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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sen. John Kerry visits Pakistan amid diplomatic tensions

 ISLAMABAD: Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry called on President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh separately and discussed with them the issue of Raymond Davis, Geo News reported on Wednesday.

According to the sources, in the meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Senator Kerry said that Pakistan is bound to implement on Vienna Convention, therefore, the US diplomat Raymond Davis be released.

The US Senator also discussed Pak-US bilateral relations besides regional issues with the President.

Earlier, Senator Kerry met Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and demanded release of Raymond Davis. He assured the PM that criminal investigations would be carried out against Davis in the US.

Meanwhile, John Kerry also held a meeting with Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

pakistan amid diplomatic tensions, us and pakistan, sen john kerryIslamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A key senator huddled with top officials in strategically important Pakistan on Wednesday to help mend a delicate diplomatic wound spurred by the killings of two people by a U.S. Embassy employee.

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is telling Pakistanis that the now-jailed shooter has diplomatic immunity under an international treaty and should be released.

He told reporters in Pakistan Tuesday that the U.S. Justice Department "will conduct its own thorough criminal investigation regardless of immunity." But many Pakistanis want the man to face justice in their country.

The detained man, Raymond Davis, is suspected in the shooting deaths of two Pakistani men in Lahore in January. Davis has claimed he was defending himself against an attempted robbery. Davis, labeled a "diplomat" by the United States, has been detained since January 27 in Lahore, an incarceration U.S. officials call "illegal."

His arrest has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a key ally in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. During several protests earlier this month, hard-line Pakistani clerics condemned the shootings and demanded the government not release Davis to the U.S. government.

Kerry said he is hopeful that both countries can focus on working together "toward the same goal" and maintain the "spirit of cooperation."

"I want to come here today to express our deepest regret for this tragic event and to express the sorrow of the American people for the loss of life that has taken place," Kerry said on Tuesday, in a statement issued Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

"I've come here to listen. I haven't come here to order anybody to do anything; I haven't come here to dictate. I've come here to listen carefully, to meet with your leaders and have an opportunity to find a path forward so that we can all live by the law and hopefully find a way to deal with some really urgent pressing issues for both of our countries," he said.

Kerry met with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other Pakistani officials on Wednesday, Gilani's office said in a statement.

Gilani -- who said it is "imperative" that the Davis matter "must not be allowed" to harm bilateral ties and the fight against terror -- called Kerry a "known friend of Pakistan" and noted that the senator wants an "early resolution" of the matter.

Gilani said his country's superior court "had taken cognizance of the case" and ordered that the question of immunity -- "if it arises" -- be determined by the court. He also said that the "remorse and regret" by the United States over the deaths "should be considered to cool down the rising temperatures."

President Barack Obama Tuesday urged Pakistan to release Davis, warning that his prosecution could endanger the "important principle" of diplomatic immunity.

"Obviously, we're concerned about the loss of life. You know, we're not callous about that," Obama told reporters during a White House news conference. "But there's a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold."

Abdul Basit, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday that the ministry disagreed with Obama's assertion. He argued the man did not have blanket diplomatic immunity.

A U.S. government official told CNN that Kerry's trip to Lahore was at the administration's request "to help tone down the rhetoric and reaffirm our partnership with Pakistan."

While Kerry is not there to secure Davis' release, "certainly the Davis case will be a topic of discussion," said the official, who spoke about the trip on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Kerry said the Davis case needs to be resolved so Washington and Islamabad can deal with bigger issues, like the struggle against Islamic militancy.

"We all live with the law of immunity, so we have to live within that context," Kerry said. He urged reporters to "help Pakistanis to see there are a lot of issues on the table that need to be handled in a fair way, and please help them understand this is not an American point of view."

Last week, a Pakistani court ordered Davis to remain in custody for 14 more days. The lawyer for Davis then filed a petition calling for his immediate release on the grounds he is covered under diplomatic immunity.

A judge will hear arguments on the petition on February 25.

Davis, a contractor for the group Hyperion Protective Consultants LLC, was attached to the U.S. Embassy contingent in Pakistan as a "technical and administrative official," according to U.S. officials.

Under international agreements, people carrying diplomatic passports are granted diplomatic immunity, the State Department says.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has raised the matter with Pakistani officials, and U.S. Congress members warn of a possible cut in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, which was worth $1.5 billion in 2010, if Davis is not released.

Davis said he was attacked on January 27 by the two men who tried to rob him as he drove through a busy Lahore neighborhood, according to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

The United States says Davis was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad but was working at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore at the time of the shootings.

Lahore Police Chief Aslam Tareen has rejected Davis' claim that he shot the men in self-defense, telling reporters, "It was clear-cut murder."

Witnesses told police that Davis kept firing even when one of the men was running away, Tareen said.

"It means he wanted to ensure that that they were killed," he said.



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