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Monday Oct 21, 2013

Kerry-Sharif meeting focuses on strengthening Pakistan-US ties

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday said the US relationship with Pakistan "could not be more important" as the South Asian country struggles with economic, security and regional stability issues.

Kerry spoke Sunday as he sat down with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Washington this week for talks with the White House.

The meeting lasted for an intense three hours during which regional and international situation and issues pertaining to bilateral relations were discoursed at length.

At the outset of the dinner meeting before the media, Secretary Kerry warmly welcomed the Pakistani leader, saying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is visiting Washington for the first time since his last trip in 1999.

John Kerry underscored Pakistan's vital significance to regional stability as the country addresses the challenges of economy and insurgency simultaneously.

He said Nawaz Sharif will have a series of high-level meetings‚ including discussions with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden on Wednesday.

Kerry declined to answer questions after brief remarks to reporters at the State Department. But US officials say the Obama administration is posed to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to help bolster ties with Islamabad that have deteriorated over deadly American airstrikes and the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

"We have a lot to talk about, and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important," Kerry said as his meeting with Sharif began.

"On its own, (Pakistan is) a democracy that is working hard to gets its economy moving and deal with insurgency, and also important to the regional stability."

Sharif did not speak during the brief session with reporters.

The two men met over dinner, shortly before Kerry planned to head to Europe for peace talks for Syria and between Israel and Palestinian authorities.

He will be meeting with foreign ministers in Paris, London and Rome before returning to Washington on Thursday.

Earlier‚ on his arrival at Joint Base Andrews‚ Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was offered a red-carpet welcome. He was received by US Acting Chief of the Protocol‚ US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, and other senior officials.

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