WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi today began two days of what Washington is calling a "strategic dialogue" in hopes of drawing their countries out of a state of mutual skepticism.
Speaking in Washington this morning before talks got under way, Clinton said the Obama administration believes that only a relationship based on trust can help both achieve what both want -- not just in the two countries themselves, but more broadly.
"To the people and government of Pakistan, the United States pledges our full support," she said. "You are fighting a war whose outcome is critical -- first and foremost, of course, for the people of Pakistan, but it will also have regional and global repercussions. And so strengthening and advancing your security remains a key priority of our relationship."
Pakistan is a crucial ally of the United States, especially in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and as a partner in America's desire to root out members of the Taliban in Pakistan. In recent months, the Islamabad government has taken the lead in arresting several Taliban leaders.
In their talks today and March 25, U.S. officials are expected to offer financial aid for energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan, while pressing Islamabad to continue its operations against the Pakistan Taliban.
So far, though, Pakistan reportedly has resisted, saying it already has done more than its fair share.New Era Of Cooperation
For its part, Pakistan, which has nuclear arms, has asked the United States for the same kind of civilian nuclear cooperation that Islamabad's arch rival, India, now enjoys with Washington. U.S. officials are reportedly cautious, especially since Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan shared nuclear secrets with Iran and Iraq.
Despite these differences, both Clinton and Qureshi promised a new era of cooperation.
Now is the time to look forward. Our renewed, upgraded dialogue offers great hope.
Clinton said the two countries face what she called "a new day" and credited President Barack Obama with treating Pakistan not as a client state but as more of an equal.
"For the past year, the Obama administration has shown in our words and our deeds a different approach and a different attitude toward Pakistan," Clinton said. "This was a personal priority of President Obama's and mine from the start of this administration and will continue to be one."
She said Washington is committed to the well-being of the Pakistani people, among whom the United States is unpopular, and declared that the country's "security and prosperity" can benefit the entire world, adding, "Its struggles are our struggles."
Qureshi noted that the two countries' relationship has swung from good to bad since Pakistan won independence six decades ago.
"Whenever the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has frayed, the interests of both our nations have suffered. Whenever we have worked together, both our nations and the world have benefited," he said. "I therefore venture to stress that this is a dictate of our shared history, that the Pakistan-U.S. relationships remain deep and sustainable." 'Great Opportunity'
The Pakistani foreign minister said both countries finally appear ready to cooperate on more than just issues of national interest.
"Now is the time to look forward. Our renewed, upgraded dialogue offers great hope," Qureshi said. "We believe it presents a great opportunity to reaffirm a long-standing alliance."
According to the State Department, today's schedule included discussions on agriculture, defense and security, and economic development.
The defense talks will include General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful head of Pakistan's Army, as well as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Last year, Congress approved $7.5 billion in military assistance to Pakistan. Islamabad's delegation reportedly wants to know what that money will cover and when it will be available.
It also reportedly wants the United States to give it some of the drone aircraft U.S. forces have used to kill militants hiding in Pakistan.
The U.S. technology is a closely held secret.