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Visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Hails U.S. 'Partnership'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the State Department in Washington on March 24.
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- Visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi emerged from the first of two days of strategic talks with U.S. officials to say the two countries' relationship is now a full partnership.

Qureshi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met briefly with reporters at the State Department in Washington, where the Pakistani minister spoke exuberantly about bilateral ties.

"Today I am a happy man and a satisfied man," Qureshi said. "I'm satisfied because you've finally agreed to many of the things that we've been sharing over our discussions in the last...two years. I suggested to Madame Secretary [Clinton] that if we want this relationship to become a partnership, you've got to think differently, you've got to act differently, and you've got to upgrade the level of our engagement."

Qureshi acknowledged that in the past, U.S. officials, particularly members of Congress, had expressed concern to him about the depth of Pakistan's commitment to fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in South Asia.

But he said that when he visited legislators on Capitol Hill on March 23, he said he found a "180-degree difference."

"We've turned the corner, and today there was confidence, there were no question marks, there was no suspicion, there was no 'Do more,'" Qureshi said. "There was recognition of what we already had done. There was appreciation of what we had already done."

'New Day'

Before the talks began, Clinton said the two countries faced what she called "a new day." She attributed the fresh start to efforts by Obama to break with past U.S. policy and deal with Pakistan not as a client state, but as more of an equal.

After the meetings, Clinton praised the effort that Pakistan has made, noting that Pakistan is a crucial ally of the United States, especially in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and in rooting out members of the Taliban in Pakistan. In recent months, the Islamabad government has taken the lead in arresting several Taliban leaders.

Clinton also noted that Pakistan has paid a high price for taking on the Taliban.

"We respect the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in combating terrorists who seek to undermine its stability and undo its progress," Clinton said. "And we pay tribute to those who have fallen, both those in uniform and the many innocent civilians killed or injured. In our discussions today, I underscored the commitment of the United States to stand with Pakistan as it confronts its challenges."

At the end of the first day of talks, Clinton also spoke of the new and closer relationship with Pakistan. While bilateral ties have been rocky in the past, she said the United States intends to keep its focus on efforts to strengthen the ties even further.

"We've had many positive experiences, but -- to be absolutely historically accurate -- we've had setbacks and stresses in our relationship. And I believe strongly that it is important for the United States and Pakistan to remain connected and working together for the betterment of both of our peoples," Clinton said. "So will we have disagreements? Of course. We have disagreements with all of our friends from time to time. Yet we don't want anything to disrupt or divert our attention from building this relationship into a partnership."

Before the meetings began, the secretary said the White House recognizes that only a relationship based on trust can help countries achieve their goals -- not just in the two countries themselves, but throughout South Asia.

On A Fast Track

Beyond the warm words, there were tangible results from the talks. The United States - which has already committed $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years - will help Pakistan modernize its infrastructure, including its ability to reliably generate electricity.

Clinton said will the United States will also allow Pakistan International Airlines to open a route from Barcelona to Chicago. The carrier already has flights into New York.

Most importantly, though, according to Qureshi, is that Washington has agreed to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to Pakistan.

"You have to realize that we are operating in a completely different theater [of combat], the western border [of Pakistan]. The terrain is completely different," Qureshi said. "And, I'm glad to share with you, we've agreed to fast-track...our requests [for military aid] that have been pending for months and years on the transfer of military equipment to Pakistan."

Clinton was asked whether the United States intends to offer Pakistan the same kind of civilian nuclear cooperation that Islamabad's archrival, India, now enjoys with Washington.

The secretary replied that there is a broad spectrum of issues under discussion between the two countries, and that the United States will listen to any subject that Pakistan wishes to raise.

Talks were scheduled to resume today.