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Zardari calls Nawaz, other leaders before leaving for US

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari called PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and leaders of two parties in the ruling coalition before leaving for the United States on Wednesday on a brief visit.

President Asif Ali ZardariForeign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said the president would attend a memorial service in Washington on Friday for Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, who died last month.

He is also expected to meet some important American leaders during his stay in Washington.

Mr Zardari called Mr Sharif, MQM chief Altaf Hussain and Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan and exchanged views with them on matters relating to the visit.

Political analysts termed the president’s consultation with the PML-N chief a positive gesture which would help improve the political atmosphere in the country.

Sources in the presidency said that Mr Zardari had sought the leaders’ suggestions to effectively present Pakistan’s viewpoint on issues relating to the war on terror and increase in bilateral trade.

Our Correspondent in Washington adds: President Zardari will discuss economic, security and strategic issues with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other members of the Obama cabinet here on Friday.

There are speculations of a chance meeting with President Barack Obama as well, although officials on both sides are still refusing to confirm it.

Briefing the media on the visit, Ambassador Husain Haqqani said that although the president was coming to attend Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s last rites, he would use this opportunity to have a fruitful discussion on bilateral issues.

Besides Mr Zardari, leaders from Bosnia and Georgia will also attend the memorial service for Mr Holbrooke who played a key role in negotiating a peace deal for Bosnia.
Mr Haqqani disagreed with a suggestion that recent developments in Pakistan forced US Vice President Joe Biden to make an unannounced visit to the region.

“This was a scheduled visit, which was delayed because of Mr Holbrooke’s death,” he said. He refused to comment on a State Department statement that Mr Biden had not gone to Pakistan with a new aid package, as reported by the US media. A State Department spokesman told a briefing earlier this week that any assistance to Pakistan would be confined to the Kerry-Lugar-Berman package which pledges $1.5 billion a year for a period of five years.

Ambassador Haqqani said Pakistan had succeeded in convincing its American friends that they also needed to address Islamabad’s concerns about India’s looming presence in Afghanistan.

“The concerns that Pakistan has about its large eastern neighbour cannot be ignored by creating a security structure for the region,” he said. The US and Pakistan, Mr Haqqani said, had been consistently increasing “the frequency and level” of their bilateral contacts “based on shared interests and shared values”.

The two countries were involved “laying the foundation of a very robust strategic partnership aimed at creating stability in South Asia”, he said.

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