- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The deputy head of the CIA and a top U.S. envoy launched a push to repair relations with Pakistan on Thursday following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town, officials said.

Patching up ties could be difficult because Pakistanis still are seething that the United States didn’t tell them in advance about the May 2 raid near Islamabad, and U.S. lawmakers are threatening to cut off billions of dollars amid suspicions that elements of Pakistan‘s security forces may have harbored bin Laden.

Also, a new survey taken before the raid by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed U.S. popularity in Pakistan has fallen to an all-time low, with just 11 percent of Pakistanis holding a favorable view of the country and President Obama. The survey, which was released Tuesday, polled 1,970 people in Pakistan in April and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Still, the United States and Pakistan have a strong mutual dependency that is difficult to break. The U.S. needs Pakistan to help resolve the war in Afghanistan, and American funds are critical to propping up Pakistan‘s economy and bankrolling its powerful military.

Marc Grossman, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and several other senior officials Thursday to discuss relations in the wake of the bin Laden raid, the president’s office said.

Mr. Grossman’s counterpart on the trip, Michael Morell, deputy director of the CIA, is slated to meet with Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Pakistani intelligence chief, said Pakistani officials briefed on the visit. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The officials said that while they considered it a positive sign that a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official was making the trip, they expected little concrete to come out of the meeting.

The relationship between the CIA and Pakistan‘s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency is key to the U.S. fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the relationship was strained even before U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, an army town just 35 miles from Islamabad, and it has reached a new low since.

Pakistani intelligence has conducted no joint operations and all but cut off contact with its CIA counterparts since the bin Laden raid, the Pakistani officials said.

The CIA would not comment on the reported trip. A U.S. official would say only that the goal for the “ongoing discussions” with Pakistan‘s intelligence service is “to cement a productive relationship, rooted in mutual interests.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic discussions.

The relationship between the CIA and the ISI was buffeted in January by the arrest and detention of CIA security contractor Raymond Davis for shooting dead two Pakistani men who Mr. Davis said were trying to rob him.

Mr. Davis eventually was released in March after the dead men’s relatives agreed to accept blood money under Islamic tradition. But only a day after his release, a covert CIA drone strike killed at least two dozen people in the Pakistani tribal areas — people the CIA said were militants and the Pakistanis said were civilians. That dispute so soured the relationship that both sides agreed that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Pasha, should meet face to face.

The two met at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., less than two weeks before the bin Laden raid. Gen. Pasha thought he had secured an agreement in that meeting that the two sides together would come up with a new high-value target list and that CIA drones would be used only to hunt those targets, Pakistani officials said. But before he had returned to Pakistani soil, there was another drone strike in the tribal areas, so Gen. Pasha shut down communications, the officials said.

This tension shows how difficult it will be for the United States to win greater Pakistani cooperation in fighting militants. The main U.S. demand is for Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar and senior members of the Haqqani militant network who are believed to be living along the Afghan border and leading the fight against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

But many analysts believe Pakistani security officials are reluctant to target these figures because they have historical ties with them and view them as key allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Kimberly Dozier reported from Washington.

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