U.S. officials say the Obama administration is limiting the scope of political contacts with Pakistan over the case of an American diplomat detained there on possible murder charges. As of now, a ministerial-level meeting in Washington of senior U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials later this month is still on the schedule.
The State Department is denying press reports that the Obama administration has suspended all or some high-level political contacts with Pakistan over the diplomatic conflict.
However, officials say the high-level contacts still being held with Islamabad are being limited to the case of the detained American, and a recitation of U.S. demands that his diplomatic immunity be respected and that he be immediately released.
The emotionally-charged dispute erupted January 27 when an American diplomat in the eastern city of Lahore shot and killed two Pakistani motorcyclists who he said were armed and apparently intended to rob him.
The case became further complicated when a U.S. diplomatic vehicle rushing to assist the official struck and killed a third Pakistani.
Despite the U.S. insistence that the American, identified as 36-year-old embassy official Raymond Davis, is immune from prosecution as a diplomat, he is still in custody while Pakistani authorities consider possible criminal charges.
In a talk with VOA, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the agenda of senior-level U.S. talks with Pakistan has been narrowed.
"We maintain high-level contacts with Pakistani government to make clear that our U.S. diplomat should be released. He has diplomatic immunity. And Pakistan has international obligations under the Vienna convention and we continue to stress that to the Pakistani government at all levels," he said.
The case has stirred public anger in Pakistan, with protestors questioning why the U.S. official was armed, and suggesting the two Pakistanis were not would-be robbers. In another twist of the story, the wife of one of the men killed committed suicide on Sunday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the case Saturday with Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on the sidelines of an international meeting in Munich. U.S. ambassador Cameron Munter did the same Monday in an Islamabad meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
News reports have said the Obama administration may downgrade a scheduled ministerial-level trilateral meeting of U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials February 24, but spokesman Crowley says the meeting, as of now, is still on.
"We continue to talk to the Pakistan government to stress the importance of resolving this issue. Meanwhile we obviously have a strategic partnership with Pakistan, and we continue to prepare for the upcoming trilateral meeting," he said.
The State Department says Davis is a member of the technical and administrative staff of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and holds a diplomatic passport.
The next court appearance for the detained American is scheduled for Friday in Lahore.
Pakistani leaders have avoided definitive statements on the case. But a foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday the affair has not caused serious damage to bilateral relations, which he said are "mature enough the navigate through difficulties".