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Record of the Press Briefing on 26 January 2012

Islamabad: Opening Statement

President Asif Ali Zardari paid a two-day official visit to the Union of Myanmar on 24-25 January 2012.

President Zardari held a meeting with the President of Myanmar, H.E. Mr. Thein Sein. The two leaders exchanged views on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. President Zardari called for enhancing trade between Pakistan and Myanmar and a preferential tariff arrangement, leading to a free trade agreement.

He proposed setting up a Joint Ministerial Commission to promote economic and trade cooperation between the two countries as well as collaboration in the oil and gas sector. The President offered to send the Minister for Petroleum and natural resources to Myanmar for exploring prospects of meaningful cooperation.

He also called for consultations between the central banks of the two countries to study prospects of a currency swap arrangement for closer economic and trade cooperation. The President suggested greater interaction between chambers of commerce and offered to send a delegation of businessmen.

He expressed the hope that closer interaction between trade bodies would lead to the establishment of a joint business council. He also offered to share Pakistan’s experience in poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. He said that the Benazir Income Support Programme had proved very successful and had been lauded by the international community.

President Zardari offered educational and training facilities for Myanmar’s youths in medical, engineering and business colleges in Pakistan, as well as courses for Myanmar’s diplomats at the Pakistan’s Foreign Service Academy.

The President proposed that besides parliamentary exchanges, we should also establish regular consultations between our Foreign Ministries. He expressed the hope that Myanmar assuming the chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014 would see the culmination of Pakistan’s quest for closer and more effective institutional relationship with the organization as Full Dialogue Partner. The President also extended an invitation to Myanmar’s President to visit Pakistan.

The President also met with the Chairperson National League for Democracy (NLD), Madam Aung San Suu Kyi. President Zardari conferred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Award on Madam Aung San Suu Kyi in a special investiture ceremony. Later, the President paid a visit to the mausoleum of last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Pakistan and Myanmar enjoy cordial relations going back to 1948, when Myanmar achieved Independence from Britain.

Q and A Session

Q: Would US sanction impact our stance on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project? What about possible actions by the US against Iran regarding its nuclear program?

A: There is no change in our stance and we are working to complete the project by 2014.We believe that this project is beyond the scope of the relevant UN resolutions which we are obliged to comply with like all other member states.

Q: Has the date for Foreign Minister’s visit to Kabul been finalized? Does this visit indicate a thaw between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the wake of political scenario after the assassination of former Afghan President Rabbani. Is there any plan for Foreign Minister’s visit to the US?

A: We have always wished Afghanistan peace and stability. Pakistan will keep on contributing in this regard. A visit of the Foreign Minister to Afghanistan is under consideration. No date has yet been finalized. It should be in the near future. There is no visit by the Foreign Minister to the US reflected in her diary yet.

Q: The Foreign Minister’s visit to Afghanistan was proposed in a high level meeting in the Prime Minister’s House. Does it indicate a shift from our focus on multilateral side of the Afghan situation to a bilateral side? Has the US contacted Pakistan at any level regarding their dialogue with the Taliban especially in the context of opening of the Taliban office in Qatar?

A: The Foreign Minister would visit Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan side. You will agree with me that bilateral and trilateral processes complement each other. We are not supplanting the one with the other. We have always tried to build strong bilateral ties with Afghanistan. We have also pursued other tracks to promote peace in Afghanistan.

These bilateral, trilateral or multilateral tracks are not mutually exclusive. Regarding your second question, reconciliation in Afghanistan has been our top priority. We have always categorically said that we would be supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process. This continues to be our position. We will support any effort that leads to reconciliation and political stability in Afghanistan.

Q: Is there any specific plan for returning of the Afghan refugees to Afghanistan by the end of 2012?

A: We would like to engage more intensely on this issue with the international community. We strongly believe that Afghan refugees should go back to their homeland but with dignity and honour. They have been our guests for decades. This demonstrates how closely our two peoples are. They should go back but in a systematic manner. We are engaged with the international community and the UNHCR.

Q: Some reports say that Pakistan is forcing the UNHCR and the Afghan Government for early return of the refugees. Is this true?

A: We are insisting on them that they should come up with a tenable and workable plan for early return of the refugees but we are not forcing Afghan refugees to go back. There is an obvious difference between the two things.

Q: The US has recently announced that it will release all prisoners from Bagram base in Afghanistan. What are your comments about the future of Pakistani nationals in the prison?

A: There are 30 Pakistani prisoners at Bagram. Our Embassy in Kabul is in touch with the US officials in Kabul. There has been some progress. I would like to underscore that our Mission in Kabul is working overtime to ensure the return of our prisoners from Afghanistan.

Q: Some reports indicate that the Taliban have shared with the Pakistani side contents of their peace talks with US. Your comments?

A: I do not know about that, but it is important that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan moves forward with a view to achieving long-term stability in Afghanistan.

Q: Mr. Marc Grossman has stated in India that the US is ready to engage with Pakistan anywhere anytime. Is there any engagement between the two countries? Your response please?

A: There is no disengagement. We are engaged through diplomatic channels. The US Ambassador in Pakistan is very active and met the Foreign Minister day before yesterday and our Ambassador in Washington has been meeting senior officials. However, interaction at the political level would have to wait till the completion of our parliamentary process underway to rewrite terms of engagement with the US / NATO.

Q: President Obama in his recent address stated that the US would continue to fight against Al Qaeda and terrorists hiding in Afghanistan. Your comments?

A: We share the US objective of eliminating Al Qaeda and militancy.

Q: There are reports that some of the Foreign Office officials are directly engaged in opening of the Taliban office in Qatar. Your comments?

A: I am not aware of any such engagement.

Q: A conference on Afghanistan is scheduled to be held in Tokyo in July 2012. Will Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar participate in this conference? How do you view this conference?

A: Japan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan was here last week. He called on the Foreign Minister. Tokyo conference on Afghanistan also came under discussion. We are still waiting for details from Tokyo about this conference. We wish the conference well to achieve its objectives. There is no decision yet about the level of participation from Pakistan.

Q: What role Pakistan can play in bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia closer?

A: We would like to see solidarity being promoted amongst Muslim countries. This has been our stance since the creation of our country and will continue to promote harmony amongst Muslims countries.

Q: The Afghan Embassy has recently complained about withholding of 700 Afghan containers by the Pakistani authorities. How do you view this?

A: You may put this question to the Ministry of Commerce please.

Q: India has bought a new nuclear submarine from Russia. Would it not start new arms race in South Asia?

A: Pakistan-Russia relations are significantly improving. We are trying to expand the scope of relations. I think it is important that all countries in the region should be mindful of the fact that arms race is in no one’s interest.

This region is suffering from poverty and disease. It is important we focus on economic development. Millions of people are still living below the proverbial poverty line. All countries should make conscious efforts to avoid an arm race.

For more information, contact:
Syed Haider Ali Jafri
Personal Secretary
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan
Tel: +9251 921 0335 and 9056604

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