Pakistan and the United States cannot afford any downturn in their relationship, President Asif Ali Zardari told the new U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday amid a dispute over a detained American CIA contractor.
The contractor, Raymond Allen Davis, shot dead two Pakistanis on Jan. 27. The United States says he has diplomatic immunity and acted in self-defense against robbers in the eastern city of Lahore. Pakistan has resisted releasing him, saying the matter will be decided by the courts.
Envoy Marc Grossman was appointed to the post in February after the death of Richard Holbrooke, who led a broad policy review that led to changes in priorities in dealing with insurgencies in the two countries and hopes for improved cooperation. It is Grossman's first trip to the region.
A statement from Zardari's office did not mention the Davis case, but said Zardari told Grossman both nations had to remain focussed on long-term strategic ties and not be swayed by "misperceptions and some isolated incidents."
"The President said that the weakening of relations was not an option for the two countries," the statement said.
"We have to find ways and means to find acceptable solutions to all problems."
The United States has a close but often uneasy alliance with Pakistan. Over the last 10 years it is given the nuclear-armed nation billions to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban close to the Afghan border, but many in Washington remain unconvinced the country is committed to the fight.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Grossman "underscored that the U.S. and Pakistan have a broad-based, mutually beneficial relationship and a common goal: a democratic, stable and prosperous Pakistan."
"But he also stressed the importance of resolving the case of Raymond Davis and stressed again that Mr. Davis, as a staff member of the U.S. Embassy, has full immunity from criminal prosecution."
The Davis case has triggered a wave of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, and Pakistan's weak government could be destabilized if it releases him as the United States is demanding. Allowing him to be put on trial for murder would anger the United States, which it relies on for economic as well as military aid.
Grossman previously served as the State Department's third-ranking diplomat under President George W. Bush and was an ambassador to Turkey. He retired from the foreign service in 2005, later working for the Cohen Group, a consulting firm run by former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.