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U.S., Pakistan to cooperate on ‘high-value targets’

- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The U.S. and Pakistan agreed Monday to work together in any future actions against "high value targets" in Pakistan, even as U.S. Sen. John Kerry defended Washington's decision not to tell Islamabad in advance about the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The pledge, which was made in a joint statement, could help mollify Pakistani officials and citizens, who were enraged that one of the country's most important allies would conduct a unilateral operation on its soil. But details of the promised cooperation were unclear.

It was also unclear whether Kerry, the most high-profile American to visit Pakistan since the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden, was able to extract any promises from Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban militants long believed to be holed up on Pakistani territory.

U.S. officials have increased pressure on Pakistan since bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, an army town only about 35 miles (55 kilometers) outside the capital, Islamabad. But they also seem to be trying to balance their anger, aware of the risk of wholly severing ties with the nuclear-armed country. Pakistan's cooperation is considered vital to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Shortly after arriving Sunday, Kerry met with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and gave him a list of "specific demands" relating to American suspicions about Pakistan harboring militants, said a Pakistani official. He spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to give more details because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Kerry said Monday that he and Pakistani leaders have agreed to a "series of steps" to improve relations, but did not specify what they were. He also said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce plans to visit Pakistan — a sign of confidence in the relationship.

Many in Washington have expressed disbelief that bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad for at least five years without Pakistan's powerful security establishment knowing it. But U.S. officials have said they have found no evidence that Pakistan's leaders knew of his whereabouts.

Kerry's comments during his visit mixed a tone of defiance with promises to work with Pakistan to rebuild the bilateral relationship.

"My goal in coming here is not to apologize for what I consider to be a triumph against terrorism of unprecedented consequence," said Kerry. "My goal in coming here has been to talk about how we manage this important relationship."

Kerry, who chairs the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday.

Clinton also called Zardari late Sunday and Gilani on Monday, their offices said.

Kerry said he understood why Pakistanis were upset by the raid, but emphasized "the extraordinary circumstances" around the mission.

"When I spoke with the leaders of Pakistan last night and today, I explained that the extreme secrecy surrounding every aspect of the raid in Abbottabad was essential to protecting the lives of the professionals who were involved and ensuring they succeeded in capturing or killing the man responsible for so much death in so many places," said Kerry.

Kayani, the army chief, told Kerry on Sunday that his soldiers have "intense feelings" about the raid, in apparent reference to anger and humiliation here that Washington did not tell the army in advance about the incursion, and the fact it wasn't able to stop it.

Kerry said that bin Laden and other foreign fighters who followed him to Pakistan from Afghanistan were the ones "who truly violated Pakistan's sovereignty."

"They inspired and conspired with the extremists responsible for the deaths of 35,000 Pakistani citizens and the deaths of more than 5,000 Pakistani soldiers," said Kerry.

He said he was pleased the Pakistani government has committed "to explore how increased cooperation on joint operations and intelligence sharing can maximize our efforts ... to defeat the enemies we face."

Kerry also announced that Pakistan had agreed to return the tail of a stealth U.S. helicopter that American commandos had to destroy during the bin Laden raid because it malfunctioned.

While in Afghanistan on Sunday, Kerry made it clear to reporters that patience was running thin in Washington, where many have long questioned Pakistan's commitment to fighting militants.

The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to take action against several powerful Afghan Taliban factions taking shelter on its soil. The leader of the Afghan insurgency, Mullah Omar, is widely believed to be in the southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan, and allegations he is being harbored by the country have been strengthened since the death of bin Laden.

Many in the U.S. Congress are saying that Washington should cut aid to the country.

In a parliamentary resolution Saturday, Pakistani lawmakers did not mention the fact that bin Laden was living in an army town or the suspicions of collusion, but instead warned of the consequences if any more American incursions were to take place in the future.

They also threatened to stop NATO and U.S. trucks from using its land routes to ferry supplies across the border to troops in Afghanistan if Washington continues missile attacks on its territory.

Much is at stake. The United States needs Pakistan's cooperation if it hopes to find a political solution to the Afghan war, and needs Pakistan's military help against insurgents using its lawless tribal areas to stage attacks against American, coalition and Afghan forces.

It also needs to ensure that nuclear-armed Pakistan does not succumb to rising Islamic extremism and its own tenacious insurgency.

Pakistan's failing economy desperately needs American and other foreign aid. Since 2002, Pakistan has received more than $20 billion from the U.S., making the country one of the largest U.S. aid recipients, according to the Congressional Research Service. Nearly $9 billion of that has been reimbursement for Pakistan's costs in supporting the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi and Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.

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