US envoy to UN in hot waters for contacts with Zardari

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Islamabad, Aug 27 (UNI) US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad is in hot waters with other senior officials in the Bush administration over what they describe as his ''unauthorised contacts'' with Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Ali Zardari.

Local media today widely quoted a New York Times report as saying that Mr Khalilzad had spoken to Mr Zardari over the phone several times during the past month until he was confronted about his ''unauthorised contacts''.

Officials said Mr Khalilzad had planned to meet Mr Zardari privately next Tuesday while on vacation in Dubai, in a session that was cancelled only after Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard A Boucher learned from Mr Zardari himself that the Ambassador was providing ''advice and help''.

''Can I ask what sort of advice and help you are providing? What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personal?'' Mr Boucher wrote in an email message to Mr Khalilzad.

Copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department. A senior American official said that Mr Khalilzad had been advised to ''stop speaking freely'' to Mr Zardari, and that it was not clear whether he would face any disciplinary action.

The newspaper pointed out that officially the United States had remained neutral in the contest to succeed Mr Musharraf, and there was concern within the State Department that the discussions between Mr Khalilzad and Mr Zardari could leave the impression that the United States was taking sides in Pakistan's chaotic internal politics.

Mr Khalilzad also had a close relationship with Ms Bhutto, flying with her last summer on a private jet to a policy gathering in Aspen, Colorado.

The report said Deputy Secretary of State John D Negroponte and Mr Boucher were not happy with the conduct of Mr Khalilzad because as United Nations Ambassador, he had no direct responsibility for America's relations with Pakistan.

UNI XC SLD HT1450

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