An American jailed for shooting two Pakistanis is shielded by diplomatic immunity, the Pakistani government said on Wednesday, a move that may help end a bruising row between the troubled allies.
A local court, however, has to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, the US consulate employee who shot and killed two Pakistani men in the city of Lahore last month in what he said was a robbery attempt.
"We will present all relevant laws and rules about immunity before the court and will plead that prima facie it is a case of diplomatic immunity. But it is for the court to decide," a senior Pakistani government official said on condition of anonymity.
The row over the detention of the US national is the latest issue straining ties between two nations that are supposed to be working in concert to stamp out a tenacious Islamist insurgency.
Washington has insisted Davis, whose role at the US consulate in Lahore is unclear, should be released immediately. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the United States was working with the Pakistani government to secure the release of the US citizen.
Up to now the Pakistani government, fearful of a backlash from Pakistanis already wary of the United States and enraged by the shooting on a crowded street, had said only that the matter should be decided in court.
The United States is expected to present a petition to a Lahore court on Thursday to certify that Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said the government will inform the Lahore High Court that his status as a member of the consulate's administrative and technical staff made him eligible for diplomatic immunity.
Ties between the United States and Pakistan are already strained by US unmanned drone strikes in the Pakistani northwest on the Afghan border that Pakistanis see as a violation of their sovereignty.
Obama sent Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Democratic Party, to meet Pakistani officials on Wednesday to try to resolve the crisis.