US to press Imran to facilitate Taliban talks, says White House

Washington: The United States would press Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is slated to meet President Donald Trump next week to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban for an intra-Afghan dialogue, the White House said Friday.

Khan, the 66-year-old cricketer-turned politician, is scheduled to meet Trump at his Oval Office on Monday, the first by a Pakistani leader in nearly four years, the last one being that of Nawaz Sharif in October 2015.

He is travelling to the US at an invitation by Trump and the Administration is preparing to give him a warm welcome which includes a traditional welcome at the White House, one-on-one meeting at the Oval Office and a working luncheon in the presence of several of his Cabinet colleagues and leaders from the Pentagon.

The official noted that by extending the invitation to Khan to visit the White House, the US also want to send a message to Pakistan that the “door is open to repairing relations” and building an enduring partnership if Pakistan “changes its policies” with regard to terrorists and militants.

From the US perspective, the President will be most interested in encouraging Pakistan to assist in the Afghanistan peace process. “We’re hoping that the discussions are productive,” the official said.

Prime Minister Khan’s visit is an opportunity to incentivise Pakistan to use the full leverage and influence on the Taliban to advance the peace process in Afghanistan.

“We are calling on Pakistan for assistance in moving the peace process forward,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We do appreciate the initial steps that Pakistan has taken to facilitate this effort. We are reaching a critical juncture in the peace process. We are asking Pakistan to pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in intra-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government,” the official said.

Discussions with Pakistan will also include potential cooperation on trade, energy and women’s issues. “We want to send that message that the doors are open,” said the official.

During the meeting, the White House will encourage Pakistan to “create” opportunity for enhancing regional economic development and connectivity.

“For example, we would encourage Pakistan the ease restrictions on trade transcending Pakistan between India and Afghanistan. And we think this would be a very positive step and will demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous South Asia,” the official said.

On his maiden visit to the US, Khan will be welcomed by Trump at the White House. The visit will focus on strengthening cooperation between the two countries to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to the region, the official said.

The two leaders will discuss a range of issues, including counterterrorism, defence, energy and trade, the official added.

Prominent among those present from the US side would include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Acting Secretary of Defense Richard Spencer and Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford.

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