CIA chief on visit to repair ties with Pakistan

June 10, 2011 - 4:30 PM

ISLAMABAD (AP) — CIA Director Leon Panetta met over dinner Friday with Pakistan's spy chief and army head for talks on how to repair ties between the two countries that were fractured by the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a Pakistani and a U.S. official said.

Panetta's visit was his first to Pakistan since the unilateral American operation on May 2 killed the al-Qaida leader in a Pakistani army town, triggering an angry backlash by the powerful military. It is likely to be his last before he becomes the next U.S. defense secretary.

American officials have said they want to rebuild a relationship vital to their fight against al-Qaida and their efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, but progress has been slow amid suspicions by some in Washington that elements within the security establishment here were sheltering bin Laden.

Pakistan, facing public anger over what was seen as an unacceptable violation of sovereignty, sent home most U.S. Army trainers in the country and said Thursday it no longer wanted American financial assistance.

Panetta dined with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the head of the country's main spy agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, after arriving Friday, said the officials, who did not give their names to discuss the high-level meeting.

Panetta's relationship with both men will be key in his new role, presuming he is speedily confirmed as the next U.S. defense chief.

The CIA director said Pakistan must do more to go after militants within its borders, in remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing. Panetta said after the raid that killed bin Laden, Americans asked Islamabad to "take a number of concrete steps to demonstrate cooperation and counterterrorism."

One of those steps is the formation of a joint intelligence team to track down militant targets inside Pakistan, drawing in part from the so-called treasure trove of bin Laden records taken from his personal office during the raid. Pakistani officials say the Americans have shared some intelligence from the trove, and the Americans say the Pakistanis are working on providing visas for a small number of U.S. intelligence officers to come to Pakistan to join the team, but both sides complain the effort is moving very slowly.

The U.S. wants that team to pursue a list of five high-value targets it handed to the Pakistani leadership during another high-level visit to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and chairman of the joint chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, along with CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, who met Pasha separately.

The target list included al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reportedly hit by a drone strike in the Pakistani tribal areas last Friday. But both sides say that hit was not the direct result of the intelligence partnership nor data from the treasure trove led to Kashmiri's targeting.

U.S. officials have described Kashmiri as al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan. He was rumored to be a contender to replace Osama bin Laden as the terror network's chief.

Pakistan's interior minister said Monday he was "100 percent" certain that the wanted al-Qaida commander was dead, after the drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas. U.S. officials will not confirm his death, out of caution because he was reported dead in strikes twice before.

It was not clear how long Panetta would stay in Pakistan, though his visits are usually very short. His visit to Islamabad coincides with a trip by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that is likely to discuss the role Islamabad can play in negotiations with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan.

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Dozier reported from Washington.