U.S. Senator Kerry to visit Pakistan in hopes of easing political crisis over prisoner

Posted By: Bno
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ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON, D.C.: U.S. Senator John Kerry will visit Pakistan on Tuesday and meet with senior Pakistani government officials in an attempt to ease a political crisis over Pakistan's detention of an American diplomat.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said Kerry, who is also the Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is expected to arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday evening to meet government officials and "to reaffirm U.S. support for the strategic relationship between the two countries."

The visit comes just days after the United States on Saturday announced that it postponed a planned trilateral meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan amid a growing political crisis.

The trilateral meeting at the ministerial level was expected to be held on February 23-24 but had come under pressure amid the growing crisis over the arrest of American diplomat Raymond David, who was arrested in Lahore late last month.

"In light of the political changes in Pakistan and after discussions with Afghan and Pakistani officials in Washington, it was agreed to postpone the Trilateral Meeting scheduled for February 23-24," Philip J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said on Saturday. "We remain committed to robust engagement between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, as we share many issues of mutual concern and benefit from being at the same table."

It was not immediately clear until when the meeting was postponed but it came amid some media reports that the United States had briefly suspended some or all high-level talks with Pakistan over David's arrest. Crowley denied those reports, however.

David was arrested in January after he was confronted by two armed men on motorcycles. David claimed they were attempting to rob him and said he acted in self-defense.

"The diplomat had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement last month. "Minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal backgrounds, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area."

The Embassy said David identified himself to police as a diplomat and repeatedly requested immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. "Local police and senior authorities failed to observe their legal obligation to verify his status with either the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore or the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad," the statement said.

It added: "Furthermore, the diplomat was formally arrested and remanded into custody, which is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory."

Pakistani police have continued to ignore David's diplomatic immunity and indicated that they want to bring him to trial on murder charges. The United States, however, has released few details about David's work but has continued to stress that he enjoys immunity.

"The U.S. diplomat detained in Lahore is a member of the U.S. Embassy's technical and administrative staff, and therefore entitled to full criminal immunity and cannot be lawfully arrested or detained in accordance with the convention," the U.S. Embassy said.

Kerry has traveled to Pakistan four times since assuming chairmanship of the Committee in early 2009. He was the first high-ranking U.S. official to travel to Pakistan following the devastating floods in that country last summer, which killed nearly 2,000 people.

Further, in 2009, Kerry coauthored the "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009," also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) act, which triples non-military foreign assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year over the next five years. Kerry-Lugar-Berman was designed to signal a long-term strategic engagement with the people of Pakistan.


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