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US President W George Bush due in Islamabad next week

Written by: Staff
|

Islamabad, Feb 23 (UNI) The Kashmir issue would figure prominently during the upcoming US President George Bush's visit to Pakistan in the first week of next month, a US official said.

US envoy to Pakistan Ryan C Crocker here said President Bush would discuss the Kashmir issue along with the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan.

The trip would strengthen the relationship between the US and Pakistan, he added.

Speaking to reporters in Northern town of Shinkiari yesterday, Mr Crocker said President Bush's upcoming visit symbolises strength and depth of the ties between Washington and Islamabad.

Describing the US response to the earthquake disaster as quick, Mr Crocker said the activities of the US disaster assistance relief team were a manifestation of the close relationship enjoyed by the two countries.

The US ambassador pointed out it was the longest humanitarian assistance operation ever conducted by the US forces anywhere in the world.

''We are proud of what has been accomplished,'' he said.

The US is also providing 200 million dollar support to the earthquake reconstruction programme in the country. The first tranche under the four-year grant agreement has already been released, marking the next phase of US government assistance for earthquake relief - helping communities rehabilitate, rebuild and revive, Mr Crocker said.

According to him, the first tranche of 15 million dollar represents the firm commitment of President Bush and the American people to post-quake relief and reconstruction efforts in Pakistan.

The agreement is the first contribution toward the 200 million dollar pledge for rebuilding schools and hospitals destroyed by the earthquake and for reviving the livelihoods and systems needed for effective education and health care.

The new grant is in addition to the current 5-year, 1.5 billion dollar USAID programme that provides education, health, economic growth and governance support throughout Pakistan.

Washington has pledged a total of 510 million dollar in earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts to assist the people of Pakistan and to support Pakistani government relief and reconstruction efforts, and the 200 million dollar grant agreement for reconstruction is part of the US pledge.

The US Navy-Marine Corps hospital in Shinkiari will soon be heading home after having treated close to 15,000 patients.

The CMRT 3 served the medical needs of the NWFP, while 12 local medical facilities were being restored from the damage caused by the October 8 earthquake.

Over 200 Marine Corps and Navy personnel staffed the CMRT, including ten doctors, six nurses and 40 hospital corpsmen.

Meanwhile, the Dawn newspaper quoted officials as saying that President Gen Pervez Musharraf will take up important security and energy-related issues with US President George W Bush during his first state visit next week.

The two leaders would have a one-to-one meeting at the Aiwan-i-Sadr followed by restricted-level talks with their respective aides, ministers and ambassadors.

A number of bilateral agreements in areas ranging from health to education to trade and investment were expected to be signed during the visit, they said.

Bilateral discussions, they said, would cover important issues of civilian nuclear technology, supply of F-16 aircraft, cooperation on nuclear safeguards and export controls and war on terrorism.

On the regional front, the ongoing India-Pakistan peace process, particularly the Kashmir issue, would top the agenda.

President Bush, who is to come straight from New Delhi, would brief President Musharraf about his discussions on the subject with top Indian leadership.

The Iran nuclear issue, the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and the West Asia peace process would also come up for discussions.

In the wake of the row over the publication of blasphemous cartoons, Pakistan would also seek the US support for an international legislation to prevent the recurrence of such an act.

During his overnight stay here, President Bush will have lunch with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. President Musharraf will host a banquet for the US President.

UNI XC SK AT PC1659

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