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US Welcomes Easing of Pakistan Tensions

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 16 Mar 2009
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 16 Mar 2009

The United States on Monday welcomed the peaceful outcome of the week-long political crisis in Pakistan, saying it brought the country "back from the brink" of broader political upheaval. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made calls to key Pakistani officials to try to defuse tensions.

Clinton made unusual direct telephone appeals on Saturday to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif to try to ease tensions.

But in a press appearance here, she said the resolution of the standoff - with the reinstatement of the country's deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry - was a resolution by the Pakistanis themselves and a hopeful first step toward broader dialogue.

Pakistan's deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, center, is greeted by lawyers after the government announced to reinstate him at his residence in Islamabad, Pakistan, 16 Mar 2009
Pakistan's deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, center, is greeted by lawyers after the government announced to reinstate him at his residence in Islamabad, Pakistan, 16 Mar 2009

Clinton's telephone diplomacy capped several days of intensive U.S. efforts to help bring Pakistan, as one officials here put it, "back from the brink" of a broader crisis that some analysts say threatened the country's stability.

Speaking to reporters with Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, Clinton said Pakistani leaders did not need her to tell them what was at stake in the political standoff, and that its resolution is a hopeful sign for the future.

"I believe that the resolution they have agreed upon is the first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and the rule of law, both of which are essential to the efforts that the Pakistanis themselves see as so critical - namely preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani peoples and the country," she said.

State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said Clinton, in her calls to the Pakistani leadership on Saturday, urged a non-violent settlement of the confrontation with the opposition and said that there should be no impediments to peaceful, democratic assembly.

Wood did not say whether Clinton specially urged the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry. But he said the United States welcomes the decision by President Zardari as important for moving the process of reconciliation forward and upholding the rule of law.

Wood said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband joined Clinton in the weekend intervention, reflecting the two Western allies' worry that the crisis would negatively affect efforts against extremists in the Pakistani-Afghan border region.

"Our concern, clearly, was that tensions were heating up and that they need to calm down, and that indeed these tensions were diverting the government of Pakistan away from its principle enemies - al-Qaida and the Taliban," he said. "The Secretary felt that she needed to make these phone calls. And we're very pleased to see the Pakistani leadership has taken some decisions that are moving the country at least back on a path towards reconciliation."

Clinton is expected to meet her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, at a Dutch hosted conference at the end of this month at the Hague aimed at promoting stability in Afghanistan.

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