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Behind Kerry’s mission: In US-Pakistan relations, 'divorce' is not an option

On a mission to improve US-Pakistan relations, Sen. John Kerry announces a Pakistani goodwill gesture: the return of the tail section of the US helicopter used in the bin Laden raid.

By Staff writer / May 16, 2011

Sen. John Kerry (l.) shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani prior to their official talks at Prime Minister house in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday.

B.K. Bangash/AP

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Washington

Calls for a “divorce” in US-Pakistan relations have gripped Washington since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but Sen. John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad Monday underscores that key US interests won’t be addressed by a simple split between the two countries.

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Senator Kerry, who has become the Obama administration’s go-to guy for handling crises in the Afghanistan-Pakistan arena, took a tough message emphasizing the grave state of relations to his meetings with both the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and President Asif Ali Zardari.

The US wants to know who in Pakistan knew of Mr. bin Laden’s existence over several years in a compound near the Pakistani capital, with even President Obama stating publicly that the Al Qaeda leader must have had a “support network” inside Pakistan.

The Pakistanis insist publicly that no further “unilateral” counterterrorist missions by the US will be tolerated – although Kerry told reporters before meeting the Pakistani leaders that the US will “consider all options” if senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are located inside Pakistan.

But Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also discussed a list of ways the two countries can move beyond their strained relations to more mutually beneficial cooperation in his meetings with the Pakistani leaders.

Pulling back from the brink

The emphasis in Washington has been on how the always-prickly relations between the two partners in the battle against Islamist extremism might have hit a breaking point over the May 1 killing of Al Qaeda leader bin Laden within a stone’s throw of Pakistani military installations. But Kerry’s emphasis was on pulling relations back from the brink.

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