British Prime Minister to Call for 'Fresh Start' With Pakistan

April 5, 2011 - 5:18 AM

Islamabad (AP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to call for a "fresh start" to his country's relationship with Pakistan during a visit Tuesday, months after he sparked a diplomatic dustup by suggesting Pakistan promoted the exporting of terrorism.

Cameron arrived in Islamabad early Tuesday and was later greeted with an honor guard at Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's residence.

Britain considers its relationship with Pakistan to be of critical importance, especially for national security reasons. Britain has a significant minority population of Pakistani descent, and the 2005 London transit bombings and several other terror plots have been traced to extremists in that group. Britain also is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan.

Cameron's visit is one of relatively rare trips to Pakistan by Western heads of government. Emphasizing the visit's focus on security issues, Cameron was joined by John Sawers, the head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service -- also known as MI6 -- and the head of Britain's armed forces, Gen. David Richards.

The British High Commission in Islamabad released extracts of a speech Cameron was to give at a university later in the day, in which he calls on both countries to "clear up the misunderstandings of the past, work through the tensions of the present and look together to the opportunities of the future."

The comments appeared, at least in part, aimed at easing tensions over Cameron's remarks during his trip to India in July 2010, when he said Pakistan must not be allowed to "promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world."

The statement outraged Pakistanis, not least because it was made in India, Pakistan's archrival and a fellow nuclear power.

"I acknowledge that there are challenges that our friendship must overcome. But I want to argue today that they shouldn't hold us back anymore," Cameron is set to say during his speech in Islamabad.

"Whether it's relations with India, our security, or questions of governance, if we work closely with one another, if we're clear that we need each other to succeed, we can grasp these difficult issues and move beyond them to a better future. So let's make today a 'fresh start' in our relationship."

According to the excerpts, Cameron stresses ending the terror threat as a major issue, but also talks of trade and investment relations, and calls for a Pakistan that is "open, free and tolerant."

British officials released few details in advance of Cameron's visit, citing concerns about security. But by late morning, the British High Commission's Twitter feed said Cameron had stopped by a girls' school in Islamabad, where he was meeting with "young Pakistani students," and that he had toured Islamabad's grand Faisal Mosque.

Aside from the Pakistani prime minister, Cameron is also expected to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and other top officials in this Muslim-majority country. Zardari visited Britain in August, where he and Cameron tried to reduce friction caused by the British premier's remarks in India.

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David Stringer in London contributed to this report.