On Tuesday, the day Blinken spoke to Bilawal, the State Department’s public schedule did not list any meetings for Blinken but said that he would be at meetings and briefings at the Department….Reports Arul Louis
Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari failed to get an in-person meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his recent visit to Washington and had to settle for a phone conversation even though they were in the same capital.
Instead, he made do with an in-person session with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Wednesday as he was wrapping up his three-day visit to Washington.
On Wednesday, Blinken met with Panama’s Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney at the State Department with its start open to a press pool, a couple of hours before Sherman’s meeting with Bilawal which was closed to the media.
On Tuesday, the day Blinken spoke to Bilawal, the State Department’s public schedule did not list any meetings for Blinken but said that he would be at meetings and briefings at the Department.
In the phone conversation on Tuesday, while both Blinken and Bilawal were in Washington, the top US diplomat “underscored the US’ resolute support for Pakistan as it combats terrorism”, according to a readout from Department Spokesperson Ned Price.
They “shared their mutual hope for a productive International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan in January and discussed the need for close coordination,” the readout said,
The conference convened by the UN and Pakistan in Geneva aims to mobilise assistance for the country devastated by floods in September.
An administration source downplayed any significance in Blinken not personally meeting with Bilawal.
Noting that Blinken and the Pakistani Foreign Minister have held five meetings, the source told IANS, “The format of these discussions do not indicate the level of importance”.
“This week’s discussion was a continuation of our strong history of close cooperation,” the source said.
At their meeting Sherman and Bilawal “discussed the Taliban’s deplorable decision to further restrict women’s and girls’ access to education as well as efforts to hold the Taliban to its commitments regarding the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan”, Price’s readout said.
Sherman also highlighted Washington’s “strong support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression”, the readout said.
Pakistan has abstained on votes in the UN General Assembly critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The readout added that “economic, energy, and environmental cooperation” also figured in their talks.
In an interview to the cable channel MSNBC, Bilawal said that the interaction between the US and his country has changed dramatically.
He said that 90 per cent of the conversation between them used to be on terrorism but it has now flipped with 90 per cent “on economic cooperation and other areas”.
Bilawal last met in person with Blinken in September.
The administration source pointed out that the readout of that meeting affirmed the US regard for ties with Pakistan.
According to the readout, Blinken had said at that meeting, “We value our long-standing cooperation with Pakistan over the past 75 years and we look forward to continued close cooperation between principals in the new year”.
Before going to Washington, Bilawal had made personal attacks on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in crass terms at a news conference at the UN.
Earlier, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had described Pakistan as the “epicentre of terrorism”.
Asked about this at his daily news briefing on Monday, Price said that the US does not want to see a “war of words” between the two countries but like them to have a “constructive dialogue”.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @arulouis)