WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he wants to "reset" strained relations with Pakistan when he travels to the South Asian nation Wednesday and meets with its new prime minister.
Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan, a longtime critic of the U.S., and powerful army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. Pompeo will be accompanied by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Trump administration has cut military aid over dissatisfaction with Pakistan's commitment to assisting the U.S. strategy for pressuring the Afghan Taliban, whose leaders use Pakistan as a sanctuary. The Pentagon said it has taken final steps to cancel $300 million in assistance, in addition to $500 million already canceled.
Khan took office last month at the head of a coalition government after his party won the most seats in July elections. When Pompeo made a congratulatory phone call to Khan soon after, Islamabad objected to Washington's readout of the call, denying that Pompeo had raised the importance of "taking decisive action against all terrorists" operating in the country.
Speaking to reporters on his plane Tuesday, Pompeo was conciliatory. He said he wanted to visit at the beginning of the former cricket star's tenure "in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries."
"We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as CIA Director, our teams have been working together for a long time," said Pompeo, who formerly served as chief of the U.S. spy agency.
"There are a lot of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we're hopeful that with the new leadership ... we can find common ground and we can begin to work on some of our shared problems together," he said.
"I hope we can turn the page and begin to make progress, but there are real expectations. We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan," Pompeo said.
As part of President Donald Trump's effort to resolve the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, the U.S. has escalated pressure on Pakistan, which it also views as key to compelling the Taliban to agree to negotiate with the government in Kabul. The insurgents have so far demurred, saying they want direct talks with the U.S. instead.
Pompeo said veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is being appointed as special adviser for Afghanistan. The secretary of state said Khalilzad would be focused on "developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and the Taliban to come to a reconciliation."
An Afghan native, Khalilzad was tapped by President George W. Bush to be his ambassador to Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He then served as ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations. He has been strongly critical of Pakistan.
Khalilzad is joining Pompeo on the current trip. After Pakistan, they travel to neighboring India, an archrival of Pakistan that has increasingly close ties with Washington.
On Thursday, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will hold talks with their Indian counterparts. Pompeo described India as "a true strategic partner" and key to the success of U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.