Obama admin discussing 'preferential trade access' for Pak with Congress: Crowley

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Washington, Jan 22(ANI): The Obama administration supports the concept of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) for Pakistan, and is discussing this issue with the US Congress, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J Crowley has said.

According to a US administration briefing, a ROZ program could address the issue of lack of economic development and jobs that has led to these areas becoming a breeding ground for insurgents, terrorists, and drug production. Thus, they present a way to create zones of economic opportunity to replace the zones of instability. The program would provide duty-free access into the US market for certain goods produced in approved areas and create significant employment opportunities.

When asked during a press briefing at the Foreign Press Center about any progress vis-à-vis the bill on ROZs in the new Congress, Crowley said that helping Pakistan "develop and prosper in the future, helping the government grow the economy of Pakistan will be vitally important."

He noted that while there was a security dimension to the challenge represented by the extremism, which posed a threat to Pakistan as well as others, a "great deal of the challenge is in expanding economic opportunity throughout Pakistan, including the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Crowley said the "issue of textiles is an area that we have discussed and continue to discuss with Pakistan. We are supportive of the concept of the ROZs, as they're called, and continue to have dialogue with the Congress on that issue. But it underscores, again, the importance of having balanced assistance to Pakistan. We have a longstanding military relationship with Pakistan, and we continue to work on how we can best support Pakistan so that it, in turn, can defeat the extremism, which is a threat fundamentally to Pakistan itself as well to other countries in the region and around the world. But we have shifted to improve and expand the civilian assistance to Pakistan, and economic support is a critical aspect of that."

With reference to the 2014 deadline for NATO to 'hand over security responsibilities to Afghans,' Crowley was asked if the US was working on an initiative to promote 'regional peace in the regional perspective between Pakistan and India, so that the regional tensions do not recur and this issue then goes back to the same old position'.

The US official replied: "We continue to do everything that we can to support a regional solution to the challenge of Afghanistan. We have encouraged Pakistan to have - develop its own stronger relationship and understandings with Afghanistan. And there have been an increase in dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months, and we continue to encourage that. And in turn, we continue to encourage greater dialogue between Pakistan and India,"

"So we are doing all of those things. We have an important trilateral meeting coming up next month among the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. And all of these issues, I would expect, will be on the agenda," he added. (ANI)

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