Strategic partnership: Zardari to meet Obama today

Obama and Zardari to discuss US-Pakistan strategic partnership, economic reform, support for democracy, terrorism etc.

Agencies January 14, 2011

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama will on Friday welcome President Asif Ali Zardari to the White House for talks on ties between the uneasy war partners, spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Zardari was heading to Washington to take part in a memorial service for the late US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who died last month at age 69.

Obama and Zardari “will discuss aspects of the US-Pakistan strategic partnership, including our mutual commitment to economic reform, support for democracy and good governance, and joint efforts to combat  terrorism,” Gibbs told reporters.

The meeting comes just after Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to Pakistan. Biden, taking aim at rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, said that the United States was not “the enemy of Islam” as he pledged continued support for the country.

Washington sees Pakistani cooperation as a linchpin to show progress in a long, unpopular war in Afghanistan and meet its timeline of starting to withdraw some of the almost 100,000 US troops from the country in July.

Experts say that Obama can be expected to keep leaning on Zardari while seeking to try to avoid further strains in relations.

The US president, ahead of a visit to India last year, invited Zardari and promised to visit Pakistan in 2011.

The United States in 2009 launched a $7.5 billion aid plan for Pakistan aimed at reducing the appeal of militants by strengthening democratic institutions. But the Obama administration has also kept up support for the military.

Holbrooke, a larger-than-life diplomat who helped broker peace in the Balkans a decade ago, was credited in Pakistan with drawing international attention to the humanitarian disaster of massive floods last year.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2011.


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