- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2019

After a long period of strained bilateral relations, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Tuesday he hopes to forge a far more positive relationship with Washington one day after he met with President Trump at the White House for the first time since he was elected last year.

Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank, Mr. Khan said he was happy with the state of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship, which he said is based on a mutual interest in finding a peaceful end to the 18-year war in neighboring Afghanistan. The Trump administration is pushing hard in talks with the Taliban on a deal that could allow most or all of the thousands of U.S. troops still stationed there to come home.

Despite U.S. complaints that Pakistan had not done enough in the past to contain the Taliban and other radical Islamist movements on its territory, Mr. Khan said Tuesday he and Mr. Trump had had a meeting of the minds on the way forward.

“We are all on the same page,” the former international cricket star said. “Peace in Afghanistan can only take place through political settlement through dialogue.”

Mr. Khan said that he will press the Taliban to negotiate with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, with hopes that it will lead to a settlement.

“We feel that if we all work together, we feel this is the best chance of there to be peace in Afghanistan,” Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan appeared to score a major diplomatic victory when Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House he was willing to serve as a “mediator” in the long-running dispute between Pakistan and India over the divided territory of Kashmir. India has long resisted outside interference in the dispute, and government officials in New Delhi were quick to deny Mr. Trump’s claim that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to get involved in the bilateral dispute.

During the White House meeting, Mr. Khan said he and Mr. Trump had decided to now have a “close relationship” between the U.S. and Pakistan that ensures there is no communication gap between the two countries. Mr. Khan said he and his delegation were delighted with how they were received by Mr. Trump, who has sharply criticized Islamabad and pared back U.S. aid programs in the past.

“It was one of the most pleasant surprises, not just for me, for my delegation,” Mr. Khan said. “The way the hospitality, the straightforward, charming way he treated us, we were all blown over. We loved the meeting with the president.”

The meeting between the two countries came as the two leaders try to repair a rocky relationship that saw the Trump administration suspend $800 million in aid last year over claims Pakistan let terrorist networks operate in its region.

Analysts were not sure how the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Khan would go after they clashed on Twitter last year when Mr. Trump claimed Pakistan did “nothing” for the U.S., while noting Osama bin Laden has been hiding out inside Pakistan when U.S. forces located and killed him in 2011.

Mr. Khan recounted Tuesday how embarrassed he felt after Bin Laden was killed in his homeland.

“I can tell you as a Pakistani, never did I feel more humiliated than when Osama bin Laden was taken out in Pakistan by U.S. troops,” Mr. Khan said. “We never want to be in that same position again.”

Mr. Khan concluded his three-day visit to the U.S. on Tuesday.

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