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Amid Pak silence on Saeed, US envoy visits nation

world Updated: Apr 04, 2012 19:58 IST

A top US diplomat was in Pakistan for talks on Wednesday designed to help reset the troubled alliance but likely to be overshadowed by a US bounty on Hafiz Saeed wanted over the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Washington billed the visit by deputy secretary of state Tom Nides as the next step in re-engagement after the two countries' relationship suffered badly over US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

Nides was due to hold talks with foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. A United States official said joint statements would be issued but that no press conference was scheduled.

Pakistan has so far been tight-lipped since the United States on Monday slapped a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group blamed for the Mumbai attacks who lives openly in Pakistan.

The US official declined to comment on the precise agenda of Wednesday's talks. Asked about the timing of the bounty, he said: "It could be perceived as being unfortunate" but said it was the culmination of a process lasting months.

Pakistan's parliament is debating recommendations designed to reset the relationship with the United States following a series of crises, notably the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May and the November air strikes.

"As parliament approaches the conclusion of its policy review, given that parliament is still deliberating, we're prepared to discuss a full-range of issues," the US official said.

US lawmakers voiced fury at the discovery of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden living in Pakistan, which had received $18 billion in aid for cooperation since the September 11, 2001 attacks. He was killed in a US special forces raid.

Pakistan closed its Afghan border to Nato supplies in November after the air strikes and evicted US personnel from an air base reportedly used as a hub in controversial US drone strikes on Islamist militants in Pakistan.

Parliament is now reviewing ways to proceed with the relationship, which include demands for a US apology, an end to drone strikes and taxes on NATO convoys.

The gradual resumption in Pakistani-US dialogue was helped by President Barack Obama's meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on March 27 on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Seoul.

General James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, and General John Allen, the US commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, last week visited Pakistan in the first such trip since the border incident.

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