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Senior US diplomat to visit Pak: foreign minister

world Updated: Jan 04, 2009 14:37 IST

AFP
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The top US diplomat for South Asia will visit Pakistan this week amid simmering tensions between Islamabad and India in the wake of the deadly Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's foreign minister said on today.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a press conference broadcast live from the central city of Multan that he would meet US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher on Monday.

"Richard Boucher is visiting Pakistan. I have a meeting set with him on Monday," Qureshi said, without disclosing details about the agenda for the meeting.

"He deals with South Asian affairs and he routinely visits Pakistan."

The US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.

Indian media reported that Boucher was also due in New Delhi, for talks likely to focus on tensions between India and Pakistan, and the ongoing investigation into the attacks on Mumbai, which left 172 people dead including the attackers.

Indian foreign ministry officials contacted by AFP were not immediately available for comment, and the US embassy in New Delhi would only say that Boucher's trip was not yet confirmed.

A number of US officials have visited both Pakistan and India, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy John Negroponte, following the attacks in a bid to defuse tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

India has blamed the carnage on the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is fighting New Delhi's rule in divided Kashmir.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has said he will travel to Washington this week with evidence showing that the attacks were "masterminded and controlled from Pakistan," the Indian Express reported.

Beyond Pakistan's relations with India, Qureshi and Boucher could also discuss suspected US missile strikes on Pakistani territory along the border with Afghanistan, a zone where Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are active.

US officials say insurgents use Pakistan's rugged lawless tribal areas as a staging ground for attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan.

At least eight militants were killed in two suspected US drone strikes last week in the South Waziristan tribal district, officials said.

Pakistan has repeatedly protested to the United States that the drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and stoke anti-US sentiment here.

President Asif Ali Zardari has promised zero tolerance for such violations, but some officials say there is a tacit understanding between the US and Pakistani militaries to allow such action.