US, Pakistan Ties Thaw After Icy Post-Cold-War Years

EVEN if US Secretary of Defense William Perry had just set foot in Pakistan - a country whose good relations with the US evaporated at the end of the cold war - it would have been historic.

As it was, Mr. Perry, the first United States defense secretary to visit this country in 12 years, ended his two-day visit with calls for restoring damaged ties between the two countries.

Perry announced that a US-Pakistani Consultative Group for discussing security issues, which was formed in 1984 but has not met since 1990, would be revived with once-a-year meetings.

``I attach importance to this US-Pakistani security relationship. We have reestablished the consultative group, which would be the basis for a future defense cooperation between the US and Pakistan,'' Perry said in a press conference yesterday.

The US cut off aid to Islamadad in 1990, when the US claimed that Pakistan was developing a nuclear-weapons program. This ended a tight relationship fostered during the height of the cold war. Pakistan was the third-largest recipient of US aid until 1990.

Islamabad supported Western efforts to arm and train the mujahideen guerrillas in neighboring Afghanistan, who fought against the occupation of their country by Soviet Army troops from 1979 until 1989.

The trip was marked by optimism over the willingness of both Pakistan and the US to put aside their differences. The US administration has not offered new aid to Pakistan, but yesterday's announcement indicates the US will support private investment in Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto announced that the two countries had overcome their strained relations over the aid cutoff and were now exploring other avenues for cooperation such as international peacekeeping and promoting American investments in Pakistan.

But Ms. Bhutto did ask for the delivery of F-16 fighter planes ordered by Pakistan from the US during the late 1980s or the return of the $650 million Pakistan paid toward them.

``We want either the planes or our money back,'' Bhutto said. Perry said late yesterday that the fighter-plane dispute would top the agenda of the revived consultative group.

Last year, Washington offered to release 38 of the planes to Pakistan if it agreed to cap its nuclear program at current levels. Pakistan refused.

Pakistan is seen as a moderate Islamic nation in a time when Muslim fundamentalism throughout the world is seen as a problem by the West.

Perry began his trip in Egypt on Saturday, where he said the biggest security threat in the world today was the possibility that ``terrorists'' or ``rogue nations'' could control nuclear weapons.

He continued to Israel, where he asked leaders, as he had in Cairo, to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Perry did not ask Pakistan to ratify the nonproliferation treaty.

Diplomats expected that here or in India, Perry's next stop, he would urge leaders on both sides to begin new negotiations to resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute.

The state of Kashmir in Northern India has been the focus of tensions between India and Pakistan. Both countries have fought three wars over it and maintain significant armies there today.

In recent weeks, Pakistani officials have been discouraged about the prospects of talks over Kashmir. But one diplomat said, ``With a high-profile visit such as Perry's, countries of the South Asian region may realize that the world remains very concerned over their hostile relations and their nuclear capabilities.''

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