- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2010

President Obama will visit Pakistan next year as his administration attempts to shore up its relationship with a key ally in which recent polls found both he and the U.S. share abysmal approval ratings.

Mr. Obama dropped in on a meeting between top U.S. and Pakistani officials at the Roosevelt Room in the White House on Wednesday and sought to allay Pakistani concerns about his trip to India next month.

“The president explained that he would not be stopping in Pakistan during his trip to Asia next month, and committed to visiting Pakistan in 2011, as well as welcoming [Pakistani] President [Asif Ali] Zardari to Washington,� the White House said in a statement.

Mr. Obama will be visiting Pakistan’s arch rival and neighbor India between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9.

A high-powered Pakistani delegation, which includes Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is in Washington for the third U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue in seven months. The dialogue wraps up on Friday.

In a meeting that lasted 35 minutes, Mr. Obama underscored the importance of the strategic dialogue in “moving our relationship toward a true partnership based on mutual respect and common interests,” the White House said.

“The president and the Pakistani delegation agreed on the need for regional stability, and specifically on the importance of cooperating toward a peaceful and stable outcome in Afghanistan,” it added.

Mr. Qureshi described the interaction as a “very satisfying meeting.”

U.S. officials have been pressing Pakistan to do more in the fight against extremists, particularly groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Toiba that provide safe havens for members of al Qaeda and the Taliban along Pakistan�s border with Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama also met with his national security team on Wednesday to discuss developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and discussed the “need to increase pressure on extremist safe-havens,” the White House said.

In remarks at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday evening, Mr. Qureshi defended Pakistan�s commitment to fighting terrorists and said Americans need to appreciate the “enormous price” paid by his countrymen.

“This is our war… Pakistan has walked the talk,” Mr. Qureshi said.

“As in any sovereign nation, our policies are guided by our national interests,” he said, adding, “There is no wavering in Pakistan�s resolve to fight extremism and terrorism.”

Mr. Qureshi said his country had been a “steady partner” to the United States.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan who also spoke at the Brookings Institution, said both the U.S. and Pakistan recognize that more needs to be done in the fight against extremists.

“We face a common enemy, a common threat, a common challenge and a common task,” Mr. Holbrooke said. “While there is much more that can be done… we believe that we have made a great deal of progress… that progress has reduced the threat to our homeland while not eliminating it.”

A recent Pew Research Center poll found U.S. approval ratings lowest in Pakistan among all countries polled.

Mr. Qureshi said part of the reason for this was that in the past, U.S. administrations had chosen to support dictatorships in his country over democracy.

Mr. Holbrooke indicated an improvement in official ties saying U.S. and Pakistani officials no longer talk about the �trust deficit� in their relationship.

“To be sure, we have differences,� Mr. Holbrooke said, adding, �But we have found a way to have an extensive dialogue at the strategic level.”

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