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US snubs Pakistan, says no change in $7.5 billion aid bill

world Updated: Oct 14, 2009 11:16 IST

The US on Wednesday made it clear to visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that it was unlikely to make any changes in the bill for providing $7.5 billion aid and accused the army in that country of misinterpreting the legislation to serve their own interests.

"I know a number of countries have conditional aid based on meeting certain important criteria. I think the President believes this is appropriate. I think the opponents of this bill, as one of the sponsors said in the newspaper today, either are misinformed or are characterising this in a different way for their own political purposes," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"I listened closely to the concerns that were raised by the Foreign Minister and we talked about ways in which we can over the course of the next 24 hours set the record absolutely straight about the true intentions of the bill. It is clear from our discussion that the bill has not been characterised accurately in some quarters," Senator John Kerry, who co-sponsored the aid package, told reporters after his meeting with Qureshi.

Kerry, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the architect of the bill, would again meet Qureshi on Wednesday for the second round of discussion.

With major criticism in Pakistan, both by the army and the opposition parties, that the Kerry-Lugar Bill impinges on the sovereignty of the country, President Asif Ali Zardari rushed Qureshi to Washington -– the second time in less than a week -– to not only convey the sentiments of the army and the parliament but also to request them to make changes in the legislation.

Passed unanimously by the US Congress, the bill triples civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion in next five years, but also reigns in the provisions of accountability and links military aid to Pakistan to its progress against counter-terrorism operations.

The Pak Army and the opposition parties have termed it as an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan, while both the Obama Administration and the architects of the bill in the Congress insist that there is no unusual condition on Pakistan and that they have toned down the bill -– than was originally introduced -– taking into consideration their point of view and sentiments.

"The fears that are being raised in Parliament need to be addressed," Qureshi said.

"I think that the concerns that have been expressed whether they are on national security, national to Pakistan is supreme, it's important. We have discussed it very frankly. And I think the message is loud and clear and it has been understood. Now, we are going to work on it collectively to give it the correct interpretation," he said.

Qureshi also went to the White House to meet Obama's National Security Advisor General (rtd) James Jones. "The meeting between General Jones and Qureshi was a part of our ongoing engagement with the Pakistani government and in keeping with the President's commitment to consult closely with our partners as we review our policy in the region," said Mike Hammer, spokesman of the National Security Council, White House.

Earlier in the day, Qureshi met Richard Holbrooke, Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, besides meeting Congressman Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations.

At his daily press briefing, Gibbs said US President Barack Obama would be signing the Kerry-Lugar bill into law as legally required within the mandatory 10 days of the bill being sent to the White House.