Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration is "sensitive" to Pakistani concerns about new U.S. immigration rules applying to citizens from mainly Muslim countries but he says Pakistan will not be exempted from the program. The issue figured heavily in talks Wednesday between Mr. Powell and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursid Mahmud Kasuri.
The meeting here included discussion of tensions between India and Pakistan, the Iraq crisis and the situation in Afghanistan. But a joint press appearance was dominated by Pakistani concerns about U.S. rules, imposed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, requiring male visitors to the United States from some 20 mostly Muslim countries to register with U.S. immigration authorities.
Mr. Kasuri said the measure, affecting thousands of Pakistani students and others living in the United States, has "immensely" agitated public opinion in Pakistan. He said if there were to be large scale deportations of Pakistanis from the United States, it would produce a crisis in bilateral relations.
"The secretary said it will ultimately apply to the whole world. It's not aimed at Pakistanis. But what we are afraid of is mass deportation of Pakistanis under any provision or pretext what-so-ever. That will be devastating, and it will place undue pressures on our relationship. The secretary, I'm grateful, appreciates that and he has promised to play a supportive role and I am grateful to him for that," Mr. Kasuri said.
For his part, Secretary Powell politely turned aside Mr. Kasuri's call for the exemption of Pakistanis from the registration rules. But he said he assured his Pakistani counterpart that the administration is sensitive to the Islamabad government's concerns about the program, which he said is not a punitive measure against Pakistanis or Muslims in general.
"It is an effort on the part of the United States to do a better job of knowing who is in our country. We appreciate all the contributions that Pakistanis have made to American life, and so many Pakistanis have become American citizens. And so we will continue to learn from our experience with the program. And I wanted to linger on this point so that the minister has my full assurance that we will be doing everything to implement this program in a dignified manner," Mr. Powell said.
The visit was the first to Washington for Mr. Kasuri since he took office along with the rest of the new civilian government in Pakistan two months ago, and Mr. Powell assured him of the Bush administration's continuing commitment to helping ease tensions between Pakistan and India.
Mr. Powell, who played a personal role in helping defuse the confrontation between two South Asian powers over Kashmir last year, said U.S. interest did not end with the stand down of armed forces along their mutual border. "There were some people who were concerned that once the demobilization took place and things calmed down a bit, the United States would not be interested any longer. We are interested. We remain committed. We remain committed to a strong U.S.-Pakistan relationship and a strong U.S.-Indian relationship. It's not a zero-sum game," the US secretary of state explained. "We could have good friendships with both nations and by having good friendships with both nations, we can lend our good offices to solving difficulties between them."
Mr. Powell said the United States is hoping a way can be found to "jump start" dialogue between sides and suggested that might come through a trade overture or a lessening of infiltration across the "Line of Control" in Kashmir.
Mr. Kasuri expressed disappointment that Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not accept his government's invitation to attend a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that Pakistan was to have hosted in January, but has since been postponed. He said a visit by the Indian leader could have "appreciably" lowered tension in the region.