US Senator Kerry to visit Pakistan next week


Senior US Senator John Kerry said Tuesday he would travel to Pakistan early next week to help get bilateral ties back “on the right track” amid angry tensions over the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“A number of people suggested it would be good to get a dialogue going about the aftermath, and how we get on the right track,” said Kerry, who announced earlier this week that he would visit Afghanistan at the weekend.
Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a steadfast champion of greater US engagement in Pakistan and argued that Islamabad and Washington need to work through current tensions fueled by the May 2 raid.
Asked whether he would press Pakistani leaders on whether officials there knew the Al-Qaeda chief was living close to an elite military academy for years, Kerry told reporters he would be discussing “all the relevant issues that are on the table, and there are a lot of them.”
“We have a huge agenda, we have huge interests that are very important to try to be on track, right, and there’s a lot to discuss,” said the senator, whose visit would be the highest profile US stop in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death.
“There are some serious questions, obviously, there are some serious issues that we’ve just got to find a way to resolve together. And our interests and their interests I think are well served by working through those difficulties,” he said.
Kerry’s travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan could be a prelude to a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama committed in late 2010 to travel to Pakistan this year, but the tensions in the wake of the bin Laden raid have cast further doubt on such a visit, and no trip has yet been put on his schedule.
Kerry said he had discussed the situation with the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, and President Barack Obama’s coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, Douglas Lute, and planned to stop at the White House before his trip.
The senator said at a hearing Tuesday that bin Laden’s death was “a potentially game-changing opportunity to build momentum for a political solution in Afghanistan that could bring greater stability to the region and bring our troops home.”
Senior US lawmakers have called for Pakistan to explain whether it was “incompetent or complicit” in bin Laden being able to live in relative luxury in the leafy city of Abbottabad 10 years after the September 11 terrorist strikes.
“I just don’t believe it was done without some form of complicity,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said Monday in a stark and scathing warning to the US ally.
“I think either we’re going to be allies in fighting terror, or the relationship makes less and less sense to me,” said Feinstein, who indicated she foresaw cuts in billions in US aid absent a course correction in Islamabad.
“I think it’s important that we have a good relationship with Pakistan, but not at any price,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat.
“I do trust them, but I think it’s a moment when we need to look each other in the eye and decide, are we real allies? Are we going to work together?” the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said Tuesday.
“And if we are, you’re either all in or you’re not in,” Boehner told NBC television.
“Clearly there are questions that remain about what they knew or didn’t know about bin Laden being in their country. There are certainly some questions about their willingness to pursue some terrorists, but maybe not others,” he added.