Protests cause new strains in US, Pakistan ties
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration sought Friday to shore up already tense U.S. ties with Pakistan amid massive, violent anti-American protests in several Pakistani cities over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
With protests still smoldering in some areas of Pakistan on a holiday specially created for peaceful demonstrations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on “responsible leaders” everywhere to explicitly condemn violence sparked by the video. But Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, standing beside Clinton at the State Department, ignored the invitation.
Instead, Khar focused her remarks entirely on the film, which Muslims believe is blasphemous. She thanked President Barack Obama and Clinton for speaking out against the video and making clear it did not have the support of the U.S. government. But she avoided direct criticism of the violence.
“The condemnation of this blasphemous video, which has certainly stoked the sensitivities of the Muslims, goes a long way,” Khar said. “Your condemnation has given a strong message that the United States government not only condemns it, but has absolutely no support for such blasphemous videos or content anywhere.”
“I think that is a strong message, and that message should go a long way to ending the violence on many streets on the world,” she said, finishing her remarks on the subject and turning then to the broader state of U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Clinton, who spoke before Khar, repeated her denunciation of the film but made it clear she was looking for condemnation of the violence which has wracked Pakistan for the past two days but not yet resulted in any damage or attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions there, as has happened in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
“We found the video … offensive, disgusting and reprehensible, but that does not provide justification for violence, and therefore it is important for responsible leaders, indeed responsible people everywhere, to stand and speak out against violence and particularly against those who would exploit this difficult moment to advance their own extremist ideologies,” Clinton said.
The State Department had no immediate comment on Khar’s remarks. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had told reporters before the meeting that she believed Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had spoken against violence last week and that Khar would be making “public statements” to that effect with Clinton on Friday.
Protests over the film turned violent Friday across Pakistan, with police firing tear gas and live ammunition at thousands of demonstrators who threw rocks and set fire to buildings. At least 17 people were killed and dozens were injured, officials said.
The administration had tried to blunt some of the anger by buying airtime on Pakistani television networks to broadcast comments from Obama and Clinton extolling the American tradition of religious tolerance and criticizing the film.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad spent $70,000 to air the English-language public service announcements, subtitled in Urdu, and also posted a link to the ad on its Facebook site.
Nuland said the State Department had not yet been able to gauge the effectiveness of the ad, but the Islamabad embassy noted with dismay that reaction to the Facebook post had not been positive.
An internal status update obtained by The Associated Press said the ad had attracted more than 155,000 hits on Facebook since Sept. 18. “However,” it said, “comments posted on the page have been overwhelmingly negative.”
U.S.-Pakistan relations have long been strained over numerous issues, including drone strikes against militants, the operation that killed Osama bin Laden and the NATO airstrike last year that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops. After the U.S. apologized for the airstrike earlier this year, Pakistan reopened NATO supply routes that it had closed in retaliation but mistrust remains deep.
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