ISLAMABAD - The top Pakistani diplomat maintained Friday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not mention anything about terrorists operating in Pakistan during a telephone call to new Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the statement at a news conference in Islamabad, a day after Pompeo’s first conversation with Khan. Qureshi said a State Department statement issued after the call was “contrary to the truth.”
“The impression that has been given in their press release, in which they are mentioning “terrorists operating in Pakistan,” is contrary to the facts with reality. And I am saying this with full confidence,” he noted.
Qureshi’s assertions have fueled the mystery surrounding Pompeo’s contentious conversation with Khan at a time when relations between the two nations, allied in the U.S. “war on terrorism,” are already low.
The U.S. readout of the call stated that Pompeo "raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert stood by the readout on Thursday while speaking to reporters hours after her Pakistani counterpart demanded on Twitter an immediate correction to what he dismissed as “the factually incorrect” U.S. statement.
“They had a good call. That may surprise some of you, but they had a good call. Pakistan is an important partner to the United States. We hope to forge a good, productive working relationship with the new civilian government,” said Nauert.
Qureshi generally echoed Nauert's reading of the overall discussion, saying Pompeo sought a productive bilateral relationship.
“The conversation between the secretary of state and the prime minister of Pakistan, you will be surprised to know...was a very good conversation. Not only that he felicitated the prime minister, but expressed his desire to seek a constructive engagement with the new (Pakistani) government.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has suspended all military assistance to Pakistan for not doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the accusation, calling it an attempt to divert attention from U.S. failures in the war-shattered neighboring country.
Pakistan's persistent tensions with the U.S. in recent years have encouraged China to deepen ties with its traditional ally, while Russia is also enhancing and expanding relations with its former rival South Asian country.
Pompeo is due to visit Pakistan early next month and Qureshi said he looks forward to the early engagement and interaction with his U.S. counterpart for regional peace and stability, saying he believed they “will prove beneficial.”
The Pakistani foreign minister said Pakistan's "strained ties" with the U.S. have seen highs and lows and that the new government is determined to work to improve the relationship. Qureshi stopped short of telling Washington his country has found new allies, although he did not name China or Russia.
“Realignments have taken place and we need to understand those realignments. Pakistan is no longer the darling of the West as it used to be,” Qureshi noted.