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Ahead of India visit, Obama speaks to Zardari

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: October 27, 2010 03:52 IST
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On the eve of his three-day visit to India, President Obama called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to assure the Pakistani leader that he will visit Pakistan in 2011 and also to invite the latter to the United States on an official state visit next year.

Ever since it became known that Obama would visit India next month, the pro-Pakistani lobby and Pakistani Americans on the urging of Islamabad have been urging him to include Pakistan in his itinerary when he visits Asia, the first stop which was India where the US President is to spend the longest time during an overseas visit.

But the administration declined to acquiesce to the Pakistani request, to clearly indicate that US policy toward India and Pakistan was no longer 'a zero sum game' and that as diplomatic and administration sources made clear "India was is a separate league altogether now" with its growing economic and global influence.

After arriving in Mumbai in the wee hours of November 8,  Obama is scheduled to have meetings with major Indian businessmen and entrepreneurs and will attend an entrepreneurial summit organized by the US-India Business Council at the Trident Hotel. The US president will be staying at the Taj Hotel to show his support for the victims and families of those killed and injured in the horrific 26/11 terrorist attack orchestrated by the Pakistan-based Laskhar-e-Tayiba. Obama will then travel to New Delhi for a state dinner at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan hosted by President Pratibha Patel and also addresses a joint session of the Indian parliament.

Obama will then leave for Indonesia to the rest of his Asia trip, which also includes South Korea and Japan.

According to a statement released by the White House on Obama's call to Zardari, it said that the President's call was "to consult with him on the progress made during the recent US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, and to reinforce America's commitment to partner with Pakistan on economic, development, and governance priorities." 

The White House said, "President Obama discussed the progress that the US and Pakistan have made towards strengthening bilateral relations within the past two years.  He highlighted the commitment of both Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and Foreign Minister (Shah Mahmood) Qureshi to the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which has allowed our two countries to deepen our consultations on security, economic, development, and governance issues."

"Both President Obama and President Zardari acknowledged that more work needed to be done to address the direct threat to our countries posed by terrorist groups in Pakistan," it said, and added: "They also agreed that the US and Pakistan have worked hard to build an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, and committed to ongoing efforts to build a stronger, strategic, and more collaborative US-Pakistan relationship."           

The White House said that "President Obama emphasized the United States' commitment and support for democracy and transparency in Pakistan, highlighting that the US and Pakistan share an interest in ensuring democratic traditions in Pakistan are strengthened.  He also acknowledged Pakistan's economic difficulties, and encouraged President Zardari to work to pass key economic reforms, such as tax reform and containing energy subsidies."

Finally, it noted that "President Obama concluded the call by conveying his intention to visit Pakistan in 2011 and personally welcomed President Zardari to visit the United States in the coming year."   

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC