Khar in Britain, to meet Clinton and Hague

Islamabad: Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has embarked on an official visit to Britain, where she is expected to hold an unpublicised meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a bid to place bilateral ties on an even keel.

Khar, who left for a four-day visit to Britain on Sunday, is scheduled to hold talks with her British counterpart and other officials. Reports said she was expected to ask British leaders to use their influence with the US to end drone strikes in Pakistan`s tribal areas.

Pakistan`s High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, had recently called on Prime Minister David Cameron to condemn drone attacks and help stop them.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said all issues would be discussed during Khar`s visit. "When we will begin talks, every issue will come under discussion. We will definitely express our reservations over it (drone attacks)," Basit told the media.

Khar`s visit will focus on a dialogue on "enhanced strategic" relations between Pakistan and Britain and on strengthening bilateral cooperation in economy, trade and education.

Khar is expected to hold a quiet and unpublicised meeting with US Secretary of State Clinton in London on February 23, The News daily quoted its sources as saying. Pakistan`s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, is expected to join the meeting, the report said.

Jalil Abbas Jilani, who has been appointed Pakistan`s next Foreign Secretary and is currently the envoy in Brussels, too is expected to attend the meeting in London with Clinton, the report added.

Clinton is expected to be in London for a multilateral conference on Somalia. Khar has a packed schedule in Britain. Besides meeting Foreign Secretary William Hague tomorrow, she will address a gathering at Oxford University today and interact with a group of academics.

Khar will also meet members of the British Parliamentary Group on Pakistan, the All Parties Foreign Affairs Committee, members of parliament and politicians of Pakistani origin. She will also meet British National Security Adviser Nigel Kim Darroch and the trade minister.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad have been strained since 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike in November last year.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered a parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties after the attack.

The US has been pressuring Pakistan not to go ahead with a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project with Iran. During a trilateral summit with the Presidents of Iran and Afghanistan last week, President Asif Ali Zardari said Islamabad is committed to the pipeline project.