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Does John Kerry represent the U.S. government in Pakistan?

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is on a mission in Islamabad to repair the fractured U.S.-Pakistan relationship and, following meetings with top Pakistani officials, issued a statement that appeared to be on behalf of the U.S. and Pakistani governments. Kerry, as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an author of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman $7.5 ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is on a mission in Islamabad to repair the fractured U.S.-Pakistan relationship and, following meetings with top Pakistani officials, issued a statement that appeared to be on behalf of the U.S. and Pakistani governments.

Kerry, as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an author of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, is in a perfect position to convey congressional angst following the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, perhaps for over five years. But he holds no position in the executive branch, which would traditionally determine the status of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is on a mission in Islamabad to repair the fractured U.S.-Pakistan relationship and, following meetings with top Pakistani officials, issued a statement that appeared to be on behalf of the U.S. and Pakistani governments.

Kerry, as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an author of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, is in a perfect position to convey congressional angst following the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, perhaps for over five years. But he holds no position in the executive branch, which would traditionally determine the status of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

Kerry met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and then issued a "joint statement" from him and those three leaders that seemed to express agreement between the U.S. and Pakistani governments on a wide range of issues.

"It was agreed that both the U.S. and Pakistan must recognize and respect each others national interests, particularly in countering terrorism and in working together for promoting reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan," read the joint statement, which was posted on the website of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad."It was agreed that all tracks of U.S-Pakistan engagement need to be revisited with a view to creating a clear understanding on the ways and means to carry forward their cooperation, in a mutually beneficial manner. It was also agreed that the two countries will work together in any future actions against high value targets in Pakistan."

"Pakistan’s leadership welcomed the clear affirmation by Senator Kerry that U.S. policy has no designs against Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic assets. Senator Kerry stated that he was prepared to personally affirm such a guarantee," the statement read.

Kerry also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would travel to Pakistan soon.

Kerry has traveled to both Pakistan and Afghanistan on behalf of the Obama administration before. He played a key role in smoothing relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last year, and traveled to Lahore in February to help negotiate the repatriation of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, following Davis’s killing of two suspected Pakistani intelligence agents in broad daylight.

Meanwhile, the State Department wants to be clear that Kerry does not actually speak for the U.S. government.

"It wasn’t a joint statement, it wasn’t a U.S. government statement," a State Department official told The Cable.

Nevertheless, Kerry’s actions are highly coordinated with the State Department. While Kerry was on the ground, Clinton had phone calls with Zardari, Gilani, and Kayani, a State Department official said, and spoke with Kerry as well.

Kerry is playing an increasingly prominent role in managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, relative to that of two other key interlocutors, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and CIA Director Leon Panetta. Panetta, who will be nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly got into a shouting match last week with Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman is also getting more face time with top Pakistani officials. He was on the ground in Islamabad the day bin Laden was killed and will be traveling there again this week with CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell.

Grossman has been trying to set up the third round of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which was scheduled for late May in Islamabad. At Monday’s briefing, however, State Department spokesman Mark Toner wouldn’t say if the dialogue would take place then.

"The secretary does plan to visit Pakistan in order to have an in-depth strategic discussion about our cooperation and to convey the U.S. government’s views on the way forward with Pakistan," Toner said. "She’ll go when she can have those discussions in the right context and with the right preparation. And we’re engaged right now with the Pakistanis to lay that groundwork."

Vali Nasr, who until recently was a top Pakistan advisor for the SRAP office, told The Cable that Kerry is playing two roles — delivering a tough message from Congress while also extending an olive branch from the Obama administration.

"His job is to stabilize the relationship. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has suffered serious setbacks. It’s important to prevent it from collapsing any further," he said.

"We don’t really have any option but to continue our relationship with Pakistan. One lesson from the bin Laden discovery is that if al Qaeda senior leaders are in Pakistan, we have even more work to do there."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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