Petraeus meets Pakistan's army chief amid tensions

NAHAL TOOSI - Associated Press
View photos
Pakistani firemen extinguish a fire after angry protesters set a vehicle on fire in Karachi, Pakistan on Thursday, July 14, 2011. Police say at least 11 people were killed overnight in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi after a prominent politician harshly criticized the head of a rival party. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his soon-to-be successor met with top military leaders in Pakistan on Thursday as the two countries struggled to resolve tensions over the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Petraeus and Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen's visit was part of a flurry over meetings between diplomats and military leaders of the two countries since the May 2 strike against the al-Qaida chief in the northwest Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Pakistani civilian and military leaders are angry over the raid because the Americans did not warn them about it, although they insist they had no idea the terror leader was on their soil. In response, they have kicked out many U.S. military trainers and asked the Americans to reduce their footprint in the country.

The U.S. recently announced it was suspending some $800 million in military aid to Pakistan until the relationship improves.

Nonetheless, both sides appear intent on keeping the dialogue going, a reflection of the realization that on some level the two countries need each other. Pakistan needs the U.S. for its financial assistance, both military and humanitarian, while the U.S. needs Pakistan for help in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Pakistani spy chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha met acting CIA director Michael Morell in Washington.

A senior U.S. official said the talks went well, that both sides agreed on a number of steps to improve Pakistani and U.S. national security.

Pakistani officials would not provide details, but Pasha previously pushed for a stop to U.S. drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, unless the targets are agreed upon in advance and Pakistan is informed. U.S. officials have said they have no intention of changing their current policy. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic discussions.

A Pakistani official said prior to the talks that Islamabad was backing away from demands that U.S. military personnel vacate Shamsi Air Base, in the province of Baluchistan. From there, the U.S. has launched armed drones and observation craft to keep the pressure on Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Pakistani officials say they are satisfied for now with a U.S. agreement to launch offensive drone strikes into Pakistan from U.S. bases in neighboring Afghanistan, and restricting the use of Shamsi only for drones that need to land because of bad weather.

The day before Petraeus' meetings in Islamabad, and Pasha's in Washington, Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, met with Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Pakistan.

The U.S. Embassy said those gathered "discussed various topics of mutual interest and ways to improve regional security."

This could be one of Petraeus last trips to Pakistan, at least in his current capacity. He is slated to become the next CIA chief. Allen is to succeed Petraeus as commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration also sought to assure Pakistan on Thursday that civilian assistance wouldn't be affected by the suspension of some of the military aid.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides spoke by phone with Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and they discussed the "importance of continuing cooperation on the U.S.- Pakistan civilian assistance program," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Nides ensured Shaikh that the U.S. is committed to helping Pakistan fuel economic growth and improve its energy, education and health sectors, Toner told reporters.

"The decision to slow down some of the security and military assistance reflects the reality that some of those programs are tied to the level of our cooperation," Toner said. "But we continue to work productively on the civilian side. That assistance continues to flow."

___

Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed reporting.