US diplomat arrives for talks with Pakistani leaders

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Islamabad, Jun 30 (UNI) US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived here today for talks with the Pakistani leadership on entire spectrum of bilateral relations and cooperation in the anti-terror war.

His visit comes days after Pakistani security forces launched an operation against Islamist militants holed up in the restive Khyber tribal region.

Washington, which often expressed concern over Pakistan's new government's decision to hold peace talks with militants, welcomed the move and Islamabad's quest to flush out militancy and extremism.

Mr Boucher met Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who reiterated Islamabad's desire to strengthen ties with the US in diplomatic, political, economic, defence and security fields.

''We are desirous of a broad-based and long-term relationship focussing especially on bilateral cooperation in trade, energy, investment, science&technology, educational and cultural fields with a view to bringing the people of the two countries closer to each other,'' he said.

Mr Gilani said he has no doubt that the victory of democratic and progressive forces in the country, especially in the NWFP and Balochistan provinces, and the formation of broad-based democratic governments at the Centre and in the provinces would further cement the close and cooperative relationship between the two countries.

He said Pakistan was convinced that there was a need to address the factors that encouraged terrorism.

The government, in consultation with the coalition partners, has adopted a three-pronged strategy to deal with terrorism by initiating political dialogue with those elements who have laid down arms and have joined mainstream political activity, accelerating the pace of economic development and reserving the right to use force if agreements were violated, the Prime Minister said.

''We will, however, never negotiate with militants nor allow foreigners to use our soil against another country,'' he said.

Mr Gilani said the government has received a lot of public support for the action being taken against the militants in tribal areas during the last couple of days.

Mr Boucher said the US has great interest in the success of democratic government and economic well-being of the people of Pakistan.


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