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Kerry to visit Pakistan this month

ISLAMABAD – United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Pakistan this month for the first time since taking office, the Foreign Office (FO) said on Thursday. “US Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting Pakistan in the last week of June,” FO spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said in a weekly press briefing. He said specific dates of Kerry’s visit would be announced once they were finalised. US officials had previously said Kerry would visit Pakistan once the new government was in place. Pakistan and the US are key allies in the war in Afghanistan and the fight against al Qaeda, but their relations have often been strained. US drone strikes targeting Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in northwest Pakistan are publicly the greatest sticking point. Kerry, earlier this month, defended the strikes although Sharif has called for them to end. After winning the May 11 election, Sharif told foreign journalists that he would extend “full support” to the United States as it withdraws combat troops from Afghanistan by next year.

Pakistani-US relations nosedived in 2011 after US Navy SEALs tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in the northwestern town of Abbottabad in May. For seven months Pakistan also blocked the NATO overland supply lines into Afghanistan after botched US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.

The FO spokesperson, while announcing Kerry’s visit, also said Pakistan had emphatically conveyed to the US its concerns on drone strikes. He said Pakistan had raised the issue of drone attacks on different world forums, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR). He further said Pakistan would continue to highlight the issue with US officials at appropriate forums. When asked about the recent drone strikes in Pakistan‚ the spokesperson said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi, on directives of the prime minister, had summoned top US diplomats in Islamabad and lodged a strong protest. He said drone strikes were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and international laws. He went on to say there was across-the-board political consensus in Pakistan that drone attacks should be stopped. He said there was a growing international debate over the humanitarian and legal implications of such strikes. Responding to a question, the spokesman said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit his country. The date of the visit has not yet been finalised, he added. He said Pakistan was fully committed to facilitating the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. – See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/06/14/news/national/kerry-to-visit-pakistan-this-month-fo/#sthash.cahkMy1d.dpuf

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