The United States and Pakistan will hold their first strategic dialogue at the ministerial level in Washington next Wednesday (March 24). U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters at the State Department Friday that these talks mark a "major intensification" of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership.
Wednesday's talks will be co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Holbrooke says delegations from both sides will include senior officials of their nation's defense, diplomacy, finance and agriculture departments. The U.S. delegation will also include aid and trade officials, and Pakistan's will include officials who handle water, power and social issues.
"This is a partnership that goes far beyond security, but security is an important part of it," he said.
Holbrooke told reporters Friday that U.S. officials want to see aid money for Pakistan distributed more quickly.
"We are doing more. We will announce more. We want to do as much as the Congress will support," Holbrooke said.
The Obama administration has made improving and broadening relations with Pakistan a top priority, but U.S. policies and drone strikes targeting militants in the region remain unpopular.
Holbrooke said the U.S. supports Pakistan as it seeks to strengthen democratic institutions and economic development, handle energy and water problems, as well as defeat extremists.
"Everyone is aware of the popular public-opinion polls, and we think that our support for Pakistan deserves more recognition among the people," he added.
Speaking to reporters in Islamabad Thursday, Foreign Minister Qureshi said Pakistani and U.S. officials have been talking a lot, and in his words, "the time has come to walk the talk."
Holbrooke responded to Qureshi's statement that next week's talks would be a good opportunity to rebuild confidence and trust on both sides.
"The first time I went to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi introduced me to the phrase "trust deficit," and so I have heard it many times," he said. "The last time I was there, we both said in a press conference that we thought we had made huge advances in that," Holbrooke added.
Secretary of State Clinton last visited Pakistan in October, where she spoke with officials and students alike.
Holbrooke said there are plans to hold the next set of strategic talks in Pakistan, likely within the next six months.
He underscored that these bilateral talks do not replace the trilateral talks among the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan which he said are expected to resume later this year.
In other regional news Friday, former United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, told reporters he was in contact with senior Taliban members for the past year.
When a reporter questioned Holbrooke about U.S. knowledge of or involvement in such talks, Holbrooke responded that Eide had mentioned the talks in a general way, but the U.S. had no involvement whatsoever.