ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is eagerly pursuing summit-level talks next month between Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and US President Barack Obama even though prospects for such a meeting are grim, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will be in New York in the third week of September for a United Nations General Assembly session and the Pakistan government wants to use this opportunity to break a months-old ‘impasse’ that has continued to cast a shadow on its relations with the US since the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2.
Diplomatic sources have confirmed that Pakistan’s embassy in Washington is making hectic efforts to push for a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Gilani. The White House, however, is not interested in such a meeting – a growing sign of its apparent displeasure over steps that Pakistan took following the Bin Laden killing, sources said.
“At the moment I can confirm that Secretary Clinton will have a meeting with Prime Minister Gilani,” a Pakistani diplomat posted in Washington told The Express Tribune.
“The White House has not agreed for a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Gilani,” said the diplomat, who requested anonymity. “But we haven’t yet given up.”
The two leaders met last in April 2010 at the sidelines of a nuclear summit when Gilani was amongst a handful of heads of states President Obama opted to meet separately.
Officials said Washington is also keen to break the ‘status quo’ but is pushing Islamabad to take certain measures before ties between the two sides are brought back on track.
The recent visit by former US presidential candidate and senior Republican Senator John McCain and a telephone call by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar were part of efforts from the two sides to move beyond the Bin Laden episode.
In one such sign, the US has confirmed that a row over the movement of its diplomats has been resolved. This breakthrough was achieved after a recent meeting between US envoy Cameron Munter with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who sought the army chief’s intervention to ease restrictions on diplomats which were imposed after the Bin Laden debacle in an effort to seek greater scrutiny of the Central Intelligence Agency operatives in Pakistan.
A foreign ministry official said that the differences between Islamabad and Washington are of serious nature but what is more alarming is the prevailing ‘inertia’ on the political side in the two capitals.
“This is why we are seeking a meeting with the US president,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2011.