US puts all bilateral contacts with Pak on hold until release of murder-accused diplomat

Washington, Feb 8(ANI): The United States has put all bilateral contacts with Pakistan on hold until Islamabad releases double murder-accused US diplomat Raymond Davis, diplomatic sources have said.

The dispute could affect three major events planned this year- President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to Washington, the next round of US-Pakistan strategic dialogue and the trilateral talks involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, the Dawn quoted the sources, as saying.

Last week, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi postponed a visit to Munich to attend an international security conference after US officials informed Islamabad that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might not be able to meet him because of this dispute, the report said.

But the events planned for this year are of far greater importance than the conference in Munich, as a delay in Zardari's visit, which is planned next month, "would send wrong signals around the world and would also embarrass him at home," said one diplomatic source.

Similarly, "delaying the strategic dialogue would have serious implications", he added.

The sources believe that while the Americans are unlikely to postpone the trilateral talks, "the US decision to postpone all bilateral contacts can put Pakistan at a great disadvantage during the negotiations".

They also warn that the US Congress is currently considering budget proposals for the next fiscal year and the diplomatic row could affect the 1.5-billion-dollar annual assistance for Pakistan as well.

Last week, it seemed that the Pakistan government had made up its mind to release Davis, but the widow of one of his victims committed suicide on Sunday, which further complicated the matter.

The Pakistanis stress that the US Embassy was slow in demanding diplomatic immunity for Davis and was quiet on this matter for 48 hours, creating doubts about his status.

"Despite such doubts, Pakistan has agreed in principle to grant diplomatic immunity to Mr Davis and send him back to the US," said a senior diplomatic source in Washington.

"But the government is scared of political repercussions, particularly after the suicide," the source added.

A Pakistani diplomatic source said that all sorts of interactions could be affected owing to the issue, including the US assistance to Pakistan- one of the largest non-NATO recipients of American military aid.

"They tell us they'll interact with us once this issue is resolved," the source said.

According to the report, the diplomatic row could even affect the 7.5-billion-dollar, five-year civilian aid package to Pakistan, or official visits or meetings between the two countries. (ANI)

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