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Pakistan, US try to ease tension over aid suspension

Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MUMBAI, India -- In the weeks since the Trump administration withheld nearly $1 billion in security aid for Pakistan, Washington and Islamabad officials have been working to patch things up and avert a dangerous deterioration in their often troubled relationship.

Several U.S. officials have met with senior Pakistani civilian and military leaders to find what one called "common ground" after President Donald Trump rebuked Pakistan in a series of Twitter posts, and then said the U.S. would no longer provide aid to Islamabad.

Trump accused Pakistan of doing nothing to assist in the U.S.-led war effort in neighboring Afghanistan and of not cracking down on militants that attack U.S. and Afghan forces across the border.

Some U.S. and Afghan officials worried that Pakistan would retaliate by no longer sharing intelligence or raising the costs for U.S.-led NATO forces to use Pakistani air and land corridors into Afghanistan.

Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said this week that Pakistan would stop "a wide field of intelligence cooperation and defense cooperation" with the U.S. He did not elaborate.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say neither has happened, and in conversations over the past week the two sides have tried to move past Trump's incendiary rhetoric.

The Pakistani army said in a statement Friday that the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, said in a telephone conversation with Pakistan's chief of army staff that the "ongoing turbulence" in the countries' relationship was "a temporary phase."

Votel also told Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa that the U.S. was "not contemplating any unilateral action inside Pakistan," but is seeking its cooperation to capture militants based on Pakistani soil who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, the Pakistani statement said.

Col. John Thomas, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said officials are in continuous communication with Pakistan's military.

Pakistan initially feared that Trump would launch a strike in Pakistan -- similar to the 2011 raid to capture Osama bin Laden outside Islamabad -- and put its forces on alert the day the aid suspension was announced.


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