US-Pak in tense stand-off over American''s case

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Lalit K Jha and Rezaul H Laskar

Washington/Islamabad, Feb 8 (PTI) In a tensestand-off, the US has demanded immediate release of Americannational Raymond Davis, held for gunning down two men inLahore, amid reports that it had suspended all high-leveldialogue with Pakistan over the issue.

The US describes 36-year-old Davis as a diplomat whois a member of "technical and administrative staff" of itsembassy in Islamabad, but some Pakistani media reports havesuggested that the American might have been a CIA operativewho shot down in a Lahore market two Pakistani men, who hesaid were trying to rob him.

A new twist was added to the case when reports in thePakistani media quoted a Pakistani intelligence official assaying that the two men killed by Davis on January 27 werewere not armed robbers but intelligence agents assigned totrail him.

The Washington Post reported that the US has suspendedall high-level dialogue with Pakistan to put pressure onIslamabad to release the American as ties between the twocountries have become severely strained over the issue.

The case, the paper said, may scuttle a proposedtri-nation summit between US, Afghan and Pakistani leadersscheduled to be held here on February 24.

To convey its concern and displeasure at the treatmentof the diplomat, the paper said, Secretary of State HillaryClinton cancelled a meeting last weekend with PakistaniForeign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an internationalsecurity conference in Munich.

The US administration has twice summoned Pakistanienvoy Hussain Haqqani to the White House to stress on Davis''diplomatic immunity and demand his immediate release. Themessage was repeated by US Ambassador in Islamabad CameronMunter in his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardariyesterday.

Clinton''s message emphasised on the Americanadministration''s stand that the arrested official enjoyeddiplomatic immunity and should be released, sources told PTI.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, speakingto reporters in Washington yesterday, too indicated thatMunter had called on Zardari to release the arrested official.

"We continue to make clear to the government ofPakistan that our diplomat has diplomatic immunity; in ourview, (he) was acting in self-defence and should bereleased... Ambassador Munter met ... with President Zardarito continue to make that point," he said.

Reports also suggested that this fresh irritant inbilateral relations could affect Zardari''s upcoming visit toWashington.

However, US embassy spokesperson Courtney Beale deniedreports that the United States has put on hold high-levelbilateral meetings with Pakistan. .

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