, dispelling the impression that the army was “acting as a state within a state”, said one of the sources that spoke to Dawn.

Another source said that the Americans recognised that “if there is a force in the greater Middle East region, which stood up to the terrorists, it’s the Pakistan Army”.

Secretary Kerry also welcomed improvement in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and offered to help in further consolidating ties between the two neighbouring countries.

Diplomatic sources said that Pakistan’s concerns about tensions on the eastern border with India were also discussed but pointed out that this visit was about US-Pakistan relations and that’s what it continued to focus during the last two weeks.

Sources also said that it would be a mistake to look for political motives behind Gen Sharif’s meeting with Secretary Kerry or the Afghan president’s talks with senior military officials.

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