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Thursday, September 29, 2011

US blows cold after breathing fire

WASHINGTON: After breathing fire for days, the White House and State Department on Wednesday sought to blow cold to mend fences with Pakistan.

The comments by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the first to directly link the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with an assault on the United States, and they ignited a diplomatic furor with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, who have denied the accusation.

Asked on Wednesday whether he agreed that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm” of the ISI, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters, “It’s not language I would use.”

He pivoted quickly to say the Obama administration is united in its assessment that “links” exist between the Haqqani network and the ISI, “and that Pakistan needs to take action to address that.”

Mr. Carney’s comments, echoed by State Department and other administration officials, seemed aimed at supporting Admiral Mullen’s tough comments up to a point, while giving Pakistan a small window to save face.

With American lawmakers considering legislation that would condition billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan on that country’s cooperation in fighting the Haqqani network and other terror groups associated with Al Qaeda, the administration is trying calibrate a response that prods Pakistan to act more aggressively against the Haqqani network but does not rupture already frayed relations.

President Obama’s top national security advisers met Tuesday to discuss a range of familiar options — including unilateral strikes and a suspension of security assistance — intended to get Pakistan’s army to fight militants more effectively. So far, the carrots and sticks have had little impact, American officials acknowledged.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the administration was completing “the final formal review” to designate the Haqqani network a terrorist organization, having already designated several of its leaders.

She discussed the matter with Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, when the United Nations General Assembly met last week, Mrs. Clinton said at the State Department. “We discussed the urgency, in the wake of the attack on our embassy in Kabul and on the NATO ISAF headquarters, for us to confront the threat posed by the Haqqani network.” she said, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force.

Mrs. Clinton, echoing private statements by American diplomats, acknowledged the strain that the attack — and its links to Pakistani intelligence — had caused, but she also emphasized the need for Pakistan to address what has become a threat to its own society.
“I have no argument with anyone who says this is a very difficult and complex relationship, because it is,” she said in an appearance with Egypt’s foreign minister. “But I also believe strongly that we have to work together despite those difficulties.”
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