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Clinton Sees 'Intense' Afghanistan-Pakistan Talks

U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (file photo)

U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (file photo)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on May 1 she expected "intense sessions" when the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan come to Washington for three-nation talks next week.

President Barack Obama is due to meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on May 6-7, following through on a pledge for regular high-level, three-way meetings aimed at improving coordination and strategy to stabilize the Asian countries.

Clinton, who met jointly with Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers in Washington in February, said such meetings were useful to "change mind-sets" and put forward what Washington wanted both sides to do.

"We'll have some very intense sessions on the specifics of what we're trying to accomplish," Clinton said of next week's presidential-level meetings.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the three presidents would meet together and Obama then planned separate sessions with Karzai and Zardari.

"The president looks forward to discussing with these two democratically elected leaders how we can work together to enhance our cooperation in this important part of the world, as the United States implements a new strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan," Gibbs told reporters.

The Obama administration wants Pakistan to do more to fight home-grown militants that pose a threat to neighboring Afghanistan, where the United States along with allies is trying to rout the Taliban.

Pakistan's army this week sought to evict Taliban fighters from a strategic valley northwest of the capital Islamabad, a military move the Obama administration has welcomed after weeks of criticism that Islamabad was not doing enough.

"In Pakistan, it's a very difficult environment because of the confusion among the civilian and military leadership about how to prioritize what is the greatest threat to Pakistan going forward," Clinton said at a meeting with foreign service officers at the State Department.

Obama said in his news conference this week that nuclear-armed Pakistan had finally begun to realize that militants inside the country posed a bigger threat to the Muslim nation's stability than India, despite three wars between the two rivals.

In Afghanistan, violence is already at its highest levels since the Taliban were driven from power in late 2001. Insurgent attacks in the first three months of this year were 73 percent higher than the same period a year ago, NATO statistics show.